Caspian tigers used to range from Turkey through Central Asia, but they became extinct in the mid-1960’s due to poisoning, trapping, and irrigation projects that destroyed tugay woodlands and reed thickets (important components of the tiger’s and the tiger’s prey habitat). With the fall of the Soviet Union, poisoning and trapping became discouraged, and irrigation projects were halted.
There are now plans to reintroduce a subspecies of tiger called the Amur tiger (native to the Russian Far East) to western Kazakhstan. The Amur tiger is the only subspecies whose population has grown in the past 65 years (there are an estimated 520-540 individuals in the wild), so relocating about 40-55 tigers is not expected to significantly impact the population of Amur tigers in Russia. Hopefully, within 50 years, the population will increase to about 64-98 tigers.
This reintroduction may lead to wildlife tourism, business growth and higher employment rates at Ili-Balkhash Nature Reserve. Before this plan can be enacted, however, scientists must work to control fires that have been destroying river banks in the tugay woodlands, restore tiger prey population, regulate water consumption from the Ili River so that tugay and reed ecosystems can persist, and consider human safety.