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Tiger conservation can help realise SDGs in Asia

Dec 26, 2017

Investing in tigers produce significant benefits and opportunities for thousands of species and millions of people.

New Delhi: Money invested by governments, aid agencies and funds raisedby supporters across the globe to save wild tigers have unseen benefits for Asia’s wildlife and millions of people, according to a new WWF report - Beyond the Stripes: Save tigers, Save So Much More.

Tiger landscapes - which range from the world’s largest mangrove forests in the Sundarbans, to temperate forests in the snowy mountains of Bhutan - overlap with globally-important ecosystems, many of which are part of Asia’s last wilderness. These biodiversity-rich areas harbour a wealth of critically important goods and services that millions of people rely on, from mitigating climate change and safeguarding freshwater to reducing the impact of natural disasters and improving the health of local people.

Yet, wild tigers are endangered, and their habitats are threatened; having lost 95 per cent of their global range, the cats are now confined to fragmented populations in Asia’s surviving forest habitats. Close to half (43 per cent) of the present suitable tiger habitat could soon be lost to unsustainable agriculture expansion and urbanization.

“Every dollar invested in saving the wild tiger also helps save many threatened species, and ecosystem services that are critical to millions of people,” said Michael Baltzer, Leader of WWF Tigers Alive. “Protecting the vast landscapes where tigers thrive helps to regulate freshwater, reduce the impacts of climate change and provide a source of clean air, medicinal plants, jobs, and so much more.”

Ensuring Water Security:

According to the report, securing tiger landscapes could help protect at least nine major watersheds, which regulate and provide freshwater for up to 830 million people in Asia, including in urban areas across India, Malaysia and Thailand, apart from other benefits and opportunities for thousands of species and millions of people.

With one of the largest contiguous tiger populations in India, the southern state of Karnatakahas recently seen the expansion of their protected areas network by 2,385 square kilometres[3]. These protected areas not only support a large diversity of wildlifebut also conserve watersheds, including those of 16 rivers, such as the Cauvery, Nethravathi, Paalar, Bhadra, Varahi, Gundia, Kumaradhara, Seetha and Kaali Rivers, which are critical for the water security of the region.

Natural forests also discharge purer water, and reduce sediment reaching rivers, streams and reservoirs, with direct social and economic benefits. TheRamganga River watershed, largely inside Corbett National Park in India, a tiger stronghold, is a clear example. From 1974 to 2010, a downstream dam has generated electricity worth US$41 million along with 88,000 million cubic metreof irrigation water, without direct investment in catchment treatment or significant siltation.[4]

High Economic Value:

According to the report, every hectare protected as tiger habitat provides multiple services, whose monetary values can add up to several thousand dollars per hectare per year. Several studies have assessed the value of ecosystem services and natural capital, from large-scale landscape-level valuations to specific studies in protected areas with tigers. While estimates vary depending on habitat and management regime, all indicate the high economic and social value of natural ecosystems. The total value of tropical forest and mangrove ecosystems per hectare per year has been estimated at around US$5,500[5][6] and US$4,000[7] respectively; a value rarely accounted for by governments or fed back into conservation funding.

In India, the total value of nine ecosystem services in the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) in Uttarakhand (where the Corbett and Rajaji National parks are located) was calculated at six billion US$ in 2015-16,[8] indicating that the contribution of the ecosystem to the human community is higher than the total income of the community of the region.These values are made up of a range of benefits, which includesprovisioning services like, water (used for agriculture, hydropower, drinking water), fuel wood, and fodder; regulating services like carbon sequestration, and microclimate regulation; and cultural services like tourism (nature and pilgrimage). With more than half the population in TAL earning less than US$ 1.9 per day, it is critical to take into account the net cost of losing ecosystem servicesalso defined as ‘GDP of the poor’[9]and the impacts of this on the rural communities.

Speaking about the significance of the report, Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO, WWF-India, said, “As an apex predator, tigers are a classic landscape species that use many habitats across wide areas and play a key role in ecosystem function. Investment in tiger habitats will produce significant co-benefits and economic opportunities for people and other species that live in the tiger range. The conservation of the species will help protect not only the tiger but secure the natural capital and ecosystem services required to underpin economic expansion for the Asia region as a whole.”

Perhaps the most important message of the report is that investments in tiger conservation is by no means a diversion from other global development priorities. The global collaborative goal of doubling wild tiger numbers embodies the larger goal of conserving and managing sustainably up to 1.2 million square kilometres of habitat suitable for tigers across the 13 tiger range countries in Asia,[10]which in turn provide the goods and services vital for sustainable human development.

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