Kolkata: While the proposed reintroduction of Indian tigers in Cambodia seems "fine" from a genetic perspective, it may not be practical if the aim is to establish a viable population of tigers in the country, conservation biologists say.
"It is not a practical idea if the objective is to establish a viable population of tigers. If they do release tigers, they are more likely to get killed in incidents of conflict with local people rather than survive and establish a population," tiger ecologist K. Ullas Karanth told IANS.
Eight tigers from India - six females and two males - would be translocated to Cambodia where the big cats have been declared extinct.
The Indian tigers would be "re-introduced" in two different locations in Cambodia over the next five years. This was discussed at the recently concluded 3rd Asia Ministerial Conference on tiger conservation.
According to molecular ecologist Uma Ramakrishnan, known for her work in saving Indian tigers, behavioural issues and habitat challenges need to be addressed.
"As suggested by a recent study, the tigers in Cambodia are not that different from tigers in India. But looking at the genome could highlight more differences," Ramakrishnan, associate professor at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, told IANS.
"Successful reintroduction is very difficult, more because of behavioural issues (will the new individuals adjust to a new place?) Additionally, it's important to understand whether the habitat can support more individuals (is there enough prey?) and that the animals will survive (and not be hunted). From a genetic perspective, this is probably fine," she said.
Karanth, who is one of the four experts who recently refuted a report claiming the world's wild tiger population is on the rise, says he does not believe there is any site in Cambodia where certain conditions are met for the reintroduction.
"Reintroduction of tigers is justified only if there is evidence that problems why it went extinct originally have been fully addressed and as a result 3,000-4,000 square km of forests, with sufficient densities of wild prey is available, there are no human settlements and minimal or no impacts from resource extraction by people and livestock presence and of course no illegal hunting," said Karanth, director for Science-Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society.
"If the introduced animals do not survive, the issue of genetics is not relevant. If one is talking about genetic viability, an even larger area would be needed," he added.