Tigers could soon return to Central Asia after the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, together with WWF-Russia, drew up ambitious plans to reintroduce this iconic carnivore to the region.
The new programme, announced today, seeks to relocate Siberian tigers from the Russian Far East to suitable habitat in Kazakhstan, near the delta of the Ili River, south of Balkhash Lake.
Driven to extinction in Kazakhstan
Lake Balkhash, one of the largest lakes in Asia, is the original habitat of the tiger in Kazakhstan. The tiger was last recorded in this region in the early 1970s, being driven to extinction by poaching and habitat loss, both of which are now starting to be adequately addressed. Research in 2010 showed that the Ili River Basin has at least 400,000 hectares of suitable tiger habitat.
Originally, tigers in this region were classified as a distinct subspecies, known as the Caspian or Turan tiger (Panthera tigris virgata). However, a recent study has show that tigers from both the Caspian and Siberian regions are genetically identical, making the translocation of tigers between these two areas feasible.
Government and WWF to collaborate
In March 2011, the Kazakhstan Government underlined their interest to collaborate with WWF-Russia to develop the tiger restoration programme.
“We have agreed that WWF and the Ministry of Environment in Kazakhstan will draw up a comprehensive programme to reintroduce the tiger in the area around Lake Balkhash”, said Igor Chestin, WWF-Russia Director. “With a strong plan and proper protections in place, tigers can again roam the forests and landscapes of Central Asia.”
Mike Baltzer, Head of WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative, added “We congratulate the Kazakhstan government for taking this opportunity to help the tiger. Restoring tigers to Central Asia will require building both strong partnerships and a strong protection regime.”
More great news for the tiger
The announcement of this new tiger programme comes shortly after India released the results of a new survey that indicated its tiger population may be on the increase.
These results were revealed at a follow-up meeting of governments that participated in the International Tiger Conservation Forum, or Tiger Summit, in St. Petersburg, Russia in November 2010. The Summit produced the landmark Global Tiger Recovery Programme, an international plan to double tiger numbers by 2022 and save this Endangered species from extinction.
Speaking at the Tiger Summit, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia was ready to share its tiger “families” with Kazakhstan and other countries, to help restore tiger populations there.
Read the full story at WWF – ‘Tigers could reappear in Kazakhstan under new plan’.
Watch ARKive’s tiger slideshow to view 89 stunning images.
Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author