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World Bank Joins Drive to Save Endangered Tigers

  • Poaching and habitat loss are main culprits.
  • Tiger’s range has been reduced to 7% of its historic range.
  • 76 ‘tiger conservation landscapes’ remain across 13 countries.
  • It has been shown that with protection tigers can recover.
  • Alliance stresses community involvement over punitive action.

June 9, 2008 – The tiger is in deep trouble.

The worldwide population of this awesome predator has shrunk from 100,000 to below 4,000 over the past century. Unless the threats from poaching and habitat loss are significantly reduced, experts say, the tiger could easily slip into extinction.

Tiger conservation groups, scientists and celebrities, including Harrison Ford, are partnering with the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank Group to help save wild tigers.

"Nothing short of global action will bring back wild tigers," said Grace Ge Gabriel, spokesperson for the International Tiger Coalition (ITC). “The ITC applauds the World Bank for focusing the eyes of the world on wild tigers and their needs."

The health of the tiger population is an indicator of biodiversity and a barometer of sustainability. Since tigers are at the top of the food chain, the conservation of wild tigers also means the preservation of the habitats in which they live and the prey populations that support them.

As the Tiger Conservation Initiative was launched June 9 at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park in Washington – home to five Sumatran tigers – World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick explained the Bank’s involvement: "Just as with many of the other challenges of sustainability—such as climate change, pandemic disease, or poverty—the crisis facing tigers overwhelms local capabilities and transcends national boundaries. This is a problem that cannot be handled by individual nations alone. It requires an alliance of strong local commitment backed by deep international support."

Tigers need space, prey, water, and cover. In India, in some of the isolated forests where prey is plentiful, up to 10 tigers can survive per 100 square kilometers. But at the other end of their range, in Russia’s Far East, where prey is less plentiful, a single tiger needs up to 200 square kilometers of range to find adequate food.

The tiger’s range once covered much of Asia, but today it has been reduced to just 7 percent of that vast space. The habitat that’s left – 76 ‘tiger conservation landscapes’ in 13 countries – is steadily being converted to agriculture and urban uses, and fragmented by roads into blocks too small to sustain tiger populations.

Poaching is an even bigger threat to tigers. Despite worldwide bans and some increases in enforcement, a residual but very damaging trade in tiger parts continues. Tiger bones are used in potions and medicines, skins for wall hangings, rugs, and fashion, and meat for gourmet dishes. An adult male’s parts, including its penis and paws, can have a collective retail value ranging from US$10,000 to $70,000, according to a new report by the World Bank and Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. Scientists say extinction of the tiger would not only rob the world of its most popular animal that has inspired legends and poetry, but upset the ecosystems of Asia’s forests.

To save the tiger, the World Bank proposes a Five-Point Plan of Action that stresses community engagement over earlier and failed punitive action:

  • Initiate a review of projects in tiger habitats to learn lessons from the past that can inform future engagement.
  • Facilitate country workshops and other platforms for partnership with NGOs, governments, and the scientific community at the national level to develop appropriate models of conservation.
  • Devise strategies and action plans in partnership with other organizations to address the illegal trade and other conservation needs.
  • Explore and develop alternative and new funding mechanisms for tiger conservation.
  • Offer to host a 2010 “Year of the Tiger” Summit. This would be an opportunity for all those involved in tiger conservation to review the status of tigers and their habitat.