After recent tiger survey results were released (1,411 tigers left in India), it is obvious that the entire species is on the brink of extinction. While the threats to tigers are manifold, including poaching and habitat loss, one of the emerging threats to future conservation programs may be climate change. At the same time, preserving India’s forests could help both the tiger preservation and climate mitigation. While conservation biologists have addressed the impact that climate change will have on wildlife refuges and wildlife preservation in other parts of the world, by recognizing that global warming will shift the climatic conditions in remaining wildlife reserves, the plight of the tiger still has not gotten the attention that it deserves.
It is now common knowledge that seas level rise is threatening the coastal areas of the world, particularly low-lying regions like Bangladesh and the Sunderbans. Increased submerging of the Sunderbans would threaten the stability of the world’s largest mangrove forest, increase the loss of habitat for the remaining tigers in the Sunderbans, and put further pressure on inland zones in future storm surges. The IPCC identified in as early as 2001 that sea level rise would greatly threaten the Sunderbans and the remaining Royal Bengal tigers living in that area.
Furthermore, other tiger reserves in India, including Corbett National Park, have also been identified as zones whose hydrological conditions will be transformed by glacial melt and changing precipitation patterns. Wildlife organizations have reported that tigers are being found farther north and in higher elevations now, not only because of climatic changes, but also because of development patterns that are forcing them out of traditional habitat in the lowlands. These changes in habitat and in available land will force the limited number of tigers to adapt to new ecological conditions, a difficult task for a threatened species.
Sanctuary Asia has also started a campaign to raise awareness that tiger preservation can also be a form of climae mitigation, in the sense that destruction of forests will not only be reducing tiger habitat but also releasing more carbon emissions to fuel climate change. Furthermore, Sanctuary points out that the the preservation of these forests will also be protecting India’s waterways, saying, “More than 300 rivers originate in tiger reserves.” India’s water and food security will be seriously threatened by climate change; the more that existing waterways can be protected, the more able India will be to cope with future climatic changes.
We cannot solve the problems of ecological destruction and the threats to tigers without addressing climate change, yet at the same time, our methods to address habitat preservation may also aid in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Neither climate change nor species loss are easy problems to deal with. But the implications of both and the solutions to both must be considered holistically if we are to solve either.