Wild Tiger Management: Methods and Standards
Significant declines in tiger populations have led to calls for action. In fact, global tiger populations have declined by more than 95% since 2000. To add to the urgency of the problem, more than 93% of tigers’ historic range has vanished. Illegal trade, poaching, deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and diminishing prey contribute to this problem in particular. Standardizing the methods of tiger management and increasing the effectiveness of tiger management are critical steps to resolve the problem.
As part of the solution, the conservation community has committed to doubling the global world tiger population between 2010 and 2022. This initiative is known as TX2. As a result, various donors—including government and non-government organizations—have helped to fund and create a global political infrastructure to support the initiative. The primary focus of TX2 is site protection, which is a decision that empirical research supports. But, site protection is insufficient on its own. There is also a need for the effective management of the whole project to achieve optimal outcomes.
The concept of effective management of protected areas has evolved over the past 20 years, and dozens of data collection tools for effective management have emerged during this time. The principles specified by the IUCN World Commission for Protected Areas have primarily shaped these tools. That being said, the fact that these tools can only identify when there is a problem without being able to provide a solution limits how useful they are. So, scientists have developed species-specific conservation standards to measure and facilitate improved tiger conservation outcomes. They based these standards on exhaustive literature reviews and expert stakeholder consultations. This needed an international effort consisting of extensive workshops and stakeholder collaboration, as well as a focus on technical and financial feasibility. It resulted in the identification of seven pillars on which to focus. Once the set-up was complete, organizations could register for and participate in the accreditation process leading to actionable recommendations for improvements in tiger conservation outcomes. Standardized training was provided to ensure the reliable and effective implementation of the project.
Since the inception of this initiative, it has won large-scale support. In fact, representatives have implemented the program across 60 sites spanning seven regions (Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, India, Malaysia, Nepal, and Russia). Although there has been substantial buy-in to the program, staff originally anticipated that participants could implement the initiative much more quickly than has been the case. Integrating the program with national systems and national Tiger Action Plans has also proved challenging. That being said, staff have awarded three sites the “approved” status since the inception of the program. These sites include Nepal, Russia, and India. In India, for example, a robust protection strategy was put in place resulting in a stable and growing Landsdowne tiger population despite continued poaching threats.
Although there is more work to do, how TX2 has developed and taken off has shown promise in terms of providing a methodological framework for tiger management. This is because there are collaborative and international efforts around standardizing the process of and adopting best practices in tiger management. The value of this initiative remains its ability to provide actionable recommendations for driving improvements in tiger conservation management. But, the program needs sustained and broader funding to reach its full potential.