Tigers May Get a Second Chance in Central Asia

Before their extinction in the 1960s, Caspian tigers once roamed Central Asia. Now scientists want to bring Amur Tiger cubs to areas where the extinct subspecies once lived.

Jan 25, 2017
Diana Kwon

An artist's depiction of a Caspian tigerHEPTNER AND SLUDSKIY, 1972 The Caspian tiger went extinct around 50 years ago, but scientists hope to bring a similar tiger species back to areas of central Asia that are still habitable for these large cats, according to a study published in Biological Conservation last year (December 1).

The 300-pound feline once roamed much of Central Asia, but poaching and habitat destruction led to its extinction in the 1960s. "When [the Caspian tiger] disappeared, the number of nations that hosted tiger populations was reduced by more than half,” study co-author James Gibbs, a conservation biologist and director of the Roosevelt Wild Life Station at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), said in a statement.

While the Caspian tiger is gone, scientists hope to introduce a close relative, the Amur tiger, to take its place. Researchers conducted a literature review that revealed that the Caspian tiger once occupied between 800,000 and 900,000 square kilometres around wetlands and rivers. Using this information, the group found two habitable patches, both in Kazakhstan, where Amur tigers may be able to thrive. The researchers estimate that, if they bring around 40 to 55 tigers to this region, it could support between 64 and 98 tigers within 50 years.

However, the researchers outlined some important changes that need to occur in the region before relocation occurs. These include reintroducing prey populations, such as wild deer and boar, and restricting certain human activities such as poaching and wildfires. 

Though only around 500 Amur tigers are left in the wild, relocation should not have negative effects on the existing population, John Goodrich, the senior Tiger Program director at the wildcat conservation group Panthera who was not involved in the study, told Popular Science. "Orphaned cubs are taken into captivity almost every year in the Russian Far East,” he said. “It has been demonstrated that these cubs can be raised in captivity and successfully released back into the wild.”