Wild tigers are on a path to extinction, a new report has warned. Researchers found that the big cats now occupy a mere 7 per cent of their historic range. In just the past 10 years, the territory known to be inhabited by tigers had declined by 41 per cent.
Conservationists collected a decade of data on wild tigers and examined the potential threats they face. The report, compiled by Dr Eric Dinerstein of the World Wildlife Fund, and 15 co-authors, concludes: "While the tiger as a wild species will most likely not go extinct within the next half century, its current trajectory is catastrophic.
"If this trend continues, the current range will shrink even further, and wild populations will disappear from many more places, or dwindle to the point of ecological extinction." Such a large and rapid contraction of territorial range signalled a "significant collapse", said the researchers.
Today there are believed to be only about 5,000 tigers left in the wild. Once the animals could be found across an Asiatic expanse, stretching from the Caspian Sea to the island of Bali in Indonesia.
Tiger populations have suffered as a result of a thriving trade in body parts, used for traditional medicines and adornments, and human encroachment on their habitats.
Despite China banning the domestic trade in tiger parts in 1993, tiger-based remedies are still sufficiently coveted to pose a grave threat, said the researchers. The growing affluence of Asian countries had allowed more people to buy these products, while illegal poaching was poorly controlled.
Tigers require a lot of space, and many current protected areas were simply too small to support lasting populations of the animals, said the report, published in the June issue of the journal BioScience.
Effective long-term strategies to rescue the tiger had to involve international co-operation and the creation of large conservation areas, linked by wildlife corridors. One success story highlighted in the report was a conservation programme in north-western India and southern Nepal, where wildlife corridors connected 12 reserves.
"Leaving room for wide-ranging mammals such as tigers is vital and must become part of development agendas," said the report.