Caspian tigers joined the ranks of extinct tigers by the mid-1960s.They were some of the largest cats to ever live (10 feet long, weighing more than 300 pounds), and used to be found roaming around the lands of Turkey, much of Central Asia – including Iran and Iraq, and even northwestern China. The subspecies were designated extinct due to poisoning and trappings promoted by bounties, as well as irrigation projects, which not only destroyed their habitat (the tugay woodlands and reed thickets), but also lead their prey to disappear.
However, there is now a chance that the subspecies of the Caspian tigers could be restored to Central Asia. Scientists at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) want to reintroduce tigers to a remote area of Kazakhstan. A recent study identified at least two habitat patches in Kazakhstan that could potentially be suitable to support a population of about 100 tigers within the next 50 years – Chasten, Paltsyn, Pereladova, Iegorova, & Gibbs, 2017.
The first step would involve using the Amur tiger from the Russian Far East (a subspecies which is nearly identical – genetically, to the Caspian tiger) as an “analog” species. However, there are some challenges that need to be addressed before the tigers would be able to roam here again.
Potential Challenges to a Caspian Revival
According to Mikhail Paltsyn, a doctoral candidate at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, one of the researchers from the study, “First, it is necessary to stop riparian zone degradation caused by uncontrolled fires. Second, it is vital to restore wild ungulate (broadly defined as a hoofed mammal) populations in the area. That, alone, could take five to 15 years…third, human safety and socio-economic benefits for local populations need to be addressed to provide a sustainable future for both tigers and people. And, finally, water consumption from the Ili River needs to be regulated in both Kazakhstan and China to support sufficient water level in Balkash Lake for tugay and reed ecosystems – the main tiger habitat. However, WWF and the government of Kazakhstan seem to be ready to deal with all these difficult issues to bring tigers back to Central Asia.”
The idea of reintroducing tigers has the support from the WWF, the Kazakhstan government, and local communities because all of the potential economic benefit from wildlife tourism, small-business growth and employment opportunities at Ili-Balkhash Nature Reserve.
Of the original nine subspecies of tigers, three have become extinct within the last century, four are considered endangered by the IUCN, and two are considered “critically” endangered. It has been predicted that all tigers may become extinct in the wild within the next decade, prominently due to factors such as poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation. The total number of all the wild populations of the six remaining subspecies of tigers (Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, Siberian, South China, and Sumatran) is estimated to be between 3,000 – 3,600 tigers.
In 2016, groups such as Project Tiger found success in Tiger conservation numbers after the Indian Government supported the group by funding their budget with the clean energy tax, called the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF). The government has also highlighted four anti-poaching measures – village relocation, special tiger force, building of new infrastructure and use of innovative technologies – as reasons for the jump in tiger numbers. Conservationists hope the budget increase will continue to help alleviate some of these problems. The population of tigers in India has increased from 1,706 in 2011 to 2,226 in 2014, leaving India as home to 70% of the global wild tiger population.