ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will try to thrash out a deal with Asian leaders on Tuesday to double the world’s wild tiger population by 2022 and save it from extinction.
Just 3,200 tigers now roam free, down from 100,000 a century ago, and those that remain face a losing battle with poachers who supply traders in India and China with tiger parts for traditional medicines and purported aphrodisiacs.
Putin is trying to turn the tables on the poachers by hosting a “tiger summit” with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and representatives from other Asian countries, the highest level meeting ever held to try to save the species.
“Here is a species that is literally on the brink of extinction,” the director general of conservation organisation WWF, Jim Leape, told the conference. “If we cannot succeed now, if current trends continue, by 2022 we will have only scattered remnants of the populations left.”
The leaders are expected to agree a $350-million programme coordinated by the World Bank and WWF to double the tiger population by 2022.
But implementation will be key and without tough measures to halt poaching and deforestation by the 13 nations that are home to the planet’s last free-roaming tigers, they could cease to exist in the wild by 2022.
Putin, who was given a tiger cub for his 56th birthday, has tried to court Russia’s growing environmental movement by throwing his weight behind efforts to save the tiger, that roams across the vast forests of Russia’s Far East.
But conservation groups say governments and activists have failed to stop the poachers.
“The tiger population around the world has been dwindling away and the tiger conservation community has been putting in a lot of effort, but we’re not succeeding,” said John Robinson, chief conservation officer of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“If nothing changes radically we are going to see a lot of tiger populations blinking out,” he told Reuters.
Tiger numbers have tumbled 97 percent in the past decade and up to four of the nine tiger subspecies have vanished.
A marker of the summit’s success will be the launch of a consortium to fight wildlife smuggling, said John Sellar, chief enforcement officer for the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
“The key thing is enforcement,” he told Reuters. “The situation is now so serious that if we don’t get enforcement very soon then the money that we’re spending in other areas, one could almost say, is flushing down the toilet.”
India is at the centre of the trade with the most seizures of tiger parts, followed by China, where nearly every inch of the tiger fetches a high price, with pelts sold for as much as $35,000, according to black market database Havoscope.
“If someone breaks into your house at night and steals your DVD player, the insurance company is going to pay for you to go and get another. When the final tiger or leopard is gone — that’s it,” said Sellar.
“If we can’t do it for the tiger, then I think we have to ask, are we going to be able to do it for anything else?”