A new peer-reviewed paper by the Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups reveals an ominous finding: most of the world's last remaining tigers — long decimated by overhunting, logging, and wildlife trade — are now clustered in just six per cent of their available habitat. The paper identifies 42 ‘ source sites' scattered across Asia that are now the last hope and greatest priority for the conservation and recovery of the world's largest cat.

The securing of the tiger's remaining source sites is the most effective and efficient way of not only preventing extinction but seeding a recovery of the wild tiger, the study's authors say. The researchers also assert that effective conservation efforts focused on these sites are both possible and economically feasible, requiring an additional $35 million a year for increased monitoring and enforcement to enable tiger numbers to double in these last strongholds.

The study was published online in PLoS Biology.

“While the scale of the challenge is enormous, the complexity of effective implementation is not,” said Joe Walston, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Asia Program and lead author of the study. "In the past, overly ambitious and complicated conservation efforts have failed to do the basics: prevent the hunting of tigers and their prey.” According to the paper, fewer than 3,500 tigers remain in the wild, of which only about 1,000 are breeding females.

India was identified as the most important country for the species with 18 source sites. Sumatra contains eight source sites, and the Russian Far East contains six.