IUCN Tiger Specialist Peter Jackson Earns His Stripes

07 June 2005 | News story

IUCN - The World Conservation Union, Gland, Switzerland (07.06.05) - Researchers plan to name the recently identified Malayan tiger, a new subspecies, Panthera tigris jacksoni to honour the career of tiger conservationist Peter Jackson, former Chair and still active member of the Species Survival Commission’s Cat Specialist Group.

As with many threatened species, tigers have been divided into subspecies – natural geographically separate populations – for conservation as well as recognition purposes. The discovery of this new subspecies therefore has major conservation implications and is highlighted in the most recent edition of CAT NEWS, the SSC Cat Specialist Group newsletter.

Tigers historically inhabited much of Asia and may have numbered as many as 100,000 animals as recently as a century ago. Unfortunately, they have declined dramatically since then. Today’s remaining population is estimated to be only 5,000 - 7,000 individuals and three of the traditional eight subspecies, the Javan, Bali and Caspian tigers, became extinct in the mid to late 20th century.

This collapse prompted Peter’s interest in tigers as far back as the 1950s, when as Reuters foreign correspondent in India, he became fascinated by India’s wonderful wildlife. However, it was the IUCN General Assembly in Delhi in 1969, when the crash in India’s tiger population was a dominant issue, that marked a watershed. It was the start of his close involvement in tiger conservation which would lead to his establishment as one of the key players in this field.

Working for WWF International in the 1970s, Peter was closely involved in Operation Tiger to fund conservation action and he worked in tandem with the Indian Government’s programme to establish a network of tiger reserves.

Malayan tiger (P. t. jacksoni) - photo by UF-Malaysia Tiger ProjectLater on, he worked independently to promote tiger conservation and in 1983, was nominated Chair of the SSC Cat Specialist Group, a post he held for 17 years. In his own words, this became his “life’s mission” and naming this newly-identified subspecies after him is a fitting tribute to Peter’s drive and commitment to tiger, indeed all wild cat conservation.

The correct identification of a subspecies is critically important for conservation purposes. This discovery, at the end of last year, is the culmination of a 20-year long study to characterize living tiger populations using a molecular genetic approach and has been published in the online journal Public Library of Science PLoS-Biology.

The results of the study showed that there was strong genetic evidence for four of the five remaining subspecies (Amur, Indochinese, Sumatran and Bengal) whilst the sampling of the South China tiger was very sparse and requires further sampling.

Unexpectedly, the Indochinese tiger showed a distinct separation into two distinct groups as different as the other subspecies are from each other. One group is confined to the Malayan peninsula and the other across the rest of the traditional Indochinese tiger range (see distribution map).

The newly identified subspecies has the common name Malayan tiger, to emphasize its geographical range, and the scientific name Panthera tigris jacksoni, in honour of Peter Jackson’s career and dedication to tiger conservation.

This discovery will have important consequences for tiger conservation and management. Specifically, it would suggest that the new species be recognized and managed as a high priority in Malaysia.

CAT NEWS article (356KB) // PLoS report // Distribution map (281KB)

For further information contact:

Andrew McMullin, IUCN Species Programme Communications Officer
Tel: +41 (0)22 999 0153; Email: mcmullina@iucn.org