Was WWF Right In Claiming That The Global Tiger Population Has Increased?

By R. Siva Kumar - 23 Apr '16 14:27PM
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A group of scientists is questioning recent findings from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) showing tiger populations from Russia to Vietnam beginning to rise. Conservation groups and national governments counted around 3,890 tigers here, but skeptics claim that the numbers are not what they indicate.

With information from the International Union for Conversation of Nature (IUCN), the WWF concluded that the tiger population has shot up to 3,890, which is a huge leap from the 2010 numbers that had arrived at a figure of 3,200 tigers. The positive trend was generated by superior surveys and protection efforts, along with expansions in tiger populations in nations such as Russia and India.

"This offers us great hope and shows that we can save species and their habitats when governments, local communities, and conservationists work together," said  Marco Lambertini, WWF International's director general.

However, this data is unreliable, say biologists.

"Having devoted years of our lives to trying to understand and save wild tigers, we believe their conservation should be guided by the best possible science," the group said. "Using flawed survey methodologies can lead to incorrect conclusions, an illusion of success and slackening of conservation efforts when in reality grave concern is called for."

About 70 percent of tigers are living in merely 10 percent of the remaining 1.2 million hectares of the habitat, and those that do not live in these areas might die.

"The landscape and countrywide numbers which are generated by officials of various countries and regurgitated by WWF-GTF combine are totally unreliable because of deep statistical flaws that arise from the very nature of tiger spoor surveys," said Ullas Karanth, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's India program. "This has been clearly demonstrated in a paper by some of us, published last year. Science should not get so long to get absorbed into conservation practice."

The data could be fragile as well as overconfident, say the scientists.

"WWF shares the concerns of authors of the statement that tiger population data should be based on the best scientific data available and that the increase in tiger numbers should be balanced with recognition of the severe threats that tigers continue to face, that some populations have been decimated over the last five years and that serious rates of habitat loss still threaten tigers and tiger population recovery," the organization said.

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