NEW YORK, February 26, 2009 - The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), together with the World Bank and GEF, announced today a commitment of $2.8 million toward tiger conservation across its range. WCS will lead a new project, Tiger Futures, in partnership with other conservation organizations with long-term field experience in tiger conservation throughout countries spanning the big cat's geographical range in Asia.
The Tiger Futures project will provide initial support and early action under the Global Tiger Initiative announced last June by Robert B. Zoellick, President of the World Bank Group. The Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) includes plans to support country dialogues in tiger range states, a review of World Bank projects in areas where tigers occur and initiatives to develop new models for tiger conservation.
The GTI will also strengthen efforts to reduce poaching and illegal trade while creating new funding mechanisms for conservation efforts. As part of the initiative, the World Bank has offered to host a meeting of tiger experts from around the world for a Year of the Tiger Summit in 2010.
The Tiger Futures project will complement Bank initiatives to involve all tiger range states in high-level discussions for tiger conservation, and will support a broad participation of other conservation organizations including TRAFFIC, WWF, and IUCN as lead partners. Other project activities include working closely with local governments in China and Vietnam to reduce illegal wildlife trade—one of the main threats facing wild tigers.
"This agreement marks a unique partnership among the World Bank, GEF, and the conservation community to work with range states to save one of the world's most beloved animals, the tiger," said WCS President and CEO Dr Steven Sanderson. "This project is extremely timely since the plight of the tiger in the wild is dire, and urgent actions on many fronts are needed to protect remaining populations."
The survival of many tiger populations depends on the countries where tigers occur acting in concert. Building consensus is an essential ingredient in securing a sustainable, long-term future for tigers.
"We welcome the launch of the Tiger Futures project as a first step in building consensus and early action for tiger conservation," said Robert B. Zoellick, President of the World Bank Group. "The project recognizes that conservation organizations need to act in concert. We also understand that the survival of many tiger populations will depend on actions taken by the governments of the countries where tigers live."
"The struggle to prevent tigers from going extinct is emblematic of the monumental crisis facing biodiversity globally. We are determined to contribute to the protection of the tigers with this new initiative, but we will also start looking at the whole range of threatened species and the ecosystems they depend. Healthy ecosystems, in turn, provide for livelihoods and safety nets for rural people across the developing world. Therefore, starting with threatened species, we can trigger positive outcomes much beyond the reach of the original investments," said Monique Barbut, CEO and Chairperson of the GEF.
Today's announcement was made at New York's Rockefeller University at a symposium celebrating the career of renowned WCS conservationist George Schaller, who pioneered studies of tigers in India in the 1960s.
Tigers originally ranged over most of Asia, from the Caspian Sea in central Asia through Java and the Russian Far East. Tigers are now estimated to occupy about seven percent of their former historical range. They now only occur in relatively fragmented areas in South and Southeast Asia, with a few small populations in the Russian Far East and northeastern China. Within this reduced range, tiger populations with reasonable reproduction rates probably occupy only about 10 percent of the remaining available habitat, mainly in strictly protected reserves. Any surplus animals moving beyond such areas are likely to perish rapidly due to lack of prey or direct hunting.
The main threats to tigers are loss and degradation of their forest habitats, legal and illegal hunting of tiger prey, and direct killing of tigers either due to conflicts with humans, or commercial poaching for their fur and other body parts, including for traditional Asian medicines.
There are no exact numbers for wild tiger populations, both historical and current. But two hundred years ago the total number of wild tigers was likely to have been between 100,000 to 500,000 compared to today's total of around about 5,000 tigers, including 2,300 breeding adults. Tigers are listed by IUCN as endangered.
The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. WCS do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. Visit: www.wcs.org