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Tigers get a business plan

Journal Nature reports on new program to increase tiger numbers by 50 percent

The Wildlife Conservation Society has launched an ambitious new program that calls for a 50 percent increase in tiger numbers in key areas over the next decade, according to an article in this week's journal Nature. The new initiative, called "Tigers Forever," blends a business model with hard science, and has already attracted the attention of venture capitalists who have pledged an initial $10 million to support it.

The program involves a dozen WCS field sites where an estimated 800 tigers currently reside. Building on WCS successes in places like India's Nagarahole National Park and the Russian Far East where tiger numbers have rebounded, the new plan says that tigers can grow to an approximately 1,200 individuals across these sites. The total population for tigers remains a mystery, though some scientists believe that perhaps 3-000-5,000 remain in the wild.

Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, who directs WCS big cat programs, notes that this kind of accountability with specific numbers over a specific time period, is a new concept for conservationists. "We're putting our reputations on the line and holding ourselves accountable that we can grow tiger numbers," said Rabinowitz. "At the same time, we have the knowledge, expertise and track record to accomplish this goal."

The plan calls for working closely with local governments and other partners to gain baseline knowledge on tigers in places like Myanmar's Hukawng Valley – the world's largest tiger reserve – while stepping up anti-poaching activities in other sites, including Thailand's Huai Kha Khaeng and Thung Yai protected areas. In some sites, like the Russian Far East, tiger numbers may not increase from their current estimated population of 500 animals.

On the other hand, India's highly productive Western Ghats region may see an increase by as much as 60 percent. Sites in Laos and Cambodia, where current tiger numbers may run below ten individuals may see tiger numbers jump four-fold over the next decade.

It is these types of hard numbers that attracted have attracted venture capitalist and WCS trustee Michael Cline and Tom Kaplan, both of the Panthera Foundation to pledge $10 million over ten years to help fund the initiative.

"I am most interested in supporting efforts that will get results," said Cline. "WCS's Tiger's Forever initiative has brought together two key initiatives – superb people armed with an understanding of what it takes to save tigers. In an area where there have been many disappointments, I am betting that Tigers Forever will get results."

The Tigers Forever initiative begins today and the clock is running.

Stephen Sautner | EurekAlert!
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