Will tigers one day roam Central Asia again?

January 23, 2017, 8:11 a.m.
Amur tiger in snow
Photo: Suha Derbent/Shutterstock

Up until the 19th century, the Caspian tiger roamed the wilds of the Middle East and Central Asia. The largest of all tiger species, it averaged 10 feet long, and large males could weigh up to 500 pounds.

The increasing threats posed by habitat loss and hunting decreased the population until the tigers drifted into extinction. The last of them was spotted in the wild in the 1970s, according to IUCN.

However, there's hope that a close relative, the Amur tiger, might be reintroduced to a region of Kazakhstan. The last Caspian tiger was reported in Kazakhstan in 1948, so it has been a long time since big cats roamed the area.

The International Business Times reports that there is a good deal of work to do before any Amur tigers could be set free there:

Hostility from local communities is possible, and their concerns will have to be addressed if tigers are to be well protected. Prey population restoration will have to precede the introduction of tigers and the river's water supplies will have to remain stable for the animals to survive, reproduce and thrive.

"It is clear that when people talk of a potential reintroduction site from an area where they have been absent for many years, such an undertaking is in practice a long way off", [Gabriel Fava, associate director for Asia and Oceania at the Born Free Foundation] said. "In maintaining healthy tiger populations, working with local communities is crucial, raising awareness of tigers' role and importance and working with them to develop the use of alternative sources of energy in order to protect tiger habitat. However, in countries that have not seen tigers for decades, although equally crucial, you're starting from scratch, so we're talking about a very different kind of effort".

If everything were to go according to plan, a population of 64 to 98 tigers could once again call 7,000 square kilometers of habitat in the Ili River delta home in a matter of decades after reintroduction.

That reintroduction is still years away, but considering the global tiger population numbers only around 4,000 individuals and is in need of conservation help, those interested in reintroduction will likely continue to push for this glimmer of hope for big cats.