Alan Rabinowitz speaks to Bittu Sahgal about his vision for tigers and other large cats and the role of the newly formed International Tiger Advisory Group ( iTAG), a collective of tiger conservationists and scientists, who have come together to make available the best possible advice and guidance for tiger protection to governments, scientists, conservationists and others working to keep wild tigers alive wherever they are found.
Panthera is focused on protecting all the large cats and you have a reputation of fighting winning battles. Is this good news for Indian tigers?
The fact that Panthera is now getting involved in Indian tigers is indeed a positive step for tigers. Our emphasis will be on helping others to implement best practices for saving tigers, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the remaining tiger source sites throughout their range and creating essential tiger travel corridors to ensure genetic connectivity for the future. Rather than describe my work as “fighting winning battles” I would say that I refuse to let myself fail in any endeavour that I feel is worth fighting for. Panthera knows how to save tigers. With the proper political support and cooperation, we can absolutely turn the tide for tigers.
Dr. George Schaller has agreed to Chair the newly formed International Tiger Advisory Group (iTAG). What will be its first priority?
iTAG is an important step forward in providing a critical information source for governments, NGOs and others interested in saving tigers. With an initial focus on India’s tiger crisis, we hope that iTAG will soon be expanded and utilised by all tiger range countries. Our first priority is to clearly delineate the capabilities of iTAG and its potential advisory role to the Indian government.
How can you be sure that iTAG will even get the attention of, leave alone be consulted by, tiger range governments?
iTAG is not meant to be another tiger organisation or NGO. It is a group of tiger conservationists and scientists who can help advise and provide critical links for those working in the field of tiger conservation. Initially, iTAG members are focussed heavily on the tiger situation in India. With the largest number of remaining tigers alongside some of the most pressing conflicts between tigers and humans, India is indeed the place where tiger conservation can be turned around and serve as a model for the rest of the world. iTAG’s purpose is to remain an advisory group that can help address issues of pressing concern for tigers such as Protected Area design, land use management, corridors and conflict mitigation. While we cannot ensure that tiger range governments will consult with us, I am confident that those that truly care about carrying out best practices in tiger conservation will realise that iTAG can provide a unique source of assistance to them.
What exactly does Panthera bring to the tigers’ defence team? How will the Gap Analysis that you spoke with Jairam Ramesh help?
Panthera has some of the world’s top felid biologists on its staff and/or advisory board. We bring to the table expertise on wild cats that is unprecedented. Panthera’s new Tiger Site Gap Analysis is an objective set of measurement criteria that delineates where a site falls along the gradient of best practices for tiger conservation and management. Such an analysis provides clear information on what a site is doing well, what it needs to do better, and how best to use available funds. This is the first comprehensive analysis of its kind that can be used across all tiger range countries.
Will Panthera finance its conservation agenda internally, or are you planning to raise funds in India?
Panthera formulates a conservation strategy based on need and best practices, not based on funding sources. A comprehensive tiger conservation plan for any one site may require significant inputs of funds and manpower. Government agencies and NGOs interested in a site should be working together towards optimal best practices and the goal of increasing or stabilising tiger populations. Each country should help pay for saving its tigers.
Is your stated desire to see tiger numbers rise by 50 per cent mere wishful thinking, or is there a game plan?
The Panthera tiger programme, Tigers Forever, sets minimum goals of increasing tiger populations by an average of 50 per cent over 10 years at all sites where our programme was implemented. This goal was set by a group of tiger biologists working at tiger source sites throughout tiger ranges in 2006 during a meeting at the Nagarahole National Park in India and was based upon protocols of enforcement, measurement and monitoring. In the five years that this programme has been underway, in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society, we have shown significant advances in tiger protection and stabilisation of tiger source sites.
by Bittu Sahgal, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXI No. 2, April 2011.