As China’s tiger population dwindles, the country is making a tentative comeback for the majestic animal.
BEIJING— Approximately 500 tigers roamed the wide plains of northeastern China, on the country’s border with Russia and Korea, a century ago. By 1998, decades of economic growth, poaching, and human encroachment had reduced the population to just seven known individuals, effectively eradicating the big cats in a nation where they had long been respected.
What has occurred since then, on the other hand, is a remarkable conservation success story. As tigers have been wiped out in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and southern China during the last two decades, the number of tigers in northeastern China, the only area of the nation where the wild felines still roam, has risen to as high as 55. According to a recent research by Chinese experts, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, this represents a “dramatic comeback.”
Credit increasing public awareness of environmental preservation and renewed government efforts, which, after decades of prioritizing economic development above all other concerns, have shifted some of their attention to air pollution, carbon emissions, and environmental deterioration. Increased antipoaching efforts, the dismantling of hundreds of tiger snares, and better habitat preservation have all helped the Amur tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger.
From seven known animals in the late 1990s, the number of tigers in northeastern China has grown to as many as 55 in recent years. A remote camera in northern China captured this picture.
China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration’s Feline Research Center
This week, China will host its first big United Nations environmental conference, which will feature a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose trademark phrase is “defend China’s clean rivers and green mountains.” Despite the fact that the first half of the United Nations Biodiversity Conference was shifted online because to the Covid-19 epidemic, participants will meet in person in April in the southern city of Kunming for the second half.
In a policy document released on Friday, China said that it would prioritize environmental preservation and had designated 1 million square kilometers of land as “priority areas for biodiversity protection.”
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China is the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases, a subject that will be discussed by global leaders in Glasgow this month when they meet to address climate change.
Conservationists are also concerned about China’s insatiable demand for commodities such as palm oil, soybeans, and wood, which has led to the destruction of forests in Indonesia and Brazil. China’s Belt and Road Initiative has aided in the funding of coal-fired power plants and other infrastructure projects in other nations, some of which have been criticized for degrading the environment. China’s desire is one of the most important drivers of the worldwide illegal wildlife trafficking.
In recent years, authorities have significantly reduced air pollution in many of China’s largest cities and boosted once-endangered populations of Tibetan antelopes and Asian elephants, in addition to the more well-known efforts regarding the giant panda, as the country becomes more prosperous and focuses on improving its quality of life.
Last Monday, China’s State Council Information Office released a report on environmental initiatives.
Jin Liangkuai/Xinhua/Zuma Press photo
According to Rose Niu, chief conservation officer at the Paulson Institute, a Chicago-based think tank focusing on strengthening US-China relations, the nation has also made measures to preserve its coastal wetlands and mangroves, actions that have helped restore the variety of migratory bird populations.
The fortunes of the tiger, an animal that has traditionally had considerable cultural resonance in China—but has also been extensively hunted for its parts and claimed medicinal properties—show China’s commitment to conservation.
Tigers are believed to number 4,000 in the wild throughout the world, down from 100,000 a century ago. More over half of the tigers are found in India, while others, such as the South China tiger, are exclusively found in captivity.
When American environmentalist Dale Miquelle and colleagues conducted their first assessment of the Amur tiger population in northeastern China in 1998, they came to the conclusion that “tigers were basically already gone in China.”
Mr. Miquelle added that, more recently, shifting attitudes in Beijing toward conservation had prompted a flurry of initiatives, including a moratorium on wood cutting and enhanced antipoaching operations, giving him confidence that the tiger population rise will be sustainable.
It is estimated that at least 300 Amur tigers are required to guarantee the species’ survival in China.
Mr. Miquelle, who heads the Wildlife Conservation Society’s tiger program from his headquarters in the Russian town of Terney, not far from the Chinese border, said, “This is an example where economics and politics have matched with conservation objectives in a really good manner.” According to him, the creation of a tiger and leopard park near the Russian border in 2017—the world’s biggest protected territory for tigers—has allowed the huge animals to wander more freely.
Several variables, according to Mr. Miquelle and others, will determine whether or not the goal of at least 300 Amur tigers is met, ensuring the tigers’ ongoing existence in China. Setting aside adequate habitat—and food in the form of red deer and wild boar—to support a rapidly increasing number of predators while safeguarding human and tiger populations from each other will be a top concern.
Environmental awareness is increasing in China. A herd of wild elephants enthralled China’s public this year with a monthslong trip from their old home, not far from Kunming, and sparked worry over the long march, which experts and Chinese state media blamed on habitat degradation.
Poaching must be stopped, and consumer demand for tiger parts must be reduced—part of a $10 billion yearly worldwide wild-animal trade, according to the United Nations. China is the world’s biggest market for tiger bones and other components such as teeth, eyes, and whiskers, which are said to treat a variety of illnesses and are becoming more valuable due to their rarity.
During their journey in June, elephants stopped on the outskirts of Kunming, a city in southwestern China.
Hu Chao/Xinhua/Zuma Press photo
According to Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., Beijing is interested in tackling poaching because of its links to organized crime, with many of the same drug traffickers and people smugglers involved in the wild-animal trade.
Covid-19’s outbreak and the attention it brought to China’s wild-animal trade prompted Beijing to tighten its regulations on wildlife husbandry, she said, but geopolitical sensitivities over the pandemic’s origins hindered those efforts.
“These creatures are on the brink,” said Sharon Guynup, author of “Tigers Forever: Saving the World’s Most Endangered Big Cat,” despite a recent rise in China’s tiger population.
“It wouldn’t be difficult… She added, “One catastrophe, one pandemic, one storm, one huge fire.” “They may go in a flash, whether they’re seven or 55.”
Beijing’s shift in conservation policy is raising optimism that the tiger population will continue to rise. A remote camera in northern China captured this picture.
China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration’s Feline Research Center
—This paper was co-written by Zhao Yueling.
Jonathan Cheng can be reached at [email protected]
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