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Rising wild tiger numbers report not scientifically convincing: Experts

A recent report by WWF and the Global Tiger Forum has said number of wild tigers has been revised to 3,890

IANS  |  Kolkata 

The story of Indian tigers

An international group of tiger experts have refuted a report which claimed that the world's wild tiger population is on the rise and on track for a doubling in a decade saying they "do not find the report and its implications scientifically convincing."

"We do not find this report and its implications scientifically convincing," said a statement issued by K. Ullas Karanth from Wildlife Conservation Society India; Dale Miquelle, director of Russia Program of Wildlife Conservation Society; John Goodrich of Panthera and Arjun Gopalaswamy from the University of Oxford.

A recent report by WWF and the Global Tiger Forum (GTF) has said number of wild has been revised to 3,890 compiled from IUCN (International Union for Conservation) and the latest national tiger surveys.

According to the latest figures, Bangladesh has 106 tigers, Bhutan 103, Cambodia nil, China seven, India 2,500, Indonesia 371, Lao PDR two, Malaysia 250, Nepal 198, Russia 433, Thailand 189 and Vietnam less than five in the wild.

Using flawed survey methodologies can lead to incorrect conclusions, an illusion of success, and slackening of conservation efforts, when in reality grave concern is called for, they said.

They said though India has invested massively in recovering several tiger populations over the last four decades, such sporadic tiger recoveries should be monitored using statistically robust camera trap or DNA surveys.

"Rigorous scientific studies in India, Thailand and Russia demonstrate this can indeed be done. But these studies also indicate that tiger recovery rates are slow and not likely to attain levels necessary for the doubling of wild tiger numbers within a decade," the statement said.

Estimates of tiger numbers for large landscapes, regions and countries currently in vogue in the global media for a number of countries are largely derived from weak methodologies, they said.

"They are sometimes based on extrapolations from tiger spoor (tracks and droppings) surveys, or spoor surveys alone. While spoor surveys can be useful for knowing where occur, they are not useful for reliably counting their numbers," the experts said.

They reasoned source populations of tigers that occur at high densities and which are likely to produce "surplus" animals that can disperse and expand populations now occupy less than 10 percent of the remaining 1.2 million square kilometers of tiger habitat.

"Almost 70 percent of wild tigers survive within these source sites. They are recovering slowly, only in some reserves where protection has improved. Outside these source sites lie vast asink landscapes', which are continuing to lose tigers and habitat due to hunting as well as rural and developmental pressures."

With the above considerations in view, even taking these putative tiger numbers at face value, simple calculations show that doubling of the world's tigers in ten years as hoped for in the report is not a realistic proposition, they said.

"Assuming 70-90 percent of wild tigers are in source populations with slow growth, such an anticipated doubling of global tiger numbers would demand an increase between 364-831 percent in these sink landscapes. We believe this to be an unlikely scenario."

The experts suggest "conservationists must now focus on enhancing and expanding recovery and monitoring of source populations, while protecting their remaining habitat and their linkages, all the while being guided by the best of science."

First Published: Mon, April 18 2016. 12:48 IST