In November 2010, the heads of government of the 13 tiger range countries signed the St Petersburg declaration promising to double the world's population of wild tigers by 2020. An international team of scientists led by Dr Eric Dinerstein of chief scientist at WWF in the United States set out to discover whether this was even possible.
Their findings are published in the research journal, Conservation Letters. The 20 key remaining tiger landscapes can in fact support over 10,000 tigers, but only if these core areas can be linked by corridors of tiger friendly landscapes, allowing animals to move between reserves.
'In the midst of a crisis, it's tempting to circle the wagons and only protect a limited number of core protected areas, but we can and should do better,” said Dinerstein,. “We absolutely need to stop the bleeding, the poaching of tigers and their prey in core breeding areas; but we need to go much further and secure larger tiger landscapes before it is too late.'
The genetic consequences of small isolated inbreeding populations also pose a threat and add further urgency to implementation of a new landscape based plan for tigers.
Small groups of animals are also vulnerable to poachers, who managed to completely eliminate tigers from the Indian reserves of Panna and Sariska in 2009 and 2005.
These areas of ideal tiger habitat have not been recolonised naturally because they are not linked to other reserves.
Landscape level planning does work as new habitat corridors between China and Russia have recently allowed tigers to re-establish breeding populations in the Chinese Changbaishan mountains where they had disappeared in the 1990's.
Wild tiger populations have crashed from an estimated 100,000 in the early 1990's.
It is thought that barely 3,500 survive in the wild today due to habitat destruction, human conflict and poaching pressures on both the tigers and their prey. Huge conservation efforts in the 1980's secured the future of the African rhinoceros, lets hope that the same can be done for tigers.