Will New Initiatives Save Tigers From Extinction?
It is a great irony that one of the largest, fastest, powerful and most terrifying predators on Earth, is also among the most threatened and vulnerable animals. The tiger’s survival is precariously placed in the hands of underfunded and ill-equipped humans who are outnumbered and outgunned by greedy poachers.
The number of tigers in the wild has dwindled from 100,000 to 3,500 in the past century. The main threats to tigers are the destruction of their habitats in Asia – due to economic and industrial expansion – and poachers.
Poachers represent a huge threat to the tiger’s survival. The use of tiger bones in traditional Chinese medicines is widely known, although the ingredient hasn’t been listed in official Chinese manuals for pharmaceuticals since 1993. Tiger is also served in high priced restaurants so that millionaires can eat endangered species to demonstrate their wealth.
Tiger parts also serve as ingredients in tribal superstitions. In some areas, tiger organs are used in what locals believe to be magical rituals.
Between the greed of the elite, outdated medicinal practices, and absurd superstitions, the tiger is assailed on all sides and help has always been underfunded, inconsistent, uncoordinated. The new efforts by the World Bank are ostensibly a paradigm shift.
The World Bank president, Robert Zoellick is by all accounts dedicated to this project and hopes to be able to mainstream the efforts of 13 countries in a massive plan to double tiger populations over the next twelve years. It is the first time an effort this large has been dedicated to tiger conservation.
All tiger range countries are meeting from the 21st to the 24th of November in St. Petersburg to endorse the Global Tiger Recovery Program, which will expand, connect, and protect habitats and reduce poaching through various carrots and sticks.
The World Bank, however, has a spotty record with conservation and has been accused in the past of using conservation efforts as a front for more profitable ventures. The Wildlife Conservation Society says that an earlier World Bank tiger conservation initiative (years before Zoellick took office as president) ended in increased poaching rates, as well as timber trees being stolen from tiger preserves.
I am cautiously optimistic about these and even if that makes me feel a bit naive.
If these efforts fail, we may see the end of the tiger in the wild during our lifetime. The most fascinating predator on the planet may soon be just a memory.
Update 11/21: Read more about efforts to conserve tigers.
Photo: Yvonne (bijoux & crafts)