Putin on the prowl to save world's endangered tigers
Representatives of 13 countries are meeting in Russia to outline plans to double the wild tiger population, currently as low as 3,200.
For centuries, villagers living in Asia’s forests, mountains and icy tundra have learned to fear and respect the mighty tiger. But rapid economic growth and modernization has turned the tables on the tiger, of which as few as 3,200 remain in the wild, mostly in India, Russia, and Indonesia.Skip to next paragraph
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This weekend, representatives of 13 countries will gather in St. Petersburg, Russia, to pledge support for the tiger, a rare example of a summit on behalf of a single species. The meeting will be hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and has been in the works for two years.
Countries will outline plans to double the wild tiger population by 2022, the year of the tiger in China, which is also the largest market for tiger skins and body parts, according to researchers. Tigers once roamed much of Asia, but are virtually extinct in some countries due to poaching and forest clearance.
But, as with Afghanistan, the tiger summit is fraught with deep divisions over how to turn around an increasingly dire situation. Some conservationists are skeptical that the meeting will yield much. Others argue that it will attract political support to a broad-based conservation effort that requires a sustained focus to succeed.
A separate debate among conservationists is whether the current patchwork of tiger reserves is sufficient to stop the decline and if it should be replaced by a smaller number of "source sites" where female breeding tigers are found, effectively giving up on marginal populations.
There is also controversy over a Chinese proposal to allow a trade in farmed tiger parts, though this has been left off the summit agenda. Critics say that breeding captive tigers for slaughter wouldn’t quell the demand for wild tigers, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine for various ailments. Proponents say farmed tigers would relieve the pressure on wild populations.
India's economic boom eating into tiger conservation zones
The debate over how to save the tiger has resonance in India, home to over 1,400 wild tigers. Its delegation to St. Petersburg will be led by the head of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, an agency created in 1973 in response to a drastic fall in tiger numbers. India has 39 reserves and six conservation zones for tigers, though some have been depleted by poaching.