As Tiger Summit closes in St. Petersburg, conservationists jubilant, cautiously optimistic on wild tiger’s future
Global leaders endorse historic Tiger Recovery Program and celebrate with the stars
The International Tiger Forum, the first-ever devoted to saving a species, attracted global leaders and concluded November 24 in Russia’s most beautiful and historic city, far from the stomping grounds of any wild tiger. But if tigers were aware of their own plight, they would certainly have joined in the celebration from afar.
The tiger’s situation remains perilous, but prospects for the endangered cats brightened considerably with the results of the forum: a Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) endorsed by delegates from the 13 tiger range countries (TRCs) and the St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation issued by the TRCs’ heads of government, including the Forum’s host and Russian Federation Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin. The Declaration set the goal: double the number of wild tigers by 2022. The GTRP lays out how to achieve it.
Prime Minister Putin of Russia was joined by the Premier of China Wen Jiabao, and Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, Nepal, and Lao PDR. Ministers and senior officials from across the tiger range countries were in attendance, along with heads of numerous international organizations and NGOs, including World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick.
Prime Minister Putin said, “While our discussion today is about the fate of the tiger, we are in fact touching on issues that are critical for the entire planet, humanity and its future. Using the example of the tiger, we are speaking about how to preserve nature. We are saying that human civilization can only develop sustainably if we take a responsible attitude to nature, our common home. We all have to work hard and join forces to ensure that this attitude becomes widespread.”
The GTRP outlines how each TRC and the international community will individually and collectively tackle the threats that have pushed wild tigers to the brink of extinction, and what it will cost to do it. Habitat degradation, fragmentation, and loss; and poaching driven by an egregious illegal trade in tiger parts and products are the primary threats. Exacerbating them, however, are human-tiger conflict, limited conservation management capacity in most of the TRCs, and lack of sufficient and sustainable financing for conservation. The GTRP comprehensively addresses all of these issues and includes a portfolio of 80 projects to be undertaken in the first five years of the twelve-year plan.
With an estimated five-year price tag of $350 million, over and above what TRCs and donors are investing now, the plan may be a challenge to fund, but donors are stepping up. For instance, World Bank President Robert Zoellick, founder of the Global Tiger Initiative and co-host with Mr. Putin of the high-level segment of the Forum, reported that the World Bank is working with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and likely India on a $100 million regional wildlife project in these TRCs. A similar project for Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam in Southeast Asia may also be in the works.
To help develop long-term sustainable financing, Mr. Zoellick also described how the World Bank is developing a new Wildlife Premium Market Initiative as a complement to REDD+ that would put value on expanding the ranges of endangered wildlife and return co-benefits to local communities. Malaysia, Nepal, and Thailand expressed interest in piloting the market with the World Bank and partner WWF.
Another significant new initiative was formalized during the Forum with the signing of a letter of understanding among 5 international organizations: the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Customs Organization, and the World Bank to create the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). ICCWC members will work collaboratively and with countries to strengthen enforcement of national and international laws against trade and trafficking in wildlife, including tigers.
One objective of the GTRP is restoring tigers to parts of their former range. Returning Caspian tigers, which were extirpated from Central Asia by the 1960s, is one exciting possibility. Recent genetic analysis showed that Caspian tigers were essentially identical to Amur tigers, residents today of the Russian Far East and northeast China. At the Forum, the Vice-President of Iran and the Minister of Environment from Kazakhstan both expressed their desire to bring tigers back “home” and are working with their Russian counterparts to make it happen. Similarly, delegates from North and South Korea spoke of Amur tigers repopulating the peninsula from neighboring Russia and China.
While the focus was on tigers, the Forum also put the spotlight on broader concerns about the protection of biodiversity in the context of sustainable development. Remarkably, speakers’ comments converged on similar themes.
Pledging that the World Bank will not finance any infrastructure projects that adversely affect tiger landscapes, Mr. Zoellick said, “We can and will foster sustainable smart green infrastructure development that not only maintains ecosystems, but enhances them. I hope the principles of smart green infrastructure will become part of the public policy of tiger range countries and international financial institutions. Bricks and mortar should not bury biodiversity. Critical ecosystems should not be paved over for short-term economic gains.”
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China pointed out the importance of ensuring balanced and harmonious growth to create an equilibrium between human activities and protecting the remaining wilderness and endangered species. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh spoke of her vision for well-balanced economic growth and development and implementing eco-sensitive land-use planning.
Conservationists hope that the International Tiger Forum will represent not just a turning point for wild tigers but for all wildlife and wild lands. Tigers have inspired religions and cultures, art and literature, and a profound respect for nature. So why not a sea change in how our natural heritage is valued and protected?
At the Forum’s closing session, Nuritdin Inamov, Head of the Department of International Cooperation in Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources, commented that tigers have a way of bringing of people together. Many remarked on how delegates from nations as diverse as North and South Korea, Myanmar, the United States, and Iran all attended the Summit and came together during the Ministerial segment at the Mariinsky Palace in central St. Petersburg.
“Help the Tiger” All-Star Concert attracts A-list at Mikhailovsky Theatre
In a fitting tribute to the leaders and delegations who came to St. Petersburg for the historic International Tiger Forum, a star-studded cast of musicians and performers from the tiger range countries put on a dazzling show at the Mikhailovsky Theatre late into the evening of November 23rd as snow fell and wintry winds howled outside. The Mikhailovsky is one of Russia’s oldest opera and ballet houses. It was first established by Czar Nicholas I in 1833, and has undergone a grand artistic revival starting in 2007.
Ilya Lagutenko, lead vocalist of one of Russia’s cutting edge rock and roll acts Mumiy Troll, was energetic master of ceremony together with supermodel Naomi Campbell during the dazzling two-hour show. Lagutenko is a devoted champion of tiger conservation and has been a supporter of the Global Tiger Initiative since its 2008 launch. His performance of new single ‘Sorry Tiger’ drew loud cheers from the audience. Other lead acts at the concert included Malaysia’s ‘Queen of Rock” Ella and Chinese artists Wang Feng and Lia Xijan.
Highlights of the evening included a special appearance by the Prime Minister, who welcomed the audience to his native St. Petersburg and eloquently expressed the need for urgent actions to save the tiger, also calling for a change in thinking and increased focus on biodiversity conservation.
At one point, the Russian leader ventured off script to pay special tribute to Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who arrived just in time for the Summit despite a harrowing journey to Russia when his initial flight was diverted and was forced to make an emergency landing in New York. In comments that were widely picked up by the international press, the Prime Minister referred to DiCaprio as a “real man” for coming to the Summit despite the unscheduled stop. The actor pledged $1 million to support conservation of the endangered cats, and has strongly promoted the WWF-sponsored “Save Tigers Now” initiative.
Leading television personality and wildlife enthusiast Nikolai Drozdov, host of the popular Animal World show, energetically embraced veteran biologist from Russia’s Far East Anatoliy Belov on the stage and burst into song. He called Belov a real hero for helping to protect leopards and Amur tigers in Siberia for more than 20 years.
The Mikhailovsky Theatre was a compelling backdrop for the performances, filled to capacity with leading personalities from the city of St. Petersburg, VIP guests from the tiger range countries, Russian conservationists, and heads of numerous international organizations. American actor and Board Member of Conservation International, Harrison Ford, who could not attend, delivered a video message congratulating participants on the Summit and pledged full support for tiger conservation. Numerous heads of international organizations such as World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick and Director General for the World Wildlife Fund James Leape, were also spotted in the audience.
A troupe of ‘little tigers,’ children brandishing lanterns, descended on the stage late in the evening, capping off a night of entertainment and pomp, marking a celebratory and hopeful conclusion to a successful week for tiger lovers in St. Petersburg and across the globe.