Infrastructure boom poses threat to tigers
Asia’s tiger are finding their habitat increasingly encroached upon by roads, canals, and oil and gas pipelines, according to a new World Wildlife Fund report.
URBANISATION and infrastructure development are posing an unprecedented and escalating threat to Asia’s tiger population, a new report by the World Wildlife Fund warns.
If no new sustainability measures are enacted to combat the infrastructure boom and ensuing habitat fragmentation, Asia’s tigers are at risk of extinction.
WWF’s report, “The Road Ahead: Protecting tigers from Asia’s development boom”, advises that governments, including Myanmar’s, must develop long-term environmental initiatives that integrate ecological systems into development planning.
As nations in the region work to meet their population’s increasing infrastructure needs, tigers are placed at risk by habitat loss and poaching, and are being brought into conflict with local communities, the report which was released last week says.
More than 11,000 kilometres (6835 miles) of road and railway are already being constructed through tigers’ natural habitats across the continent, along with canals, and oil and gas pipelines.
China, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia now have less than 500 tigers between them, the report said, and that population could be lost if infrastructure plans are not rethought.
“Myanmar is at the heart of this analysis,” said U Win Myint, WWF-Myanmar’s government policy relations manager.
According to the report, the Dawna Tenasserim Landscape (DTL), which stretches along the Thailand-Myanmar border, is home to the largest population of tigers left in the Greater Mekong region.
“Due to their small population, Myanmar’s tigers depend on the connection to tiger populations in Thailand for breeding to sustain their population,” the report said, adding that the construction of the Bangkok-Dawei road will intersect that habitat and hinder the tigers’ movement along the DTL.
“The proposed Dawei road development cuts right through the last remaining tiger territory in the Greater Mekong region,” U Win Myint said.
“Infrastructure is essential for Myanmar’s development, but we need to ensure it is sustainable and does not come at the expense of tigers and their landscape,” he added.
According to the WWF report, sustainable planning and habitat rehabilitation measures are needed to safeguard the economic, social and environmental benefits that tiger landscapes provide.
Poaching and habitat destruction led to a 97 percent decrease in wild tiger populations during the 20th century. In 2010, it was estimated that only 3200 tigers remained in the wild, compared to more than 100,000 the century before.
In 2010, Myanmar was one of 13 governments to commit to doubling the tiger population by 2022 at a summit held in St Petersburg, Russia.
In 2016, at the halfway point of this commitment, there are now an estimated 3890 tigers in the wild with numbers inching up in India, Russia, Nepal and Bhutan.
“Not only do Myanmar’s tigers face the threat of infrastructure, they are also caught in the centre of Asia’s illegal wildlife trade, with Myanmar being both a transit country and trading hub,” said U Paing Soe, conservation biologist with WWF Myanmar.
With a road dissecting previously undisturbed habituated along the Thai-Myanmar border, poachers’ access and ease of transportation is likely to increase.
“The good news is that solutions exist and it is not too late. But if countries do not act now, the damage will be irreparable,” Mike Baltzer, leader of WWF’s Tiger’s Alive Initiative, said in a press statement.
Small gains that have been made in increasing the region’s tiger population are under threat from infrastructure developments.