A Royal Bengal tiger at the Dhaka zoo in Bangladesh, in a 2003 photo. AP Photo/Pavel Rahman
Saving big cats comes down to money. And now scientists have some.
But they will be held accountable.
Conservation-minded venture capitalists have pledged $10 million to support a scientific effort aimed at saving tigers. In a twist for science, specific results have been promised in what researchers are calling a business plan for the big cats.
The effort, started yesterday and led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), is called Tigers Forever. The scientists say proper conservation could increase tiger numbers across a dozen sites from 800 to 1,200. The program's predictions are based on successes in bolstering tiger populations in India's Nagarahole National Park and the Russian Far East.
Experts do not know how many tigers remain in the wild, but they believe there are only 3,000 to 5,000 left.
"We're putting our reputations on the line and holding ourselves accountable that we can grow tiger numbers," said Alan Rabinowitz, who directs WCS big cat programs. "At the same time, we have the knowledge, expertise and track record to accomplish this goal."
The plan: Work closely with local governments and other partners to gain baseline knowledge on tigers in the dozen locations and step up anti-poaching efforts.
In India's Western Ghats region, the tiger population could increase 60 percent, the researchers predict. In sites in Laos and Cambodia, where possibly as few as ten tigers remain, numbers could quadruple over the next decade.
WCS trustee Michael Cline and Tom Kaplan, both of the Panthera Foundation, pledged $10 million over ten years to help fund the initiative.
"I am most interested in supporting efforts that will get results," Cline said. "WCS's Tiger's Forever initiative has brought together two key initiatives – superb people armed with an understanding of what it takes to save tigers. In an area where there have been many disappointments, I am betting that Tigers Forever will get results."