Where can tigers persist in the future? A landscape-scale, density-based population model for the Indian subcontinent

Jai Ranganathan, Kai M.A. Chan, K. Ullas Karanth, James L.David Smith

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54 Scopus citations


Despite being targeted as a conservation flagship species for several decades, the tiger (Panthera tigris) grows ever more imperiled. Debate exists as to where tiger conservation should focus: on protected nature reserves or larger landscapes. We developed a landscape scale, density-based model to assess whether reasonably effective management of current reserves is adequate to ensure the survival of tiger populations. We focused on the Indian subcontinent, the region likely to harbor most tigers. Using tiger density estimates and vegetation data, we set tiger population targets that could be attained through reasonable management of the subcontinent's nature reserves. Depending on the quality of the surrounding landscape matrix, our model indicated that the subcontinent could potentially hold ∼3500-6500 tigers, in up to 150 reserves. Strikingly, just 21 reserves can hold most (58-95%) of this tiger capacity. These high-population target reserves were relatively insensitive to the hostility of the surrounding matrix to tigers, as their aggregate capacity varied by <10% across a wide range of matrix conditions. In contrast, the remaining 129 reserves were highly sensitive to matrix quality, as they were unable to sustain populations with a tiger-hostile matrix, even with reasonable management. Our results suggest that reasonably improved management of the subcontinent's reserves can sustain multiple tiger populations based on two differing conservation strategies. Conservation within the 21 reserves with the largest population targets should focus primarily on the reserves themselves. In contrast, tiger conservation in the remaining reserves can succeed only with additional management of the unprotected landscapes that surround them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-77
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was sustained by funding support via a University of Minnesota Graduate Fellowship, a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, and a David L. Boren Graduate Fellowship. Additional funding support was provided by the McDonnell Foundation. We would like to thank Erol Akcay, Karim Al-Khafaji, Berry Brosi, Jeremy van Cleve, Gretchen Daily, Eric Dinerstein, Paul Ehrlich, Joern Fischer, Josh Goldstein, Peter Kareiva, Jim Nichols, Liba Pejchar, and Rob Pringle for their helpful comments on this work.

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Conservation planning
  • Panthera tigris
  • Paper park
  • Reserve design
  • Tiger conservation landscape


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