Tigers, elephants, and other large mammals in India long thrived in the country’s extensive protected area system, in place for more than 80 years. But as the pace of economic growth accelerates, these refuges may no longer be enough to sustain them. A new study by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Duke University, and other groups calls for improving existing protected areas and establishing new parks and corridors to ensure the long-term survival of the subcontinent’s large species.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is authored by Krithi K. Karanth of Duke & Columbia University; James D. Nichols and James E. Hines of the USGS Patuxent Research Center; K. Ullas Karanth of the Wildlife Conservation Society; and Norman L. Christensen of Duke University.

“This study provides us with a roadmap for next steps for conservation in India,” said Colin Poole, executive director of WCS-Asia. “As India develops into a world economic power, it is critical that conservation planning is part of that expansion.”

The researchers created models to estimate the probability of extinction for 25 large mammals. They based their predictions on a comparison of current species distributions with those from the past 200 years, using records from natural history and museum databases. The models indicated how such factors as protected areas, forest cover, and human cultural attitudes impacted survival.

The scientists found that all 25 species would experience some level of local extinction due to a variety of threats, including habitat loss and human population growth and development. The study results confirmed that protected areas are essential in conserving large carnivores such as tigers and other forest-dwelling animals such as sambar deer. Animals including the wild buffalo, the goat-like Nilgiri tahr, the swamp deer, and the rare Asiatic lions all had very high probabilities of extinction. Adaptable animals such as wild pigs, jackals, and blackbuck were more likely to persevere.

The authors point out that many species, including ones that exist outside of protected areas (mouse deer, four-horned antelope, sloth bear, and wolf) and those that now occupy a tiny remnant of former ranges (gaur, elephant, rhino, Asiatic lion, and tiger) will require new protected areas to ensure their survival.

“Our results highlight the need for an expansion of conservation planning to complement land use decisions and development,” added Karanth.