Hello! My name is Saxon. Thanks for joining us here on Beyond Catastrophe’s first “story”. I’m a documentary filmmaker currently producing a series about the future of the Aral Sea region, called Mission: Find Aral. Here, I would like to share a remarkable wildlife conservation story that I became aware of in my time living in Central Asia and am now actively researching.
Otherwise known as the Balkhash, Hyrcanian, Turanian, or Mazandaran tiger, the Caspian tiger’s range used to span all the way from eastern Turkey, across the Caucasus, around northern Iran and Afghanistan, through Central Asia and into China’s western Xinjiang province. However, in 2003, after a century of significant habitat loss and hunting the Caspian tiger was assessed as extinct.
In 2018, the WWF launched a project that aims to introduce Amur tigers to an area of this aforementioned historic range. DNA analysis has shown that the Amur tiger is the closest living relative to the Caspian tiger.
This groundbreaking mission is taking place in an area south of Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan. WWF Central Asia are now preparing the 415 thousand hectare Ile-Balkhash Natural Reserve (an area greater than the size of archipelago country of Cape Verde). Extensive work is going into establishing a protected area, increasing prey populations, reforesting, and community consultation and engagement.
Tiger specialist John Seidensticker, previously of Smithsonian, described this project as “the most ambitious project in conservation of our time”, and in a recent interview Smithsonian Conservation Advisor, Marshall Jones, described it to me as “outrageous”.
Grigory Mazmaniants, Director of WWF’s Central Asia programme, is heading up this mission. In a recent interview he described this project to me as a “counter attack” for the natural world. A crucial point I have been reminded numerous times in this research is the tiger’s great role as a symbolic species. In the words of Grigory Mazmaniants, ”we speak about tigers as the top of the pyramid, as a symbol which lets us save all the ecosystem”.
“In fact, saving the tiger from extinction and maintaining its habitat is the biggest concern of the international community for the conservation of biodiversity, because if we cannot save a precious specie like tiger from extinction, there is no hope to save the more unknown species that do not attract attention, and the world will be depopulated of animals.”Zoologist, Kaveh Feizollahi
The hopes of many are that the ripples of this project’s wave will be global. The soon approaching 2022 Tiger Summit is to be held in Vladivostok, even having the added serendipity that 2022 is the year of the tiger in the traditional Chinese calendar. All eyes will be on this event, to learn of this project’s progress as well as to see whether others are to take inspiration from these efforts and follow suit in supporting tiger ecosystems in this historic tiger range.
If you or someone you know has any information or stories involving the Caspian tiger, please do contact me! I would love to hear from you! I am especially interested in family stories and memories involving the tigers.
Further reading: Caspian tiger hunters: a lieutenant’s 1894 diary