Across Africa, and to some extent Asia, existing large parks and preserves are being combined into very large parks in order to serve several important functions. One is to make the parks so large that there will be interior areas that are impractical for most poaching or other encroachment. Another is to allow movement of migratory animals into new areas when their populations grow (presumably with some degree of natural culling cycling the process down now and then). Another is to allow a park to always contain a minimal range of a certain habitat even when secular or long term climate variation reduces that habitat. Yet another may be to make the park more attractive to tourism.
With animals like tigers, who have relatively low population densities, it is essential to have large contiguous areas in order to have a viable population size both for genetic diversity and to get past periods of decimation by periodic disease or starvation episodes.
Tigers don’t carry passports or follow immigration policies, but a new plan will allow the big cats to roam freely across landscapes in Asia, without breaking any laws. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Panthera Foundation will establish a 5,000-mile-long “genetic corridor” for tigers from Bhutan to Burma. The term refers to a swath of interconnected lands where wildlife populations can travel with less risk of inbreeding.
First announced at the United Nations on January 30, the proposed corridor would span eight countries and represent the largest block of tiger habitat left on Earth. It would wind through much of Bhutan, northeast India, Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia, and potentially connect to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The new king of Bhutan, his Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, has already endorsed the corridor and requested other heads of state to support similar efforts.
At the recent UN meeting, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, director of Science and Exploration Programs at WCS and the co-director of Tigers Forever–a WCS/Panthera Foundation collaboration–made a clear request for additional approval and assistance from other leaders.
“While Asia’s economic tigers are on the rise, wild tigers in Asia are in decline,” he said. “Much like the call-out for global agreements on banning tiger parts in trade, a similar cross-border initiative for genetic corridors is key to the survival of the tiger. Tiger range states need to work together, as tigers do not observe political borders nor do they require a visa or passport to travel where habitat and prey remain.”
Rabinowitz specified that corridors did not have to be pristine parkland but could include agricultural areas, ranches, and other multi-use landscapes–just as long as tigers could use them to travel between wilderness areas.