Thirteen countries where the Asian Tiger still roams need to double their national budgets to keep the region’s tiger population stable at 3,200 and unknown millions would be needed to double it, a conference was told on Thursday.

The 13 tiger-range countries currently spend 45 million dollars on preserving their quickly disappearing tiger habitats, according to estimates presented at the first ministerial-level conference on tiger conservation, held in the Thai seaside resort of Hua Hin, 130 kilometres south-west of Bangkok.

“We need twice that just to maintain the status quo,” said John Seidensticker, a tiger specialist at the Smithsonian Institution in the United States.

Seidensticker was one of 176 delegates, including 14 ministers, at the meeting on how to preserve tigers in the wild and save their diminishing habitats.

“Tigers are the tip of the spear in saving biodiversity,” he said.

The meeting was an outgrowth of the Global Tiger Initiative, started in June 2008 with the backing of the World Bank, World Wide Fund for Nature and several other non-governmental organizations.

The initiative seeks to involve the governments of the 13 tiger-range countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam — in the process of saving one of the world’s last remaining big predators.

In Hua Hin, ministers from those countries are to meet on Friday to issue a declaration on their political commitment to save their existing tiger populations and double them by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger, according to the Chinese zodiac calendar.

The regional forum also offers an opportunity for tiger-range countries to propose new cross-border projects for funding by the Global Tiger Initiative with backing from the World Bank.

“Now we have reached the stage where everyone is saying, ‘Where’s the money?’” said Andrey Kushlin, Global Tiger Initiative programme coordinator at the World Bank.

“We are definitely ready to provide catalytic financing for countries with a good project or countries with good cross-border projects,” he said.

The World Bank is ready to finance tiger-preservation projects from every tiger-range country except Myanmar, Kushlin said.

“Myanmar has the largest potential tiger-conservation landscape available, but the issue for the World Bank is we cannot directly engage with Myanmar,” he said of the country’s ruling military junta.

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