World leaders to save the tiger



World leaders to save the tiger  Moscow: World leaders and top politicians, including from India, are set to gather in St. Petersburg Sunday in an effort to wrestle out an agreement on how to protect the world's approximately remaining 3,200 wild tigers.

The conference's organisers want the 13 countries in which the world's biggest cats still live in the wild to promise to try to double their numbers by 2022.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's guests at the four-day summit include US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, World Bank President Robert Zoellick and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) the conference will be the first at which leaders will discuss the preservation of a single species.

The adoption of an agreement is expected to take place Tuesday.

An estimated $350 million are needed to increase the tigers' habitat and up the fight against poachers and illegal traders in tiger parts.

A tiger was poisoned in the Sariska tiger reserve in northern India, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said Wednesday, while another was shot dead by poachers in far eastern Russia. There are only 450 left in the region.

Gamekeepers arrested the poachers, but the punishment for killing tigers remains relatively lenient. They could receive a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine of $20,000, according to IFAW.

"We can't save the tigers unless we combat rampant poaching, which is the single greatest threat to the survival of this species," said Masha Vorontsova, the director of IFAW in Russia.

"The summit is a last chance for tigers," she added. We must make sure that talk translates into concrete action and effective, binding agreements that save tigers on the ground."

Research by the WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has shown that the border region between Myanmar, Thailand and China is playing a pivotal role in the illegal trade in tiger parts.

And a report by the WWF and conservationist group TRAFFIC published Friday to coincide with the upcoming conference reported that tiger parts were being offered openly on black markets in the region, especially in parts of Myanmar not under the direct control of the government.

"Tigers are easy money for everyone from mafia types to anti-government opposition groups," TRAFFIC's south-east Asia regional director William Schaedla said.

The markets are particularly attractive to Chinese tourists, who want to buy tiger parts for use in herbal medicines, as lucky charms or simply for their fur.

Conservationists are particularly hopeful that the US, where 10,000 tigers live in captivity, will play a large part in pushing next week's conference forward.

Clinton's presence is regarded as a token of how seriously Washington is taking the issue.

IANS