Tiger Conservation on Center Stage in Vietnam
Scientific monitoring workshop and Tiger Day celebration pave road toward ‘St. Petersburg + 1
Hanoi, Vietnam, was a hot spot of activity around the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) recently. On August 2-4, the Global Tiger Initiative and the Global Tiger Forum (GTF) jointly with the Government of Vietnam hosted an expert workshop on scientific monitoring of tigers and GTRP implementation monitoring there. All 13 Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) were represented. This workshop addressed critical commitments of the St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation.
St. Petersburg + 1
First was the commitment to convene high-level meetings on a regular basis to review progress of National Tiger Recovery Priorities (NTRPs) and the GTRP. With the first annual ministerial-level stocktaking scheduled for Dhaka, Bangladesh, in early 2012, this workshop was a critical step leading up to “St. Petersburg + 1.” Earlier in the year in Delhi, India, the TRCs presented the priority actions each planned to achieve in 2011; these are the goal posts for assessing first-year progress in each country. In Hanoi, these plans were updated and the TRCs reported on progress up through August 1.
These reports demonstrated that significant progress has been made in this very short time. To highlight just one of the accomplishments, the Vietnam CITES Management Authority in collaboration with TRAFFIC and other agencies, organized three trans-boundary workshops and agreements were signed between Vietnam provinces and neighboring provinces of Lao PDR and Cambodia to improve wildlife trade control across the border. Reports from all TRCs, along with workshop presentations The important outcome of the workshop was an agreed-upon framework for reporting progress on each country’s national tiger recovery priorities at the stocktaking.
Another commitment of the St. Petersburg Declaration was to regularly monitor tigers, prey, and habitat using modern science, standards, and technologies. This is essential for assessing progress toward the overarching goal of the GTRP of doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022, or Tx2. At the landscape and protected area levels, information gleaned from the monitoring program also allows for adaptive management, telling managers whether their interventions are working or need to be fine-tuned in the future.
At the Hanoi workshops, experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) presented on the rationale, methods, possible outcomes, and other aspects of scientific monitoring of tigers, prey, and habitat. All stressed that transparency of methods, data, and results through peer-review and publication is critical to advancing the goal of mutual accountability for progress toward Tx2. The goal for the TRCs is to implement biologically adequate, scientifically rigorous, and agreed-upon methodologies for monitoring.
Some of the countries already have strong science-based monitoring programs; others need to begin such a program to set the baselines. Vietnam, for instance, is just this year completing a first survey of Chu Mom Ray National Park and other priority landscapes. To share knowledge and best practices, delegates from India, Bhutan, Indonesia, Russia, and Thailand provided case studies of scientific monitoring in different habitat types and under different conditions.
With all of this background and support, the TRCs charted their current biological monitoring activities and methods, their future plans—the kinds of monitoring they would like to implement in the future, and their needs in terms of money, training, and technical support for biological monitoring. Analysis will identify gaps in monitoring at hot spots in priority landscapes and jump start efforts to close the gaps quickly. Partners WWF, WCS, Smithsonian Institution, and the GTI Secretariat committed to help fill those gaps.
Management Effectiveness Evaluation
Another commitment of the Declaration was to improve the effectiveness of tiger and habitat management. Given that most wild tigers now live primarily in protected areas (PAs), one tool for this is to measure management effectiveness in PAs on a regular basis.
As the adage says, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. India is a leader in this area, with its Management Effectiveness Evaluation of Tiger Reserves (MEETR) program. The GTF also offered technical support to other TRCs that want to implement a similar program.
Beyond the Workshop
The workshop was bookended by two other events coordinated by Vietnam’s Biodiversity Conservation Agency of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE).
A public celebration of International Tiger Day held in Hanoi on July 29 to raise awareness involved the government, local NGOs, school children, and celebrities. GTI supported and participated in the celebration, which received strong media attention. Held in Hanoi’s Thống Nhất Park, and promoted with colorful banners seen throughout the city, the celebration included performances by the school children and members of the Youth Union of Vietnam Environment Administration.
GTI Program Director Keshav Varma remarked, “It was heartening to me to see young people committed to wild tiger conservation and protecting all of Vietnam’s wonderful wildlife.” Local NGOs, including Environment Vietnam (ENV) and TRAFFIC, exhibited color posters and provided information about efforts to curb the demand for tiger and other wildlife parts and products that fuels poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Elsewhere, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Thailand also celebrated International Tiger Day on July 29, while Russia will hold its Tiger Day in September.
The public celebration was followed by an experts’ roundtable. It was evident from the meeting that curbing the large and growing demand for tiger parts and products will be a major challenge. Even some prominent people currently use tiger and other wildlife products and advocate for commercial breeding (tiger farming) to meet the demand.
On August 5, a second, larger roundtable brought together representatives from several ministries, including Customs, Education and Propaganda, Health, Environmental Police, and Forestry. NGOs such as WWF, WCS, TRAFFIC, and FREELAND also participated. This meeting expanded on the theme of demand and illegal trade in Vietnam and the region, and was chaired by Vietnam’s Vice Minister of MONRE Dr. Bui Cach Tuyen and attended by World Bank Country Director Victoria Kwakwa and GTI Director Keshav Varma. Participants described the illegal movement of wildlife, including tigers and other rare species, from neighboring Lao PDR and Cambodia to China, and lamented that agencies in these regions are poorly resourced to combat this illegal activity.
On the positive side, officials expressed genuine commitment to help change this situation. Recognizing that many ministries must come together to reduce demand and combat illegal trade, the officials from the various ministries agreed to continue to meet quarterly to improve coordination.
Improved cross-sectoral cooperation, as well as improved trans-boundary coordination, are among Vietnam’s national priorities, so this agreement as well as the trans-boundary agreements noted above represent real progress.
Heading to Dhaka
It is clear from the TRC monitoring workshop results and from Vietnam’s surrounding activities that the momentum and political will generated by the Summit have elevated the profile of tiger conservation and are carrying Vietnam and all the TRCs forward. This promises to make the St. Petersburg +1 Stocktaking in Dhaka a demonstration of what collective commitment and individual action can accomplish to save wild tigers and the biodiversity they represent.