At a briefing for the House Natural Resources Committee, WCS Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science Dr. John Robinson spoke of the dire state of tigers in the wild and the need for urgent support from the highest levels of the United States government.

“Wild tiger numbers are at an historical low. Today there is no evidence of breeding populations of tigers in Cambodia, China, Vietnam, and DPR Korea. With roughly 3,000 wild tigers left and only 1,000 of them being breeding females, the state of tigers is grim,” said Dr. John Robinson. “President Obama and his administration have a chance to play a critical part in saving these iconic creatures by taking an active role at the Global Tiger Initiative Summit in St. Petersburg at the end of this year.”

The global demand for tiger products and their illegal trade has increased exponentially. Saving the last remaining tigers will be futile if there isn't immediate, substantive, and sustained progress in improving landscape connectivity and ensuring infrastructure development does not impact tiger landscapes. WCS's goal is to increase tiger numbers by 50 percent during a ten-year period in eight priority landscapes in which WCS works across Asia.

The WCS Solution: Protecting Source Sites
Approximately 580,000 square miles (1.5 million sq. km) of suitable tiger habitat still remains in Asia, but these lands exist in small pockets. The big cats are restricted to mostly in protected areas. A recent WCS analysis identified 42 “source sites,” which together contain the majority of the world’s remaining tigers. Each area holds enough tigers that the populations could feasibly repopulate larger landscapes. Source sites are able to maintain more than 25 breeding females and are located within a larger region that has the potential support more than 50 breeding females. To be a source site, the area must have an existing conservation infrastructure and a legal mandate for protection.

While recognizing that the long-term goal is to conserve a network of large, tiger-friendly landscapes across Asia, the immediate priority is to protect and continuously monitor the species' last remaining breeding populations.

U.S. Government Leadership on Tigers Matters
Though range-state governments are already committing some of the financial resources needed to effectively manage these source sites, U.S. government support for on-the-ground tiger conservation is critical. No other nation other than the U.S. has dedicated funding for charismatic species such as tigers.

“The administration has a chance to step up to show commitment to the plight of tigers, just as the tiger range nations of Asia have done by convening this summit in St. Petersburg,” said WCS Executive Vice President of Public Affairs John Calvelli. “Congress can do its part for tigers by enacting the H.R. 1454 Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp Act, which would directly support on-the-ground tiger conservation efforts through the sale of postal stamps and by supporting increases for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Rhino-Tiger Conservation Fund in the FY11 Interior Appropriations Act.”

Since 1994, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has administered the Rhino-Tiger Conservation Fund for anti-poaching programs, habitat and ecosystem management, development of nature reserves, wildlife surveys and monitoring, management of human-wildlife conflict, public awareness campaigns and other conservation efforts related to rhino and tiger survival. Between 2005 and 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has invested $9 million in direct funding for this program generating over $15 million in additional matching funds from private corporations and foundations. Other U.S. government agencies such as the U.S. State Department, USAID, U.S. Forest Service International Programs etc have consistently supported tiger conservation projects and efforts.  

In addition, the U.S. government can play a critical role in negotiating international treaties and obligations and advocate for tiger conservation, particularly with those countries that have escalated the trade in tigers and tiger parts.