Every schoolkid in India studying the food chain in school has been told that by saving tigers we are also saving the deer, monkeys, birds, forests, butterflies, etc,etc. We also know that the Indian Government has spent a gazillion dollars on tigers justifying the disproportionate spending on the same premise. We have a National Tiger Conservation Authority and Critical Tiger Habitats but no parallel National Crustacean Conservation Authority or Critical Vulture Habitats. Critical Tiger Habitats/Tiger reserves get loads more money than other Protected Areas from the Government let alone the extra moolah from tourists who flock to see the striped icon of the Indian wilderness in droves. Yet, despite the supposed umbrella species approach, we are still seeing population declines of threatened Indian wildlife species including the tiger around whom this show is run.

In a study published in the science journal Nature, the scientists said it was wrong to use the plight of one species in a risk “hot spot” as an indicator of the threat facing all others in that area. “There is a big chance that conservation efforts to date have been misfiring,” co-author Ian Owens said. The scientists looked at species abundance in grids measuring 100 km by 100 km to draw up the most detailed world map to date of mammals, birds and amphibians.What emerged was a radically different picture from that dictated by common conservation theory, which takes one species as an indicator for all. Interestingly, though species richness is concentrated in certain places (supporting biodiversity hotspots idea) the degree to which endangered species overlap in range varies, and the overlap is especially low for the very rarest species. The authors warn that “Overall, our results indicate that ‘silver-bullet’ conservation strategies alone will not deliver efficient conservation solutions.” According to the study, the picture is far more complicated, with mammal, bird and amphibian numbers being threatened by different things in different locations. While endangered bird species are often at risk because their habitats are being destroyed, mammals like tigers face pressure from poachers, and amphibians may be threatened by imported non-native fish.

This study besides shattering a long held misconception, should also encourage governments, funders, researchers and NGOs to use conservation resources more effectively insteading of taking the convenient but inefficent route of pandering to iconic/umbrella/indicator/sexy species. For sure tigers and pandas are going to make more people reach for their wallets. But let’s drop the pretense that this is good enough for all of earth’s biodiversity. Let these charismatic species hog all the attention they deserve in Disney or Pixar films not in conservation policy and action.