The United States, Russia and other conservation-minded countries are meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, November 21–25 to join forces in finding new ways to protect the world’s ever-dwindling population of tigers.
The United States, which will be represented at the 2010 International Tiger Forum by Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero, has provided more than $11 million in grants over the last 15 years to support tiger conservation.
A century ago about 100,000 tigers roamed vast areas of Eurasia, from the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea to the Korean peninsula and from the Amur in Siberia to Java and Bali in Indonesia. Today, only 3,200 to 3,300 adult tigers are estimated to remain in the wild, and their geographic reach has shrunk to a fraction of their old kingdom. Of nine subspecies of the great cats, three have become extinct and one is critically threatened.
There are 13 so-called “tiger-range countries” where tigers live in the wild: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.
The forum, hosted by the Russian Federation, will gather political leaders, scientists and environmental activists to discuss ways to restore the world’s tiger populations. The summit is backed by the Global Tiger Initiative, a program launched by World Bank President Robert Zoellick and an alliance of governments and international organizations.
In all tiger-range countries poaching, climate change and deforestation pose constant threats to the animals. According to a recent study, three of the 13 countries, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia, no longer have viable breeding populations. Illicit trade in tiger parts continues to be a problem worldwide, and authorities often seize tiger skins mainly in India and Nepal, and less frequently in China, Russia and Indonesia. Tiger skins and parts are in high demand on the global black market, the total of which is estimated by Interpol at hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Some conservationists fear that by 2022, there will be no tigers left in the wild. One of the challenges in tiger conservation is the solitary, roaming nature of tigers. An adult individual may patrol a territory of more than 300 square miles. Such large areas are difficult to protect from poachers. In addition, habitat loss and fragmentation, due largely to population growth and deforestation, is forcing tigers into small, isolated groups, mostly in protected forests, refuges and national parks.
Russia, with approximately 450 tigers in the wild, mostly in the Khabarovsk and Primorye regions, can boast one of the largest tiger populations in the world. Russia is home to the Siberian tiger, also known as the Amur tiger, a protected subspecies. It is the largest tiger that once roamed throughout western and central Asia, Siberia and even Alaska. In the 1930s, it came close to extinction, but captive breeding programs helped the population to recover and peak at about 500 by the 1990s. However, there has been a sharp drop over the last few years.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has taken on tiger conservation as a personal cause, and Russia is building a rare-tiger rescue and rehabilitation center in eastern Russia.
The United States is working with tiger-range countries to protect both the surviving tigers and key tiger habitat.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) directed approximately $10 million toward forest conservation and combating the illegal trade in wildlife, both of which benefit tiger habitats and population. Since 2005, USAID and the State Department have contributed more than $8 million to establish and support regional wildlife-enforcement networks in Southeast and South Asia to increase enforcement capacity and improve regional coordination in the fight against illegal trade in wildlife.
2010 is the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese zodiac, and tiger conservationists have designated 2010 as the International Year of the Tiger. The St. Petersburg meeting is building on the momentum of several preceding events. In October 2009, a governmental meeting on tiger conservation was held in Kathmandu, Nepal, followed in January 2010 by the first Asian ministerial conference in Thailand that adopted the goal of doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.
Apart from the leaders of the 13 tiger-range countries and other invited politicians, the St. Petersburg International Tiger Forum will gather representatives of 40 international organizations, among them several conservation organizations, bilateral and multilateral donor organizations such as the World Bank, as well as scientists and experts.
The participants hope to finalize the Global Tiger Recovery Program, which strives to double the world tiger population by 2022. The agenda also includes a push for a high level of commitment and cooperation from heads of government and more resolute enforcement against wildlife crimes.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. )