St. Petersburg: Wild tigers could become extinct in 12 years if countries where they still roam fail to take quick action to protect their habitats and step up the fight against poaching, global wildlife experts told a "tiger summit".
The World Wildlife Fund and other experts say only about 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, a dramatic plunge from an estimated 100,000 a century ago.
James Leape, director general of the World Wildlife Fund, told the meeting in St. Petersburg yesterday that if the proper protective measures aren`t taken, tigers may disappear by 2022, the next Chinese calendar year of the tiger.
Their habitat is being destroyed by forest cutting and construction, and they are a valuable trophy for poachers who want their skins and body parts prized in Chinese traditional medicine.
The summit approved a wide-ranging programme with the goal of doubling the world`s tiger population in the wild by 2022 backed by governments of the 13 countries that still have tiger populations: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam and Russia.
The Global Tiger Recovery Programme estimates the countries will need about USD 350 million in outside funding in the first five years of the 12-year plan. The summit will be seeking donor commitments to help governments finance conservation measures.
"For most people tigers are one of the wonders of the world," Leape told The Associated Press. "In the end, the tigers are the inspiration and the flagship for much broader efforts to conserve forests and grasslands."
The program aims to protect tiger habitats, eradicate poaching, smuggling, and illegal trade of tigers and their parts, and also create incentives for local communities to engage them in helping protect the big cats.
The summit, which runs through Wednesday, is hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has used encounters with tigers and other wild animals to bolster his image. It`s driven by the Global Tiger Initiative which was launched two years ago by World Bank President Robert Zoellick.
Leape said that along with a stronger action against poaching, it`s necessary to set up specialised reserves for tigers and restore and conserve forests outside them to let tigers expand.
"And you have to find a way to make it work for the local communities so that they would be partners in tigers conservation and benefit from them," Leape said.