Fewer than 3,500 wild tigers exist in the world today. Threatened by poaching and habitat destruction, these iconic big cats survive in a tiny fraction of their former habitat, clustered in small pockets of Asian forest.
More troubling, just around a third of these tigers are breeding females, individuals that are critical to rearing future generations of striped cats. In the face of this grim news, a recent study conducted by WCS and its partners offers hope.
The scientists have identified 42 "source sites" that should be prioritized in the fight to save tigers from extinction. These places—found in Russia, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Lao PDR—give the world's remaining tiger populations a chance to recover.
Dr. Joe Walston, director of WCS-Asia, believes that keeping these sites safe for tigers and their cubs is within reach.
"While the scale of the challenge is enormous, the complexity of effective implementation is not," said Walston. "In the past, overly ambitious and complicated conservation efforts have failed to do the basics: prevent the hunting of tigers and their prey. With 70 percent of the world's wild tigers in just six percent of their current range, efforts need to focus on securing these sites as the number one priority for the species."
The study finds that effectively protecting these sites is logistically and economically possible. The researchers calculate that governments and international groups are already spending about $42 million annually on conserving the source sites. But spending an additional $35 million each year for more extensive population monitoring, stronger law enforcement, and increased community organizing could enable tiger numbers to double in these last strongholds.
Most of the "source sites" fall within India, which has 18, followed by Malaysia with 8 and Russia with 6 of these critical conservation areas. WCS conservationists are currently working in more than half of the 42 prioritized sites.
"The tiger is facing its last stand as a species," said WCS's Dr. John Robinson, executive vice president of Conservation and Science. "As dire as the situation is for tigers, the Wildlife Conservation Society is confident that the world community will come together to save these iconic big cats from the brink for future generations. This study gives us a roadmap to make that happen."
To explore the places offering tigers the best chance of survival and to discover how you can help, visit the WCS Tigers in Peril website.