Russia's St. Petersburg tiger summit has ended on an optimistic note, with the leaders of 13 countries where tigers roam pledging to double the endangered species' wild population, which is currently below 3500.
It is the first time that so many countries' leaders have gathered for tigers
Leaders of 13 countries that host tiger populations have agreed on a bevy of conservation actions for the endangered cats at a four-day meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In a historic effort to save tigers from becoming extinct in the wild, the leaders endorsed plans to double tiger populations within the next 12 years via the Global Tiger Recovery Program.
Measures include improving scientific monitoring to help restore the species' habitats and trans-boundary corridors, halting poaching and illegal trade of tigers and tiger products, and creating incentives for local people to protect the animals rather than view them as competitors for land.
Strengthening wildlife legislation, and the enforcement of current laws, will also be vital to achieving the ambitious St. Petersburg targets, as wildlife rangers are often ill-equipped and underfunded compared to poachers.
Wildlife Conservation Society's Joe Walston, who recently took part in a study of the most promising locations for spurring the recovery of tiger populations, told Deutsche Welle that poachers often belong to "organized commercial" networks that span international borders.
Over the last century, tiger numbers have plummeted from about 100,000 to less than 3,500 tigers in the wild today, and conservationists have warned that the animals face extinction by 2022 if nothing is done.
Three sub-species of tigers have already disappeared and the fate of another six is at stake, conservationists say.
The last decade alone has seen a decline of almost 40 per cent in tiger numbers and habitat as a result of human-made threats such as habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade, poaching, and human-tiger conflicts.
Promises of funding
Outside of zoos - where this tiger was born - the species has been dwindling
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin led the meeting, together with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and World Bank President Robert Zoellick.
Also represented at the talks were leaders or representatives of Nepal, Burma, Laos, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Cambodia and North Korea.
"We have put the tiger on the agenda of the international community," Putin said at a summary news conference.
An additional $350 million is needed over the next five years to pay for the Global Tiger Recovery Program, which was initiated two years ago when a World Bank employee told bank president Zoellick that tigers were about to disappear.
"When you hear that, you're shocked," Zoellick told the Washington Post in an interview on Tuesday. Thereafter, the tiger became a World Bank cause, and now Zoellick says the bank will not finance infrastructure in core tiger areas.
It will also try to develop new means of sustainable financing for tiger habitats.
Zoellick said the bank hopes to provide $100 million in financing to help prevent illegal trade in tiger parts and poaching in Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and possibly India.
Financing has also been committed by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, the US, Germany, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Global Environment Facility. Leonardo DiCaprio, a WWF board member who flew in to attend the meeting, has also committed $1 million in private funds.
Three sub-species of tigers have disappeared in the wild
Border cooperation 'crucial'
Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema of the Convention on Migratory Species stressed that safeguarding international migration corridors and trans-border habitats will be "crucial" for global efforts to save the tiger.
"The Convention on Migratory Species is unique in that it can provide a framework to protect not only the animal, but also its habitat," she said.
The Tiger has played a very important role in Asian nature and culture for centuries. Almost half of the world's population - 3.3 billion people - live in the countries where tiger's roam.
Immediate and effective steps are necessary to create an economic and ecological balance matching the interests of these states with a safe future for the tiger.
Author: Jennifer Abramsohn
Editor: Nathan Witkop