India seeks support for tiger conservation

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India seeks support for tiger conservation

By James Lamont in New Delhi
Published: January 6 2010 00:50 Last updated: January 6 2010 00:50

New Delhi is seeking the support of the World Bank in highlighting efforts to keep alive India’s national emblem, the near-extinct wild tiger, as China and Russia champion their own conservation efforts.

India is facing pressure to raise the profile of the animal’s plight as China celebrates 2010 as the Year of the Tiger and Russia is due to host an international summit on its survival.

India has the largest number of wild tigers among a worldwide population of about 3,200, down from as many as 100,000 a century ago. While India has about 1,400 tigers in the wild, Russia’s Amur tigers number about 400.

Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, told the Financial Times that India was seeking the multilateral lender’s support for a programme of events throughout the year that would begin next month. He said the plight of wild tigers had formed part of his discussions with Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, on a visit to New Delhi last month.

The pressure being felt by India comes in part from Russia’s hosting of World Tiger Day in Vladivostok on September 28 as part of a four-day event supported by the World Bank-backed Global Tiger Initiative.

It also comes as non-governmental organisations, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature, put tigers at the top of their conservation priorities, fearing that The Year of the Tiger in China might hasten their extinction by spurring demand for the animal’s body parts.

The killing of tigers is a source of friction between India and China. Jairam Ramesh, India’s environment minister, shares fears of a rise in poaching and has urged Beijing to act to curb the illegal trade in tiger parts used for medicine. Last year, about 60 tigers were killed in India. Many fell victim to traffickers that operate between India, Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and China.

“I hope to go in September to the summit that the Russians plan to hold in Vladivostok,” Mr Zoellick said. “The Indians, being very proud of having the greatest numbers of tigers in the world, plan to run an effort from February to September and they want our involvement with it. I’m absolutely delighted. I mentioned this to the [Indian] prime minister and he said it was extremely close to his heart.”

India had planned its own global tiger conservation summit in the Rajasthani reserve of Ranthambore in October. Senior World Bank officials sense a breakthrough in collaboration with India, in an area that some critics would say the World Bank has no business being in. The Washington-based institution had earlier run into trouble in India over differences in conservation approach in an eight-year programme which ended in 2004.

But the officials also say that India is resistant to a regional agreement that would include China and others on how best to protect the species.

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