Wild tigers are to be reintroduced in Kazakhstan 70 years after they became extinct in the country, media reported on Friday.
According to the project which is being supported by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the animals will be reintroduced in the Ili-Balkhash region, reports the Guardian.
The project also involves the creation of a new nature reserve and the restoration of a forest that is part of the animal’s historical range.
Wild tigers completely disappeared from Kazakhstan in the 1940s due to poaching and loss of territory, the WWF said.
If successful, Kazakhstan will be the first country in the world to bring wild tigers back to an entire region where they have been extinct for more than half a century. Previous tiger relocation projects have only been considered in areas that are current tiger habitats, such as in reserves in India.
Poaching and habitat loss has decimated the wildlife on which wild tigers once fed, including the kulkan or wild donkey, and bactrian deer, both native to central Asia.
The project is likely to take many years. The landscape has to be prepared for the tigers, and the wildlife they feed on reintroduced, before the first tigers are introduced into the reserve in 2025 at the earliest.
Igor Chestin, director of WWF-Russia told the Guardian: “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.
“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 transboundary relocation of wild tigers to central Asia.”
Since the beginning of the 20th century, wild tigers have lost more than 90 per cent of their historical range, including in central Asia.