Millions of dollars have been promised to protect tigers at a summit in St. Petersburg but campaigners remain unconvinced.
The world's first tiger summit wrapped up on November 24 with lingering concerns about the fate of the endangered predator despite donor pledges of almost $330m aimed at making the great cat worth more alive than dead.
The high-profile conservation conference called by Russian President Vladimir Putin and World Bank chief Robert Zoellick mobilised political, financial and celebrity support behind a goal of doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022.
Celebrities, including film star Leonardo DiCaprio — who pledged $1m of his own money — and supermodel Naomi Campbell rubbed shoulders with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and leading conservationists at the event in St. Petersburg.
The leaders endorsed the Global Tiger Recovery Programme, an action plan to strengthen reserves, crack down on poachers and provide financial incentives to maintain a thriving tiger population.
Currently, a poached tiger is believed to fetch between $25,000 and $50,000 for the carcass, reproductive organs and bones. Largely as a result of this lucrative, illegal trade, there are estimated to be only 3,200 tigers left in the wild — down from 1,00,000 a century ago.
During the summit, major donors — including Germany, WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society and international financial institutions — promised $329m over the next five years as a first step towards doubling the population. The 13 tiger range nations — defined as countries where the animals roam freely — are spending considerably more themselves on related projects.
At first glance, this appears to be more than $1,00,000 per animal, but much of the money has been diverted from existing commitments, which means the multi-purpose donations will also go towards forestry preservation and carbon sequestration. Bhutan and Laos expressly said they would struggle to double tiger numbers without adequate financial support.
Beyond the money, World Bank officials said the tiger initiative had forced the institution to change direction on development.
“The tiger has made the world realise that there is a crisis in nature taking place,” said Keshav Varma, director of the Global Tiger Initiative at the World Bank.
“Our development philosophy needs to find a balance between the economy and nature. There is so much more consciousness now that projects should not have a negative impact.” The endorsement of the Global Tiger Recovery Programme by heads of government and tiger range countries was widely seen as an important step forward.
“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.
Concerns, Indian delegation
“We need governments to lead the charge forward and maintain this political enthusiasm and intensity, because the tiger cannot wait for our help.” But the summit also ended with concerns remaining about financing and concrete action. Several states are sceptical that the World Bank — which has funded many hydropower and other infrastructure projects that have eroded tiger habitats — has genuinely changed its spots. India sent a relatively low-level delegation in a sign of its unease. The summit was unable to agree on a new multi-donor funding mechanism under the World Bank. There will be four more meetings next year to try to co-ordinate spending.
Conservationists warned that any delay will mean more tigers are killed. “Overall, this summit has been positive for tigers, but it won't stop poaching and trafficking because they haven't put in place a mechanism to support enforcement,” said Steven Galster, director of Freeland, an organisation that helps to train wildlife authorities in South-East Asia. “They spent $1.4m on this meeting. Why not spend $7m to set up an emergency fund to support enforcement?” There was also disappointment that China — the main market for tiger products — had not made a stronger public commitment to crack down on the illegal trade. The attendance of Prime Minister Wen was, however, taken as an encouraging sign of engagement.
Debbie Banks, head of the Environmental Investigation Agency, said despite the promises of money and political support, it was too early to determine whether the summit was a success. “None of us are jumping for joy and saying the nut is cracked,” she said. “It'll be what happens when leaders go home that makes a difference. Will they engage the public? Will they call a meeting of police and customs to say wildlife is a priority and personnel will be assigned to it? That will show that they have not just come here and read a statement, but that they really want to move away from business as usual.” Participants have a mixed record on fulfilling their promises. John Sellar of wildlife convention, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) said more than half of the range states had failed to provide information on the illegal tiger trade, as they agreed to do in 2009.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
Keywords: tiger conservation