July 21, 2006 — By Michael Casey, Associated Press
BANGKOK, Thailand — Tiger habitats worldwide have shrunk 40 percent in the past decade and their survival depends on cracking down on poaching, working to reduce conflicts with humans, and protecting key ranges, according to a study released Thursday.
The worldwide tiger population has steadily declined to about 7,500 globally, and the big cats continue to face a myriad of threats -- including the trade in tiger parts to meet demand for traditional medicines in China and Southeast Asia.
Tigers now reside in only 7 percent of their historic range -- 40 percent less than a decade ago, the World Wildlife Fund said.
The study by a coalition of conservation groups identified for the first time 76 areas, mostly in Asia, that have the best chance of supporting tiger populations.
"Many important areas have been overlooked for funding, largely because there has been no method to systematically identify areas of high conservation potential," the study said.
About half of the 76 areas can support 100 tigers and "offer excellent opportunities for the recovery of wild tiger populations."
Researchers are focusing on a few key regions in India, Russia's far east and parts of Southeast Asia. Tiger breeding areas must be protected and efforts to link different tiger habitats need to be improved, the study said.
"We have learned many important lessons over the last 10 years, and this study provides a blueprint for scientists and the countries that hold the key for the tigers' survival," said Mahendra Shrestha, director of National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Save The Tiger Fund, which commissioned the study.
Conservation efforts so far have helped stabilize certain tiger populations, but many initiatives were "ad hoc" and "did little to stem the crisis," the study found.
John Robinson of the Wildlife Conservation Society said tiger conservation requires commitment from local groups, governments, and international donors to "bring the species back to all parts of its biological range."