Wild tigers are to be reintroduced to Kazakhstan 70 years after they became extinct in the country.
The animals will be reintroduced in the Ili-Balkhash region in a project that involves the creation of a nature reserve and the restoration of a forest that is part of the animal’s historical range.
If successful, Kazakhstan will be the first country in the world to bring wild tigers back to an entire region where they have been extinct for nearly half a century. Previous relocation projects have only been considered in existing tiger habitats, such as in reserves in India.
Poaching and habitat loss has decimated the wildlife on which wild tigers once fed, including the kulkan, or wild donkey, and bactrian deer, both native to central Asia. The animals will be reintroduced to the nature reserve to provide enough food for the tigers when they are relocated from elsewhere in Asia.
The project, which is being supported by WWF, is likely to take many years. The landscape has to be prepared and the wildlife they feed on reintroduced before the first tigers are brought in in 2025 at the earliest.
Igor Chestin, the director of WWF-Russia said: “Thanks to years of close collaboration between Kazakhstan and Russian conservation experts, we have now identified the best possible territory in Ili-Balkhash for the restoration of a thriving wild tiger population.
“Our continued cooperation will be key in the successful creation of a new reserve, the restoration of rare native species and, in a few years’ time, achieving an
unprecedented trans-boundary relocation of wild tigers to central Asia.”
Since the beginning of the 20th century, wild tigers have lost more than 90% of their historical range, including in central Asia (modern Turkey and Iran to north-west China). Wild tigers completely disappeared from Kazakhstan in the 1940s due to poaching and the loss of territory, WWF said.
There were thought to be about 100,000 wild tigers at the beginning of the 20th century. Now there are about 3,900, but it is hoped the Kazakhstan project will play a key role in increasing tiger range and populations.
Askar Myrzakhmetov, the minister of agriculture, said: “Kazakhstan is moving along the path of green development. We are honoured to be the first country in central Asia to implement such an important and large-scale project, that not only will bring wild tigers back to their ancestral home but also protect the unique ecosystem of the Ili-Balkhash region.”
Ekaterina Vorobyeva, the director of WWF-Russia’s Central Asia programme, said there was hard work ahead to make the area ready. “That means tackling poaching and illegal activities, having well-trained and equipped rangers, thriving prey populations and engaged local communities.”
Published by “The Guardian”