By Faranak Bakhtiari

International Tiger Day: silent roar of Caspian tiger is regrettable

July 28, 2020 - 19:0

TEHRAN – Tiger is an endangered species whose surviving population in natural habitats is less than 4,000 individuals, and preventing them from extinction and preserving its habitat is one of the greatest concerns of the international community for the protection of biodiversity.

Therefore, July 28 is designated as International Tiger Day to further emphasize the importance of protecting this valuable species because experts believe that if this remarkable animal could not be saved from extinction, what hope could there be for rescuing more unknown species?

Lions, leopards, and tigers are big cats that have always been a symbol of power, glory, and grandeur throughout history, and usually, the countries try to preserve them, but in the meantime, some factors such as urban development, poaching and illegal hunting, habitat degradation, food shortages, and climate change have led them to shrink and eventually become extinct.

The outstanding Caspian tigers once roamed over most of the northern provinces of Iran, have gone extinct half a century ago.

According to the available evidence, the last tiger in Iran was hunted in 1953 in Golestan National Park, but another report announced the observation of a tiger in 1959 in the same area.

In the early 1970s, the Department of Environment conducted a study to search for the Persian tiger in the forests of northern Iran, but during this period, researchers could not find any evidence of the tiger and declared its definite extinction.

Caspian tigers had been protected since 1957, with heavy fines for shooting, but it was too late for the majestic cat to make a recovery.

This situation was not ended in Iran, but the extinction has embraced two other subspecies of tiger, including the Bali and Javan, which became extinct in 1960 and 1979, respectively. There are 9 subspecies of tiger in the world, of which three are extinct.

The tiger needs large habitats to live and is less able to live in a small realm, which is getting smaller day by day due to the development of urbanization and human intervention in nature.

As tiger extinction accelerates around the world, July 29 has been designated World Tiger Day since 2010.

In the Iranian calendar year 1389 (March 2009-March 2010), two Siberian tigers were sent to Iran from Russia in exchange of two Persian Leopards; aiming to restore the Caspian tiger generation in the country, but after a while, the male one died due to an outbreak of glanders (an infectious disease occurs primarily by ingestion of contaminated food or water).

The female tiger was quarantined for five years on the charge of being infected with the virus, but with the help of wildlife enthusiasts and the DOE after undergoing several medical tests, the animal was then moved to a suitable place in Tehran Zoo.

The DOE emphasis is on protecting species that now exist in the wild, but at the same time is preparing a plan called “conservation of cats” with the priority of two big cats and then small cats, and since the protection of cheetahs in the form of an independent international project is underway, they have set it aside and focused on the conservation of leopards and six small cats, as well as discussing feasibility studies for two endangered species of lions and tigers.

Is it possible to reintroduce Caspian tiger?

Kaveh Faizollahi, a zoologist who worked specifically on the tiger species, told IRNA that the tiger is a flexible species and tolerates a wide range of habitat and climatic conditions, so it is found in tropical areas of Asia to the ever-snow-covered areas of Siberia.

On the other hand, it has a relatively high reproductive rate and a short interval between its reproductions. It is not very problematic in food and can change its hunting technique depending on the type of prey and habitat. Despite, these features human development in West Asia made it vulnerable, he added.

The first feature of tigers that caused them to disappear was the tiger's dependence on the water resources and its presence near river basins, lake edges, and seashores, where the highest concentration of human population exists and the conflicts pushed them toward extinction.

The second one is related to the prey, the natural prey they mainly fed on was deer, and they attracted to northern Iran probably because of the good population of red deer and roe deer.

However, with the population of deer declined, the tiger was inevitably feeding on the wild boar, which has severe population fluctuations and is a temporary source of food.

The third item is hunting, tiger hunting intensified during their final periods living in Iran, due to the reduction of prey and hunting livestock.

Tiger cubs were also captured for illegal trade, in addition, land-use changes, superstitions, and using their organs in traditional medicine were among the other factors eradicated tigers.”

“Certainly, there is no proper habitat for tiger in Iran. If there are intentions to revive the tiger population in Iran, or, in other words, to ensure a stable population of it, a natural habitat must be prepared, including, good vegetation cover, clean water, and enough bait.

Before restoring the Caspian tiger in the country, other species of red and roe deer must be increased; for example, 20 tigers in a hypothetical area may need a population of 10,000 large mammals, which may take several years to expand.

After that, the tigers must gradually enter the prepared area; If there is no wild tiger, the tigers kept in captivity should be used as a parent and re-wild their cubs.

The whole process is very difficult, costly, and time-consuming.

Will other wildlife species experience the fate of Caspian tiger?

Wildlife management expert, Baqer Nezami, said that there are almost no large mammals in the country whose population is not endangered. When it is said that a species is not endangered, it means that the level of endangerment of those species is better than others such as the Asiatic cheetah, but all large mammals in the country, including bears, leopards, and red deer, are in a miserable condition.

Part of the direct protection of this species is to increase physical protection, that is, to increase the number and level of awareness and literacy of the rangers, and the other part is the proper and principled implementation of reproduction in captivity, he highlighted.

Nezami went on to say that breeding in captivity of the country's wildlife species is not very transparent and there is no specific program for it, noting “We started captive breeding for the Persian fallow deer 40 years ago and it has been very successful, but introducing the species to nature have not been so successful, so reproduction in captivity requires a long-term plan that is implemented step by step.

Reproduction in captivity is very complex for carnivores, and some believe that habitat protection is sufficient, but the fact is that when the population of a species reaches less than 100, reproduction should begin in captivity because habitat cannot be protected in general, he said.

Along with captive breeding, the factors of species extinction in the habitats should also be investigated so that we can finally protect the habitat and re-introduce the protected species to it, he also added.

An important issue is to pay attention to the demands, problems, and needs of people and local communities, because over the years many educational courses have been held, especially for Asiatic cheetahs, carnivores and environmental protection, but it has not been successful in conservation because the target group has been mostly urban and university communities and the local people have not been very involved, he explained.

One of the effective measures that can be taken in the protection of species is the insurance of livestock, agricultural lands and even individuals who have been damaged by species such as bears, wild boars, cheetahs, etc. because in many cases they are killed in conflicts with human, he said.

He also noted that insurance only compensates for losses, while we must take steps to ensure that local people benefit from protection. In order to earn the local community’s protection, we can develop private sanctuaries and expand ecotourism and various types of tourism.