On Sunday 21st November, the heads of governments from all tiger countries will gather amid the grandeur of St. Petersburg’s Konstantin Palace for the world’s first Tiger Summit. Backed by the World Bank and hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has made tiger preservation a matter of personal pride, delegates will meet to finalise plans for the Global Tiger Initiative, which aims to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022 – the next Chinese Year of the Tiger.
With tiger numbers having crashed from 100,000 less than a century ago to around 3,200 today, this summit is being billed as ‘the last chance to save the tiger’. Delegates are expected to discuss a range of measures aimed at preserving the species, including greater law enforcement to tackle hunting and habitat loss.
The run-up to the event, however, has not been without controversy, with the recent killing of a Siberian tiger being a gruesome reminder of the threat to wild tigers, and a report by TRAFFIC showing that as many as 100 tigers are ‘reduced to skin and bone’ each year for the illicit trade in body parts.
Conservationists have also engaged in debate as to the best strategy to conserve the species, with tiger conservation expert Kirsten Conrad sparking off some heated reactions by suggesting that legalising tiger parts through controversial tiger farms could save wild tigers by creating competition with the black market. The Wildlife Conservation Society has also published a recent report arguing that the best strategy to conserve the tiger is to protect 42 key sites, or 6 percent of the tiger’s current distribution, where upwards of 25 females can breed and, hopefully, then repopulate the wider landscape. WWF, however, believe that protecting habitat corridors is paramount to avoid a future where tigers are confined to small isolated reserves.
It is a stark reminder though that if conservationists and politicians fail to reach agreement at the Tiger Summit, this majestic beast is predicted to become extinct in less than two decades. As a flagship species for conservation and an animal that is deeply embedded in human culture and our understanding of the natural world, conserving the tiger is vital in the fight against biodiversity loss.
As Dr Alan Rabinowitz, president and CEO of Panthera, says, the tiger “is the epitome of the wild and wildness…We lose that and it’s the cork out of the bottle – everything else spills out. If we can’t pull together enough to save what is the most iconic living species, then what are we going to do for lesser species?”
If you would like to sign WWF’s Tiger Summit Petition, please visit: http://www.wwf.org.uk/how_you_can_help/donate_now/save_the_tiger/
Alex Royan – ARKive Species Text Author