One of the main reasons why wild animals go extinct is the loss of habitat. Tigers, one of the world's most endangered species, however, may be able to proliferate and double in number by 2022, as a new study has found that there are enough forests to serve as their habitat.

In the span of 10 years, the tiger species was greatly reduced by 97 percent, with only about 3,200 left in the wild today. This has prompted international leaders from 13 Asian countries, where tigers predominantly live, to decide on doubling the tiger population. In order for it to happen, they must be able to provide enough habitats where the tigers can proliferate.

In their contribution to the conservation efforts, researchers monitored several forests and their rate of destruction from 2001 to 2014. The study also included efforts to track wild habitat destruction and its prevention.

Using the satellite-based monitor, Google Earth, and tree-cover-loss alert system Global Forest Watch, the team was able to track the evolution of forests in 13 countries. The study allowed them to draw analysis from the 14-year forest loss data that covered 76 landscapes highlighted for tiger conservation. The data gathered from the study helped conservationists plot out tiger proliferation.

Scientists have found that even if there was a forest decline over time, it was much lower than what they had suspected. Since 2001, habitat lost was only 7.7 percent. Many of the habitats did not show major changes, but about 10 of them had a combined habitat loss of 98 percent. Had this been conserved, 400 wild cats could have been supported. The largest habitat loss was found to be in forests used in palm oil expansion.

From the 76 landscapes monitored, only 29 were considered ideal for tiger conservation and proliferation, and this would be enough to allow tigers to double in number by 2022.

"Before undertaking the analysis, we predicted habitat loss to be much higher, considering that (i) the 13 tiger range states represent some of the fastest-growing economies in the world and (ii) many of the South Asian habitats that dominate the 29 highest-priority Tiger Conservation Landscapes are surrounded by human-dominated areas supporting the highest rural population densities on Earth," researchers wrote.

Experts believe that the tiger population could grow three times in 20 years if no further forest loss would occur. But it is rather too ambitious, as industrialization comes with deforestation and destruction of corridors.

Researchers recommended that continuous forest loss monitoring is necessary, as it would be a useful real-time tracking tool to prevent future habitat loss. They also recommend, ensuring that forest loss would be kept to a minimum, that officials look for a greener alternative when building infrastructures. Ultimately, the researchers are pushing for the immediate transfer of the tigers to the best conserved forest so they can start doubling up.

The recent study highlights the efforts in conserving these endangered wild cats. In India, tiger population increased by 30 percent in just a span of three years. From 1,706 in 2011, tiger population grew to 2,226 in 2014. The increase is due to efforts to curb poaching and the careful planning of tiger-human interaction by limiting encroachment on native tiger habitats.

Photo: Jojo Nicdao | Flickr

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