Engage with urban population to save tigers in Asia: Study

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New Delhi, Jan 17 (IANS) The future of tigers in Asia can only be safe if conservation authorities engage with people in the cities as the big cats’ population is linked to the path of demographic transition among humans, says a new international study.

The Wildlife Conservation Society-led study published in the journal Biological Conservation says conservation authorities must engage with people in the cities, while continuing to support site-level protection efforts around tiger source sites.

The study marks the first-of-its-kind analysis that overlays human population scenarios with the fate of the endangered big cats.

Before the 20th century, some experts estimated that there were more than 100,000 tigers living in the wild; today that number has dwindled to between 3,000 and 4,000.

At the same time, over the last 150 years, the human population of Asia has grown from 790 million to over four billion, with dire consequences for tigers and other wildlife.

But these trends are changing.

The demographic transition is the process by which human populations peak and then go down.

The researchers looked at different scenarios of economic, education, migration and urbanization policy.

In 2010, 57 million people lived in areas defined as “tiger conservation landscapes” that contained all of the world’s remaining wild tigers.

However, by 2100, depending on population trends, as few as 40 million people could be sharing space with tigers, or it could be as many as 106 million, says the study.

Different population scenarios depend on the course of the demographic transition.

Over the long-term, the scenarios associated with the lowest human populations are also associated with the greatest levels of urbanization and education.

At the same time, urban consumption is the source of many of the threats to tigers.

That’s why, the authors say, conservation authorities must engage with city populations to save the big cats. “Urbanization and the subsequent human demographic transition is arguably the most important historical trend shaping the future of conservation,” said lead author Eric Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

“How that transition plays out is not pre-determined. Rather it depends on the policy decisions that governments, and the societies they represent, take with respect to fundamental matters such as urban governance, education, economic reform, and the movement of people and trade goods. These decisions matter for us and tigers, too,” Sanderson said.

“If we want a world with tigers, forests, and wildness to persist beyond the 21st century, conservation needs to join forces with groups working to alleviate poverty, enhance education for girls, reduce meat consumption, and build sustainable cities,” said co-author and WCS Senior Vice President of Field Conservation Joe Walston.

The paper builds on a 2018 WCS study that found that the enormous trends toward population stabilisation, poverty alleviation and urbanization are rewriting the future of biodiversity conservation in the 21st century, offering new hope for the world’s wildlife.

–IANS

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