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Tiger summit reaches bold agreement and raises $300 million

The summit to save the world’s biggest cat, and one of the world’s most popular animals, has agreed to a bold plan dubbed the Global Tiger Recovery Program. Meeting in St. Petersburg, 13 nations have set a goal to double the wild tiger’s (Panthera tigris) population worldwide by 2022. Given that tiger numbers continue to decline in the wild, this goal is especially ambitious, some may even say impossible. However, organizations and nations are putting big funds on the table: around $300 million has already been pledged, including $1 million from actor, and passionate environmental activist, Leonardo Dicaprio.

“This summit has created the high level government backing that we needed to create a platform to immediately reverse the decline of wild tigers which is threatening them with extinction,” said Michael Baltzer, head of WWF’s Tigers Alive initiative. “We need governments to lead the charge forward and maintain this political enthusiasm and intensity – because the tiger cannot wait for our help.” WWF contributed $50 million at the summit.

Currently, there are an estimated 3,500 wild tigers in the world, down from approximately 100,000 in 1900; during the last decade alone tigers have lost 40% of their viable habitat; and already in the past century, three tiger subspecies went extinct and one may only survive in captivity. These bleak statistics underlie the difficulty of saving tigers. The great cat is threatened by habitat loss (much of which has vanished already), poaching for skins and traditional medicine, declines in prey species, and human-tiger conflict wherein both humans and tigers are often killed.

Not everyone is convinced that the Tiger Summit was the best approach to saving the species.

“I’m more than a little uncomfortable that we have such a single-minded focus on a single species. Most poachers for example, aren’t tiger poachers. They’re leopard poachers that sometimes take tigers. A wider, more cohesive strategy that looked at all of Asia’s big cat species could be merited,” writes economist and conservationist, Brendon Moyle, on his blog Chthonic Wildlife Ramblings.

Moyle’s point is accurate. There are thousands of species more threatened with immediate extinction than the tiger, which researchers say could vanish in 20 years. However, some conservationists would argue that the tiger is a ‘flagship’ species, i.e. by saving the tiger—which requires a large expanse of habitat—one automatically saves many other Asian animals.

The tiger summit, hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, is the first such high-level meeting focused on saving one species.

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Would legalizing the trade in tiger parts save the tiger?

(11/15/2010) Just the mention of the idea is enough to send shivers down many tiger conservationists’ spines: re-legalize the trade in tiger parts. The trade has been largely illegal since 1975 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The concept was, of course, a reasonable one: if we ban killing tigers for traditional medicine and decorative items worldwide then poaching will stop, the trade will dry up, and tigers
will be saved. But 35 years later that has not happened—far from it. “Words such as ‘collapse’ are now being used to describe the [tiger’s] situation both in terms of population and habitat. Wild tiger numbers continue to drop so that we have about 3,500 today across 13 range states occupying just 7% of their original habitat. It’s universally acknowledged that we’re losing the battle,” Kirsten Conrad, tiger conservation expert, told in a recent interview.

Authorities confiscated over 1000 tigers in past decade

(11/09/2010) Highlighting the poaching crisis facing tigers, a new report by the wildlife trade organization, TRAFFIC, found that from 2000-2010 authorities have confiscated the parts of 1,069 tiger individuals, many of them dead. The tigers, or their body parts, were confiscated from 11 of the species’ 13 range countries, according to the report entitled Reduced to Skin and Bones. Yet the number only hints at the total number of tigers (Panthera tigris) vanishing in the wild due to the illegal trade in tiger parts for traditional Asian medicine and decorative items, such as skins.