Adapted from abstract:
Wildlife conservation in the Anthropocene requires bold conservation solutions including restoration of ecosystems and species. The recovery of large carnivore populations is a conservation goal which can generate significant benefits in terms of ecosystem services, ecological functionality, and human well-being. Tigers Panthera tigris, Asia’s most iconic species, are currently restricted to less than 10% of their historic range with recent national extinctions from a number of countries in mainland Southeast Asia. Tiger recovery through range expansion requires suitable habitat, a robust prey base, and high levels of institutional support for conservation.
This paper explored government support for conservation to produce a ranking of the political opportunities for tiger restoration across current and former tiger range countries. Researchers used this analysis, in combination with globally remotely sensed data-sets on human impact, to show that there is potential for significant tiger range expansion. They identified large expanses of currently unoccupied, but potentially suitable, habitat in at least 14 countries including all extant tiger range countries and four countries with extirpated tiger populations – Cambodia, Lao PDR, Viet Nam, and Kazakhstan. Thirty-two percent of expansion areas were within 50-km, and 50% within 100-km, of current tiger populations highlighting that in many landscapes range expansion could be driven by the natural dispersal of tigers provided connectivity is maintained or enhanced. The proportion of potential range within existing protected areas varied between 60% in Thailand and Cambodia. As such socially appropriate conservation approaches, in collaboration with local communities, will be necessary to support tiger recovery in many areas. The researchers recommend that some of the areas which we have identified should be highlighted as significant for future tiger conservation by tiger range country governments. Whilst the landscapes and sites which they identify will require detailed ground-truthing, and all tiger reintroductions need extensive planning and feasibility assessments, safeguarding these areas for human-carnivore coexistence could provide significant planetary benefits and support both tiger recovery and Global Sustainable Development Goals.