UW News

February 23, 2012

Stop putting the squeeze on tiger territory, says UW alum, now chief scientist with World Wildlife Fund

News and Information

The plight of the tiger – none of the worlds 350 protected areas in the tigers range is large enough to support a viable population – is the subject of the UWs “Sustaining our World” lecture March 1.

Malayan tiger

Malayan tigerb_cool

Eric Dinerstein, the World Wildlife Funds chief scientist and a UW alum, will speak on “All Together Now: Linking Ecosystem Services, Endangered Species Conservation and Local Livelihoods” at 6 p.m., in Kane 220. Sponsored by the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and the College of the Environment, the lecture is free and open to the public, with advanced registration requested.

Dinerstein, who earned masters and doctorate degrees in environmental and forest sciences from the UW, is a 24-year veteran of the World Wildlife Fund and author of 2007 autobiographical book “Tigerland and Other Unintended Destinations,” an introduction to conservation biology via the memoirs of a scientist who has traveled the world to study and defend endangered species.

Most recently, Dinerstein joined a team of tiger conservationists through the Global Tiger Initiative of the World Bank to help double the number of wild tigers by 2022.

In his lecture, Dinerstein will talk about innovative approaches in wildlife conservation that include considering the needs of both humans and wildlife. In his view, “the single greatest challenge for conservation worldwide is to stop the loss of habitat around the world.”

Any approach, especially for endangered large mammals, must respond to deforestation and other causes of local extinctions and “range collapse,” where species are confined to increasingly limited habitats. Tigers, for example, often live in small, forested pockets hemmed in by roads, development or farmland that they wont cross. They dont have the space or access to prey that would allow their numbers to increase.

To consider human needs, approaches must also link conservation to improving local livelihoods in impoverished regions. For example, Dinerstein is working with the World Bank to launch a program that pays a monetary bonus to local residents if tigers can reoccupy areas outside of existing preserves.

Another approach involves a “wildlife premium market,” currently a pilot project in countries as diverse as Nepal, Kenya, Peru, Thailand and Madagascar, that assumes global investors and philanthropists will be more likely to contribute to payment schemes for ecosystem services provided by forests if those forests also support charismatic and endangered wildlife. The market approach allows stakeholders to earn income by recovering and maintaining threatened “keystone” species that indirectly protect other species sharing the same habitat, and provides a financial benefit to local communities that engage in conservation stewardship.

Dinerstein began his conservation work in 1975 as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, conducting a census of the tiger population in the Karnali-Bardia Wildlife Reserve and championing the idea of looking at species protection beyond the boundaries of a park to include their habitat at the larger landscape level. Considered groundbreaking at the time, this is now standard practice for large-mammal conservation. In his lecture, Dinerstein will discuss several current landscape-scale approaches, including high-tech projects using reflection of laser light from satellites or aircraft  to map carbon in tiger habitats.