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Cost to save the world’s tigers: $10,000 each per year (or just pennies a day!)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Properly protecting the world’s remaining 3,500 wild tigers from poachers, habitat fragmentation and other threats would cost just 42 percent more than is already spent on tiger conservation—an additional $35 million per year, or $10,000 per cat, according to a new study published September 14 in the journal PLoS Biology.

The money would be used to secure 42 vital "source sites," which the paper defines as "sites that contain breeding populations of tigers and have the potential to seed the recovery of tigers across wider landscapes." Local governments, NGOs and other donors already spend $47 million per year protecting these sites. The study says fully protecting the sites would cost $82 million per year.

India contains 18 of these source sites. Sumatra (in Indonesia) holds eight, and Russia has six more. Other sites are located in Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Laos and Nepal.

This plan wouldn’t protect every tiger in the world, nor does it address specific tiger sub-species, but it would place priorities on which populations to protect in order to get the most conservation benefit.

The rapid decline of tiger populations over the last century may actually benefit conservation, to a degree. According to the study, 70 percent of the world’s wild tigers are clustered in just six percent of their current range. With so many tigers in so few locations, protecting the "source sites" becomes both easier and more essential for the tiger’s long-term survival. "Efforts need to focus on securing these sites as the number one priority for the species," lead author Joe Walston of the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a prepared statement.

So how about that $10k per cat? "The price tag to save one of the planet’s great iconic species is not a high one," said Alan Rabinowitz, president and CEO of the wild-cat conservation organization Panthera, which also contributed to the study. It’s true: People are already willing to pay up to $20,000 or more for an illegal tiger skin, so spending half that to keep a tiger alive is a no-brainer. (And that figure doesn’t even include the black-market price of tiger bones, penises and other body parts sought for health treatments unsupported by science, etc., which brings the total value of a poached tiger carcass upward of $50,000.)

And then there’s the spin-off effect of spending this money: new jobs to protect tigers and their habitats, more money from eco-tourism and healthier ecosystems due to healthy predator populations.

Where would the $35 million a year come from? It’s a drop in the bucket in terms of the global economy. Heck, as Andrew Revkin of The New York Times points out, $35 million is just a fraction of the profits generated by Apple’s OS X Tiger operating system over the years.

The study was conducted and written by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the IUCN, the World Bank and other groups. It was released in advance of a summit on tiger conservation that will be hosted by Vladimir Putin in Russia this November. (The summit was originally set to take place this week, but has been delayed until November 22-23.)

Photo by Keven Law via Flickr. Creative Commons licensed.

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  1. 1. evanamee 4:25 pm 09/16/2010
    Link to this
  2. 2. evanamee 4:27 pm 09/16/2010

    $10,000 a year per tiger is hardly a penny!

    Link to this
  3. 3. wbranson 4:27 pm 09/16/2010

    Of course not, we need more Tiger penises. Duh.

    Link to this
  4. 4. oldvic 4:54 am 09/17/2010

    We’ve come to the point where we have to bribe people so that they don’t destroy Nature. What does that say about our collective intelligence?

    Link to this
  5. 5. dbtinc 8:52 am 09/17/2010

    A rhetorical question, no doubt!

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  6. 6. TomCat75 11:44 pm 09/17/2010

    I think that by time we learn to keep our pants on and adopt the homeless children that live in poverty all over the world or we give up the huge Mansion with the two care garage with the Hummer and the big Yacht most of us think we deserve and spread the wealth out there will not be any more tigers or anything else to worry about…

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  7. 7. ajitbharthuar 1:56 am 09/21/2010

    Is Similipal Tiger Reserve one of the six spots where tigers are potentially seen to be a source site?
    I fear, money alone cannot save the tiger. It needs a political commitment and time of the leaders in the tiger reserves.

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  8. 8. Salang71 4:03 pm 10/21/2010

    Yes, Similipal is one of those source sites. However, with an estimated number of only about 20 tigers, they could be lost at any moment (similar to most other remaining tiger populations). Damn shame, as Similipal is the only place where "black" tigers (actually tigers with very intensive, thick stripes) are known to have occured. The habitat in Similipal is still good, and those tigers still have a chance.

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  9. 9. DancerTiffy 1:13 am 11/10/2010

    When everything around you is dying off then you got to know that you’re going to be dying off too—-and soon.
    The best thing that could possibly happen to this biosphere is for humans to vacate the planet—-immediately.

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  10. 10. ajitbharthuar 4:47 am 11/10/2010

    I have seen some of the management plans of tiger reserves. The point raised by you is mostly not dealt by them. Even if it has a reference, it is only demonstrative and not substantial.
    For instance, in Similipal Tiger Reserve, 4,50,000 people directly depend upon STR. However, while planning to conserve Similipal not much is being done meet their firewood and small timber requirements.
    Cost of relocation of villages inside the tiger reserves factored into the cost of the tiger is not going to yield any result.

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