Tigers could reappear in Kazakhstan under new plan

Posted on 14 April 2011

Tigers could roam again in Central Asia under a new plan by the Kazakhstan government to reintroduce them in part of the country where they went extinct decades ago.
Tigers could roam again in Central Asia under a new plan by the Kazakhstan government to reintroduce them in part of the country where they went extinct decades ago.

WWF-Russia, together with the government and experts of the Republic of Kazakhstan announced today a new programme to return tigers to the region.

The plan seeks to relocate Amur tigers from the Russian Far East to suitable habitat in Kazakhstan near the delta of the Ili River, south of Balkhash Lake.

A recent study has shown the tigers from both the Caspian and Amur regions are genetically identical so the translocation of tigers between these areas is a suitable option.  The tigers of the Caspian region, which includes Kazakhstan, went extinct because of poaching and habitat loss, but both these threats are now starting to be adequately addressed.

The Caspian or Turan tiger (panthera  tigris virgata) was last recorded in the wild in the early 1970s, and there none in captivity, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ (IUCN) Red List.

In March 2011, the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Masimov underlined his interest in developing the tiger restoration programme in a meeting with WWF-Russia Director Igor Chestin and WWF Central Asia Programme Head Olga Pereladova.

"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 Chestin. “With a strong plan and proper protections in place, tigers can again roam the forests and landscapes of Central Asia.”

Research done by Dr. Hartmut Jungius in 2010 showed the Ili River Basin has at least 400,000 hectares of suitable tiger habitat. A separate study has shown the Amur tiger is genetically identical to the Turan tiger.

The Turan tiger has traditionally been an important symbol of the culture of Kazakhstan and Central Asia.

“We congratulate the Kazakhstan government for taking this opportunity to help the tiger,” said Mike Baltzer, Head of WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative. “Restoring tigers to Central Asia will require building both strong partnerships and a strong protection regime.”

On the heels of good news for tigers

The new initiative comes after an announcement last month by the Indian government that its tiger population had increased, based on a newly completed survey.

The announcement came during a follow-up meeting in India of governments participating in the International Tiger Conservation Forum, or Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia in November 2010 hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The Summit produced the groundbreaking Global Tiger Recovery Programme, an international plan joined by tiger range countries to save the big cat from extinction and double its numbers by 2022.

At the Summit, Prime Minister Putin expressed a willingness to assist Kazakhstan with a tiger reintroduction programme.

Numbering more than 100,000 at the turn of the 20th century, the tiger population today is estimated to be just 3,200, scattered across 13 countries in Asia and the Russian Far East. Tigers have been lost  from more than 93 percent of their habitat during this decline, including the area in Kazakhstan where the reintroduction programme is to take place.

Caspian Tiger. Drawing: WWF / Helmut Diller
© WWF / Helmut Diller