Tiger prey important in tiger survival

Perhaps the most important factors in the survival of the tiger are loss of habitat and poaching. But a close second would be loss of prey. Poaching is news worthy and loss of habitat is all about the reserves and how they seem to be failing. But loss of the tiger’s prey is in the background and more subtle.

Tiger prey densities can be measured but this task is less likely to be carried out than assessing tiger population numbers, which have been error prone or sometimes inflated for political reasons.

The argument goes that even in small reserves, provided the prey base is suitable in numbers and size, the tiger population can persist. Under 3000 square kilometres for a reserve is considered small. All but one Bengal tiger reserve is small under that criteria. The effective size of the reserve depends on the quality of the landscape and habitat and how effective it is in supporting prey animals.

Tigers depend on large prey. A tiger cannot live on small prey only. Large ungulates (hoofed animals) in the range of 50-1000 kg are the preferred prey of the tiger.

The population density of large ungulates is depressed by “uncontrolled shooting, snaring and trapping by local people”.

Even if poaching is controlled (unlikely on past tack record), if suitable tiger prey is diminished in this manner the tiger population will continue to decline.

Tiger recovery plans should factor in a “reduction of hunting pressure”. Snaring and trapping of tiger prey also kills tigers directly.

It is down to the quality of tiger reserve management as to whether tiger prey is protected. Not uncommonly management has not been of a sufficient calibre.

References: Riding the Tiger, edited by John Seidenstricker, Sarah Christie and Peter Jackson. Pages 112-113. ISBN 0-521-64835-1.


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