Farmers and tigers don’t seem like they would be natural friends, but a new paper published in Biological Conservation claims that tigers actually provide some significant advantages to farming communities.

The reason? Tigers are predators, and their close proximity to farms help them clear the way of smaller predators, pests, and rodents who graze on the crops. And while this may seem like a small deal in America where farmers employs modern technology to prevent food waste, animal infestation on crops and livestock can decimate farms in third world countries.

Additionally, these benefits may also help rural farmers see tigers as a valuable commodity rather than a menace, and help preserve the dwindling tiger population worldwide.

The findings could have value elsewhere. “This is a really important paper and they’ve found something new that could be applicable to other areas,” says John Goodrich, senior tiger program director for Panthera, the global wild-cat conservation organization, who was not associated with the study.

For one thing, it could help teach people not to always blame tigers for livestock losses. “In my experience, every time something gets killed, it all gets blamed on tigers,” he says. With only about 3,800 wild tigers left in the world, reducing the number of tigers killed in retaliation for real or perceived livestock losses is critically important.

Researcher Phuntsho Thinley, meanwhile, thinks the study could be replicated with other species, such as lions and cheetahs in Africa and wolves and coyotes in the United States. “I feel that the wildlife conservationists and researchers should follow suit,” he says, “particularly to highlight the ecological roles of wild animals to strongly justify their conservation rather than selling the vague idea of general conservation significance, which I think general people are not easily understanding and buying.”

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