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.
(Page 2 of 2)
But India’s economic boom isn’t necessarily a plus for its rich wildlife. A rush to develop rural areas, dig mines, and build road has eaten away at forest reserves where tigers roam, often over hundreds of miles in search of prey. Corruption and low morale is blamed for the failure of forest rangers to protect wildlife.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
What galls some critics of the tiger summit is that its main backer, the World Bank, has a checkered record in India. While its president, Robert Zoellick, helped launch the two-year Global Tiger Initiative, the bank continues to fund coal-fired power stations and other development projects in India with major environmental impacts, including on forests.
“There’s a fatal flaw in the whole thing and that’s the World Bank. That’s where the problem is,” says Bittu Sahgal, editor of Conservation Asia, a magazine published in Mumbai. He claimed the bank was trying to green-wash its image. Bank officials have argued that coal is an unavoidable part of the energy mix in countries like India and China.
An estimated 104 tigers killed per year
Even the idea of a summit to save a single species may raise eyebrows. But conservationists say that focusing on a large, iconic predator like the tiger makes sense, as safeguarding its habitat also protects other species living there. The tiger initiative also aims to promote poverty reduction in catchment areas and carbon emission allowances for countries that set aside wildlife-rich forests.
Some critics say this extra baggage obstructs the pressing need to protect vulnerable wild tigers in countries like Russia and Indonesia, and to stop the illegal trade in tiger parts that is fed by Chinese demand. TRAFFIC, a wildlife monitoring agency, recently calculated that seizures of tiger parts and skins since 2000 suggested that at least 104 tigers were slain annually, a figure that omits those tiger products that evaded capture as well as natural mortality.
Samir Sinha, the head of TRAFFIC in India, argues that the summit’s holistic approach to tiger conservation is valid. “It’s basically ticking the boxes you like. But it filters into saving the species,” he says.
National reserves, or natural corridors?
Experts differ on how this might be done. A group of academics recently proposed the “6 percent” strategy, which would protect only national reserves with viable numbers of breeding tigers. Other reserves would be abandoned. The idea would be to revive the wild population by concentrating resources on 6 percent of the historic range of tigers in Asia.
This approach contrasts with the "landscape" strategy of WWF and other conservation groups, which aim to preserve natural corridors outside protected areas so that tigers can roam more widely. Mr. Singh points out that breeding tigers on core sites would eventually create a dilemma of what to do when the population is too large for its habitat. It would also be hard to take back land that had been given up for development, which is likely to accelerate if India continues its economic boom.
“If we only look at the conservation sites and give up the rest it will be lost forever,” he says.