The Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg

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Editorial Cat News 53  – Autumn 2010

“Of the long menu of important activities needed to bring about the recovery of the tiger, one stands out as being of paramount importance. Before the tiger can recover, the ongoing decline must be stopped. This can only be achieved by sternest protection, anti-poaching and law enforcement on the ground, in the core sites where the vast majorities of the remaining tigers survive.” Simon says at “the most significant meeting ever held to discuss the fate of a single non-human species”. Simon Stuart, SSC Chair, was presenting the IUCN position and support to tiger conservation and the Global Tiger Initiative at the International Tiger Forum (IUCN Council Statement).

The “Tiger Summit” took place in St. Petersburg in Russia on 21–24 November 2010, and brought together some 500 representatives of the13 Tiger Range States, the partner organisations of the World Bank’s Global Tiger Initiative ( and further institutions important for the conservation of tigers. The global population of free living tigers today is estimated to be only 3,200–3,500 – living in less than 7 percent of the historic range – and has seen a rapid decline in recent years. This alarming news has finally found the attention of high-ranking decision makers.

The high-level segment at the Forum was attended by five Heads of Government (Russia, China, Bangladesh, Lao PDR, Nepal). Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, chaired the segment. Monique Barbut, CEO Global Environmental Facility GEF, was the only person not representing a government to give a speech. The US Under-Secretary of State also attended. Russian Prime Minister Putin gave a passionate talk about wildlife conservation, presenting the tiger as the flagship species for species and nature conservation in general. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called for a change of the economic model to make it work for the environment. Both Robert Zoellick and Monique Barbut mentioned SOS (Save our Species, a joint initiative of IUCN, GEF, and the World Bank; The evening event was a most remarkable conservation show. The American actor Leonardo DiCaprio attended the concert and made a US$ 1 million contribution through WWF and will appear in a tiger campaign next week. Top singers from Russia, China, and Malaysia performed and the Master of Ceremony was the famous model Naomi Campbell.

The goals of the International Tiger Forum were (1) to establish a global system to preserve and restore tigers in the borders of its historical range, and (2) to mobilise world public opinion in favour of tigers. Taking the media attention as an indicator, the second goal seems easy to be reached.

The first goal, however, will take a bit more and a bit longer. To achieve it, the GTI has developed the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP; Recovery-Program-Nov-4.pdf). The GTRP intends to empower the Tiger Range States to address the entire range of threats, which were identified to be loss of natural habitats, degradation and fragmentation, depletion of prey animals, and poaching to supply an illegal trade. The goal of the GTRP is to stabilize tiger numbers within five years and to double them by 2022, the next year of the tiger in the Chinese calendar. Range Countries have put together a portfolio of 80 priority activities to reach these goals. The costs for their implementation are estimated to be US$ 350 million for the first five years.

This is, after all, not a huge sum for saving a charismatic species as widely distributed as the tiger. As one participant at the Forum said: “If we can afford billions to save a bank, why should we not be able to afford millions to save a species?” But the money is, at present, not yet available. And though the first push during the Forum was impressive, it will take a while to find it. But the time of the tiger is running out. I agree with Luke Hunter, who said in a Panthera statement commenting the St. Petersburg summit: “Once we have been successful stopping the killing, only then can we examine larger, overarching issues that will help tigers spread and prosper”. In a forum paper published recently, we proposed first and foremost to concentrate efforts to efficiently protecting the most important remaining tiger core populations (Walston J, Robinson JG, Bennett EL, Breitenmoser U, da Fonseca GAB, et al. 2010. Bringing the Tiger Back from the Brink – The Six Percent Solution. PLoS Biol 8(9); None of the authors would deny that in the long term tigers need to regain lost ground, and this requires a wide variety of approaches and conservation activities. But at the moment it is imperative to halt the decline caused by poaching of tigers in protected areas with sufficient prey.

While the International Tiger Forum in St. Petersburg has convinced me that the tiger has a future, I remain extremely worried about its present.

Urs Breitenmoser

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