TitleTigers against the odds: Applying macro-ecology to species recovery in India
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsKaranth UK, Kumar S, Karanth K
PaginationArticle No. 108846
Date Published12/2020

Tigers are in serious decline from anthropogenic pressures: prey depletion by human hunting, killing of tigers for conflict mitigation or trade in their body parts, and habitat loss or degradation. In spite of conservation efforts over 50 years, wild tigers now occupy <7% of their historic range. Reproducing tiger populations survive in <1% of the similar to 1.6 million km(2) potential habitat. Evaluating both successful and failed conservation efforts is critical to reversing tiger declines. Wild tiger populations are managed by governments under constraints imposed by other stake-holders. We review recoveries of tigers across a 38,000 km(2) area landscape matrix in Malenad region in southwestern India, during the past five decades. We examine data and empirical observations on tiger ecology, human impacts, emergent conflicts, as well as conservation interventions made at macro-ecological scales by the non-governmental project titled Malenad Tiger Program. We estimate that between 1970 and 2015, tiger habitat occupancy remained unchanged at 14,000 km(2), out of 21,000 km(2) of potential habitat in Malenad. However, tiger numbers rose from 70 to 391, only because of sporadic recoveries in a few wildlife reserves. We conclude that if tiger recovery efforts can be optimized in future, the Malenad landscape can potentially support 1300 wild tigers. We propose pragmatic strategies that may improve success rates and cost-effectiveness of future recovery efforts directed at tigers, and, generally at other threatened large carnivores. We evaluate both challenges and opportunities that non-governmental conservation programs must address to be effective in assisting tiger recoveries in the future.