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The Eye of the Tiger: a comeback in Kazakhstan?

New research has given ground for hopes that the Caspian tiger (Panthera tigris virgata) could one day be reintroduced to Kazakhstan.


The Caspian tiger once roamed across the largest geographical range of any tiger subspecies, spanning from Turkey to northwestern China. Hunting, poisoning and trapping contributed to its extinction, while a major role was also played by large-scale irrigation projects created during the Soviet era, which diverted water and thus depleted their prey.


Yet the a study published by Biological Conservation in December casts hope that the tiger can return to the region. The presence of a subspecies that is - genetically speaking - nearly identical offers an opportunity, finds the research, titled ‘Tiger re-establishment potential to former Caspian tiger range in Central Asia’.


The study identified two promising sites in Kazakhstan that could support a population of nearly 100 tigers within 50 years. This would be possible by maintaining current river flows and restoring the population of its prey. The genetical similarities found between the Caspian tiger and current Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) would also have to be adaptable enough.


Many state-sponsored agricultural programs along rivers have been abandoned since the break-up of the Soviet Union, allowing for habitat recovery and thereby creating an opportunity to bring prey numbers up.


The study also notes how Amur tigers are still present in the Russian Far East, posing a great opportunity for tigers to be reintroduced. Given the time required to restore habitats, this would take up to 15 years, while human safety and socio-economic benefits for local populations would need to be taken into account.


Tiger reintroduction is supported by the government of Kazakhstan, local communities and WWF Russia.


UN Environment provides technical and political support to this work carried out through the ECONET project run by WWF, which aims to reintroduce wild species as part of a wider concept for the protection and sustainable use of natural resources in Central Asia. If successful, it could bring economic benefits thanks to wildlife tourism and small-business growth.


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