A New Approach to Tiger Conservation: Integrating Top-Down and Bottom-Up Strategies

By: Mary Cox


Tiger populations have declined from estimates in the tens of thousands at the turn of the century to 4,400 to 7,700 today, and three of the eight tiger subspecies have gone extinct in the past 50 years. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, international alarm at rapidly declining tiger populations generated tiger conservation efforts in many of their range countries, but tigers remain one of the most critically endangered animals in the world. Early conservation initiatives relied on top-down "command and control" methods of conservation, and focused on setting aside reserves to protect important tiger habitat. These methods have come under criticism for neglecting the needs of local communities surrounding protected areas and failing to adequately protect biodiversity. In response, conservationists developed Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDPs), which attempt to link biodiversity conservation with local development by giving local people a stake in maintaining protected areas. ICDPs, however, have not clearly provided greater biodiversity protection than the traditional approach. Nepal's Royal Chitwan National Park (RCNP), which encompasses some of the best tiger habitat in the Indian Subcontinent, has combined elements of the command and control approach with the local development focus of the ICDP approach, resulting in increased tiger habitat and population, lower poaching and improved local economic conditions. This combination of the two approaches can serve as a model for tiger conservation initiatives elsewhere in Asia, and for biodiversity protection in general.

Mary Cox is a Master's student at the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment.

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