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Monday, September 10, 2012

Good news for tigers

Species are going extinct at a prodigious rate, often because their habitats have been eradicated by human encroachment. Tigers are a prime example of a creature not expected to last into the next century. But that needn’t be the case. Neil Carter from Michigan State University and his colleagues have found that humans and tigers can coexist successfully.

First, let’s be clear about what’s being discussed. No one is suggesting that tigers and humans can happily occupy the same suburban neighborhoods. This study simply shows that human usage of a specific site in a forest does not prevent tigers from using that same site at a later time. In other words, the activities of humans need not drive tigers out of an area.

The study was conducted in and around Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. This region is home to over 25 breeding female tigers and is also visited regularly both by tourists and researchers and by local residents collecting forest resources such as firewood (though the latter operate outside the park boundaries).

The scientists found that over a two-year period, both people and tigers were using the same locations of the forest, as evidenced by camera traps. Even in areas of high human usage (both walking and driving), tigers were still observed. In fact, increasing human usage did not affect tiger density. The main concession the tigers seemed to make was to occupy the territory at night, leaving it to the humans during the daytime.

While this is somewhat encouraging, I think it will do little to prevent the eventual extinction of tigers or any other animals. It’s great that tigers don’t mind sharing their territories with humans, but I’m pretty sure most humans do mind sharing their territories with tigers.
Carter NH, Shrestha BK, Karki JB, Pradhan NM, & Liu J (2012). Coexistence between wildlife and humans at fine spatial scales. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PMID: 22949642