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India is key to survival of world’s tigers

india Updated: Aug 23, 2009 01:50 IST
Aditya Ghosh

Protecting India’s tigers is key to conserving the species worldwide, a recent research paper has argued.

India’s roughly 1,400 tigers display about two-thirds the diversity found in the gene pool of the around 3,000 animals worldwide, a paper published in PLOS Genetics, a reputable journal has claimed. The more diverse a species’ gene pool, the more robust the offspring are likely to be.

“In the global context, these results suggest that tigers in the Indian subcontinent are critical for the survival and recovery of the species,” said Samrat Mondol, the project’s main researcher.

“Today, tigers represent just seven per cent of their historical range,” he said. “But that Indian tigers have managed to retain their genetic diversity in the face of such high anthropogenic pressure (the pressure from human activities) provides hope for the species’ survival.”

The research was conducted by the National Centre for Biological Sciences and the Centre for Wildlife Studies in Bangalore, and the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. Published August 15, the paper is based on research done on 73 tigers across 28 reserves.

One reason for the genetic diversity is simply that India had a huge population to begin with. Two hundred years ago, peninsular India had about 58,200 tigers. Another reason is that the tigers have managed to survive in different habitats, the researchers argue.

“Tigers, which entered the subcontinent from the north, were able to adapt to virtually all but the high Himalaya and dune deserts,” Bittu Sehgal, editor of Sanctuary magazine. “The diversity referred to in the paper is therefore not surprising.”

But this gene pool can be saved only by providing land for tiger populations away from human influences within the next five years, he said.