Endangered Species

Saving Our World’s Tigers

Credit:  John Goodrich, WCS
Credit: John Goodrich, WCS

Into a world with just less than 3,000 tigers left in the wild, Tigers Forever was born in 2006 with the goal of increasing key tiger populations by 50% over the next ten years.  They knew it would take more than money alone, since tigers were getting more funding than most endangered species and yet were still declining. But in the darkness were two lights – Wildlife Conservation Society had two long term field sites where tigers were actually doing well.  Panthera and Wildlife Conservation Society leaders studied these two sites and found that their success was due to how the sites were being managed.  The sites held the lessons of how to save and increase the number of tigers.  Tigers Forever is based on those success stories, matched with business sense and streamlined and focused efforts.

Intrigued by how Tigers Forever had set a strategic goal and was being so well managed, I enjoyed having a personal interview with Andrea Heydlauff, Managing Director of Panthera, who filled me in.

New York entrepreneur and Panthera board member Michael Cline committed to contributing $5 million over ten years to Tigers Forever, with Panthera contributing the same amount (so together it’s $10 million over 10 years) . Wildlife Conservation Society matches those funds, and the groups collaborate.  As well, Cline understood the power of strategic planning and management, and led the way in setting the goal of increasing tiger numbers at key sites by 50%, collectively.  Of the 13 tiger countries, WCS had field scientists in 9 of them, and Panthera had a presence through their commitment and program management.

Credit:  WCS Myanmar
Credit: WCS Myanmar

The eight sites selected for management all had known tiger and prey populations, conservation manpower and efforts, and buy-in from government and local partnerships.  Engaging all factions is key to successfully accomplishing conservation goals. “It wasn’t just random,” Andrea explained, “it’s where is it that we are going to have the most impact.”

Aside from poaching and hunting of both tigers and their prey, another of the biggest threats facing tigers is connectivity where they are suffering “from fragmentation and isolation”.  In places such as India, “with human population pressure you’re getting these postage stamp, isolated, almost little Disney parks of tigers”, Andrea commented.  Different populations of tigers need connectivity to keep the animals healthy and genetically strong and ensure their long term future.

It’s also important to ease conflicts between humans and tigers.  Too often, people living in or around core-protected areas allow their livestock to graze openly in tiger habitat, and run the risk of losing their livestock to hungry tigers – especially where there is little to no wild prey.  This affects human livelihoods.  Sometimes the solution is as simple as having local authorities enforce a ban against livestock in core areas and having patrols make sure that domestic animals graze in selected areas.  “We are the NGO, we can’t necessarily do the enforcement, but we can train and support the enforcement teams”, Andrea mentioned.  Other solutions involve teaching local people good animal husbandry techniques, such as bringing livestock into fenced areas at night rather than letting them roam free.  “What’s good for cats is good for people”.

Tiger istockTigers Forever is committed to achieving their annual goals.  Good site monitoring information about tigers and their prey, about the hunting of tigers and their prey, and habitat loss/fragmentation, is essential.  Through camera traps and density estimates, the field research provides important information that tells managers how the program is doing, the impact and effectiveness of the patrol teams, and what may need changing.  These measurements are presented in an annual meeting which brings together key people from each site as well as the managing organizations.  “We conduct a rigorous analysis each year, by looking at data and looking at human efforts,” Andrea continued.  By looking at the data and comparing benchmarks, those involved evaluate whether the efforts are working.  If they’re not, they look at it again and change things – a perfect example of adaptive management.

This business management approach to saving tigers is producing success. In a wildlife sanctuary in Thailand, signs are being seen of a growing tiger population.  The reasons?  Tremendous government buy-in, and hundreds of patrol park officers with high morale, good equipment, and uniforms.  Unlike too many places, these park guards have pride in their jobs, excellent training including refresher courses, and individual accountability and successes.  “It’s a good job to have, so the people want to keep their jobs”.

I asked Andrea if this business-like approach is the wave of the future for conservation NGOs.  “Donors are smarter now – they want accountability,” she answered.  How can non profits know if they’re saving animals when they lack the monitoring and annual reviews that sometimes highlight what just isn’t working?  “So this is going to shift non profits to being more accountable regarding where their money is going and if targets are being met.”

With Tigers Forever, 100% of donations is put directly into the field where it’s needed.  Their overhead is covered by seed funds, so donations can go to conducting the research on the ground, developing and setting up camera trap, and training park guards, “giving them the tools to be effective in working to save the tigers”, Andrea told me .  Funds are needed in the field to accomplish their goals.

You can learn more about Tigers Forever by visiting their website.

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Alison Wheatley

Alison Wheatley

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