Massive Tigers Could Once Again Roam Central Asia
Caspian tigers, some of the largest cats that ever lived that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh more than 300 pounds, met a grim end in the middle of the 20th century. Before the mid-1960s when they were declared extinct, they were found from modern-day Turkey through much of Central Asia to northwestern China. This disappearance followed after poisoning and trappings promoted by the former Soviet Union until the 1930s and irrigation projects during the Soviet era destroyed the tugay woodlands, a riparian and coastal ecosystem of trees, shrubs, and wetlands, and reed thickets that were critical habitat for tigers and their prey.
It has long since thought that these tigers would never return. But, by reintroducing a subspecies that is nearly identical genetically to ideal locations, the extinct Caspian could be restored to Central Asia. In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, researchers from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and State University of New York (SUNY) say they have found two spots in Kazakhstan to reintroduce the extinct enormous cat. And by using Amur tigers, better known as Siberian tigers, scientists may be able to accomplish this feat.
“The idea of tiger reintroduction in Central Asia using the Amur tiger from the Russian Far East as an ‘analog’ species has been discussed for nearly 10 years,” explained study co-author Mikhail Paltsyn, in a statement. “It met with considerable support from the government of Kazakhstan in 2010 during the Global Tiger Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia.”
However, before reintroduction can be achieved, the ideal habitats for reintroduction must be found. In his study, he and his colleagues have stated that they identified two sites in Kazakhstan that theoretically, could support between 64 and 98 tigers within 50 years. This number was derived based off of previous research on the Caspian tiger’s individual range which could stretch over 300,000 to 350,000 square miles. And based on prey-population models that suggest that there would be ample supply of food, the Ili river delta and the adjacent southern coast of Balkhash Lake are the two suitable places.
The scientists stressed that such a project has some major hurdles, though, before it could ever be undertaken. Among them, according to Paltsyn, would be to preserve the prospective lands from degradation and also to restore hooved animal populations before the transplanted tigers arrived. “That, alone, could take 15 years,” he said of the latter.
Human-tiger safety and coexistence issues, too, would need to be sorted out, and water use of the Ili River would need to be regulated in Kazakhstan and China to support the tigers’ new habitat, the team said. The introduced Amur tigers would, of course, also need to be able to adapt to a new landscape unfamiliar to them.
However, Paltsyn is not worried about the difficulties ahead of the them. “WWF and the government of Kazakhstan seem to be ready to deal with all these difficult issues to bring tigers back to Central Asia.”
Tiger reintroduction has support from the Kazakhstan government and local communities because of potential economic benefit from wildlife tourism, small-business growth and employment opportunities at Ili-Balkhash Nature Reserve.
“The territory of the Caspian tiger was vast,” said Professor James Gibbs, a member of the research team and a conservation biologist who is director of the Roosevelt Wild Life Station at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, New York. “When they disappeared, the number of nations that hosted tiger populations was reduced by more than half.”
The researchers say introducing tigers in a couple of locations in Kazakhstan won’t make a widespread difference immediately but it would be an important first step.
Report Warns that Over Half of World’s Primate Species Face Extinction
Unsustainable human activities are behind most of the pressures that animals around the world face, especially the primate species.
Roughly 60% percent of the 504 species of primates, which are mankind’s closest biological relatives, are threatened with extinction caused by agricultural and industrial activities which destroy forest habitats as well as by hunting and trade, according to the study published in the Science Advances. Three-quarters of primates are already in steady decline, the study stated, casting doubt on the future of species including gorillas, chimps, gibbons, marmosets, tarsiers, lemurs, and lorises..
“Unsustainable human activities are now the major force driving primate species to extinction.”
The projected growth of the worldwide human population ― from 5.1 billion to 7.3 billion between 2010 and 2050 ― will unleash dramatic pressures on chimps, gibbons and lemurs, who will struggle to survive.
Anthony Rylands, a senior research scientist at Conservation International who helped to compile the report, said he was “horrified” at the grim picture revealed in the review which drew on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
He pointed out that the most dramatic impact on primates has come from agricultural growth. The most dramatic impact on primates has come from agricultural growth. From 1990 to 2010, it has claimed 1.5 million square kilometres of primate habitats, an area three times the size of France. In Sumatra and Borneo, the destruction of forests for oil palm plantations has driven severe declines in orangutan populations. In China, the expansion of rubber plantations has led to the near extinction of the northern white-cheeked crested gibbon and the Hainan gibbon. Rubber plantations in India have hit the Bengal slow loris, the western hoolock gibbon and Phayre’s leaf monkey.
Other than agricultural expansion, which in total threatens 76% of primate species, 60% are threatened by logging and the demand for bushmeat compounds the issue.
Illegal trading is also a major issue. The report cites accounts that claim 150,000 primates from 16 species are traded each year in Nigeria and Cameroon. In Borneo, between 2,000 and 3,000 orangutans are killed for food each year, a rate that is far from sustainable.
Primates primarily inhabit forested areas and are spread throughout 90 countries. Yet two-thirds of all primate species are concentrated in Brazil, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar.
In Madagascar, 87% face extinction along with another 73% in Asia. The report urges that humans have “one last opportunity” to reduce or remove the threats facing the animals, to build conservation efforts, and raise worldwide awareness of their predicament.
This study isn’t the first of its kind. There have been multiple wildlife assessments that warned of such catastrophic futures for many primates, the great apes in particular. Four of the seven species of great apes are listed as critically endangered by IUCN.
To protect primates from extinction, it’s necessary to implement sweeping changes to human behavior. Lowering the birth rate, combating poverty and inequality and improving public health would relieve some of the forces pushing primates to the brink.
Increasing the size of animal sanctuaries and protected areas should be a worldwide goal too, but the report noted that countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas are scaling back wildlife refuges.
“The goal of this review is not to produce a list of threats but rather to urge attention to the multiple global and regional anthropogenic factors that imperil primates worldwide and to encourage the development of sustainable and effective solutions that enhance primate survival in the medium and long term,” the study says.
Russell Mittermeier, co-author of the study, believes that it was crucial to target conservation on the most threatened forests and species. “Clearly we need to deal with the drivers of extinction, from commercial agriculture to mining and logging. But if we focus all of our efforts on that, by the time we have had an impact, there won’t be anything left. So we must first protect the last remaining pieces of habitat and if no protected areas exist, we must create them.”
He continued, “I’m an optimist and I believe we can come up with solutions, but we have to be very targeted now to make sure we don’t lose anything,” he said. Writing in the journal, the authors add: “Despite the impending extinction facing many of the world’s primates, we remain adamant that primate conservation is not yet a lost cause.”