12 ways tigers have made a comeback over 12 years

THE Year of the Tiger roared in with increased tiger sightings, yet our Malayan tiger numbers are reportedly less than 150. The recent appearance of tigers roaming outside the forest fringes indicates that human-tiger conflicts need to be addressed urgently.

What we do now will determine the survival of tigers in the wild in Malaysia and globally.

In a positive development, WWF’s latest report on tiger conservation has shown a reversal in the centuries-long trend of wild tiger population decline. This marked a rare and hard-fought conservation success story for several tiger-range countries in Asia.

The report – WWF’s Impact on Tiger Recovery 2010-2022 – highlights the efforts of tiger-range countries, including Malaysia, in preventing the decline of their wild tiger populations since the Global Tiger Summit in 2010. Notably, it was during this summit that these nations pledged to double their tiger populations by 2022 – a pledge known as TX2.

Here are 12 ways tiger-range countries, including Malaysia, have been working to restore the roar of wild tigers over the past 12 years.

1. Tackling the snaring crisis – WWF-Malaysia, in partnership with Maybank, launched an initiative called Project Stampede, which drastically increased the number of patrol teams formed by people from local indigenous communities. These teams carry out patrols, remove snares and collect data on poaching.

They have reduced active snares in the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex by an incredible 94%. Increased funding and patrol teams are a positive step towards conserving Malaysia’s tigers, but more needs to be done to prevent this glimmer of hope from fading.

2. Connecting tigers across borders – In the Russian Far East lies the Land of the Leopard National Park, a protected area and wildlife corridor that secures the main route for tigers moving across the border to China’s Northeast China Amur Tiger and Leopard National Park. Not only have tiger numbers tripled in this national park after a decade of conservation efforts, but the connectivity is enabling tigers to move between both countries.

3. Community-based conservation – WWF partners with locals in Nepal to become resource managers, beneficiaries, and stewards of the forests in which they live. Nepal’s Khata Corridor has recovered from just 115ha to 3,800ha thanks to the efforts of the local community. The functional corridor is also home to tigers for them to roam freely between the forests of Nepal and India.

4. Tackling the illegal trade of tigers, tiger parts, and products – WWF and TRAFFIC have worked to facilitate government-led cooperation to break the India-China-Nepal tiger trade chain through improved transboundary wildlife law enforcement and coordination. Nepal’s National Wildlife Crime Control Coordination Committee was created to facilitate national multi-agency cooperation across police, customs and intelligence departments, with a similar model to India’s National Wildlife Crime Control Bureau.

5. Expanding tiger ranges – As tiger populations have recovered, researchers have started sighting them in new areas. In 2020, the high-altitude record of a tiger sighting was broken twice in Nepal – creating excitement about the prospect of tigers claiming new ground. The second high-altitude sighting in Ilam increased the known tiger range in Eastern Nepal by an incredible 200km. This is credit to the remarkable efforts of the government and communities in tiger landscapes over the last decade.

6. Translocating tigers – There appeared to be little hope for tigers in the west of India’s Rajaji Tiger Reserve until a translocation exercise bringing tigers back to the area launched in 2020. There had been no signs of breeding in the reserve since 2006 and the reintroduction of new tigers aims to change this. The process of translocating tigers requires a long time commitment with extensive planning that also relies on strong political will and social support.

7. Rewilding – Kazakhstan’s story, on the other hand, is very different. Tigers became extinct in the country over 70 years ago and a landmark effort is underway to return this iconic big cat to the country by 2025. It will take at least 15 years, and includes three key stages: first, habitat preparation, which started in 2018 and will last until 2024; second, the tiger reintroduction phase, which will last another nine years until 2033; and finally, the monitoring phase, which will start in 2025 and continue for at least 15 years. At least 10 tigers will be translocated during this period, and in the right conditions, the Ile-Balkhash Reserve will have the capacity to support 120 tigers.

8. Supporting rangers – The ‘Smart Patrol’ approach is used worldwide and supports rangers in their efforts to protect wildlife from poachers and other threats. Data such as wildlife sightings and illegal activity are logged through the Smart app and are then used to help rangers adapt their patrols based on the location of threats. Since 2012, thanks to the help of Smart and other conservation measures, tiger numbers in Bhutan’s Royal Manas National Park have doubled – an incredible and hard-fought conservation success.

9. Human-tiger coexistence – In India’s Pilibhit Tiger Reserve Bagh Mitras, volunteer community response teams have been trained to provide support in human-tiger conflict situations, understanding tiger behaviour, and pugmark identification. Their role is to provide support to local authorities and communities in preventing or responding to conflict situations when they arise.

10. Restoring tiger habitats – Thailand is a leader in the Southeast Asian region for effectively managing its tiger sites. WWF-Thailand has partnered with the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation on a project to support the long-term recovery of both tiger and prey populations. Together, they are restoring important grazing areas and setting up artificial salt licks to supply wildlife with vital minerals. Three different tiger prey species have already benefited from these interventions – muntjac, sambar deer, and gaur – an important step towards tiger recovery.

11. Enabling success with conservation tools – Another piece of innovation that is supporting countries in their efforts to protect tigers is the Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CA|TS). Being CA|TS-approved shows that effectively managing a site according to best practices enables tiger conservation and, where possible, population recovery. In 2020, the Indian government adopted CA|TS across the country’s 50 tiger reserves, which contain over 60% of the world’s tiger population.

12. Sustainable financing – Through the Bhutan for Life project, the Bhutan government – supported by WWF-Bhutan – has been securing a network of effectively managed and sustainably financed protected areas across the country. This protects tiger movement corridors but also key high-biodiversity and climate-resilient habitats, and areas that connect them.

On September 5, tiger range countries will converge at the second Global Tiger Summit in Vladivostok, Russia where it will be revealed whether the TX2 goal has been achieved. The countries will renew their commitment to protecting tigers as governments set their goals for the next 12 years.

While there have been major conservation successes over the last 12 years in tiger range countries, the work is far from over.

At the national level, WWF-Malaysia has relentlessly supported the establishment of the National Tiger Task Force, Tigers Working Group and Wildlife Crime Bureau. Now that they have been set up, we will continue pushing for the implementation of the next phase of tiger conservation.

Tiger conservation in Malaysia might seem like an uphill battle with our wild tiger numbers down to fewer than 150. But it is not a battle that Malaysia fights alone. Efforts by all tiger range countries prove that tiger numbers can recover, slowly but surely.

If everyone – from the highest office to enforcement agencies, corporates and NGOs to ordinary Malaysians – protects our tigers from all threats, we can turn the tide of extinction. After all, doubling wild tiger numbers does not happen overnight.

When the next Year of the Tiger comes around in 2034, let the world hear our victory roar. – February 15, 2022.

WWF-Malaysia, part of international conservation organisation WWF, works to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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