70 years after the iconic big cats went extinct in the country, wild tigers are being reintroduced to Kazakhstan. In the past, tiger reintroduction projects in other locations, such as nature reserves in India, have been implemented in areas where tigers still live – albeit in severely diminished populations. It will be several years before the WWF-supported project is ready on the ground, as the landscape is modified and prey animals are also reintroduced. The first wild tigers are expected to arrive in 2025. If this project proves successful, it would stand as the first instance in which wild tigers have been revitalized in a region from which they had gone extinct for nearly a century.

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Although tigers once inhabited a vast area that included most of Asia, they have lost 90 percent of their historic range and have become isolated in scattered populations throughout the continent. Between 1900 and 2017, the global wild tiger population fell from 100,000 to 3,900. In Kazakhstan, poaching and encroaching human development have impacted both tigers and their native prey, such as the kulkan, or wild donkey, and bactrian deer. Reintroducing these animals is only one part of the process. “[Preparing for the tiger reintroduction] means tackling poaching and illegal activities, having well-trained and equipped rangers, thriving prey populations and engaged local communities,” said Ekaterina Vorobyeva, the director of WWF-Russia’s Central Asia program.

Related: China approves massive new park for endangered leopards and tigers

Arshaly Mountains, Kazakhstan, East Kazakhstan

The tiger reintroduction project, which is set to operate in the Ili-Balhash region, is also an exercise in international cooperation. “Thanks to years of close collaboration between Kazakhstan and Russian conservation experts, we have now identified the best possible territory in Ili-Balkhash for the restoration of a thriving wild tiger population,” said Igor Chestin, the director of WWF-Russia. “Our continued cooperation will be key in the successful creation of a new reserve, the restoration of rare native species and, in a few years’ time, achieving an unprecedented trans-boundary relocation of wild tigers to central Asia.”

Via The Guardian

Lead image via Depositphotos, others via Dmitry Teslya, Neil Turner, and Torekhan Sarmanov