The Tiger Summit Promises a New Paradigm

Anand Seth, Senior Adviser Global Tiger Initiative

The recent International Tiger Forum—the “Tiger Summit” hosted by Russian Federation Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg – has been lauded as highly successful by most observers. The Summit was unique in its high-level attention to a single species. It was attended by five Prime Ministers of Tiger Range Countries (TRCs), witnessed by Hollywood’s Leonardo de Caprio and Bollywood’s Priety Zinta, and orchestrated by World Bank President Zoellick.  Even though India’s Prime Minister, custodian to half of the world’s wild tigers, could not be there, India was not missing in action either. In October in Delhi under Minister Jairam Ramesh, India helped achieve the much-needed consensus among the 13 TRCs on a Global Tiger Recovery Program. The Delhi Consensus provided a solid foundation for the success of the Summit.

Now that the talking is over for the moment, what has changed? How ready are we to turn these conversations into on the ground actions for conservation and thus change the future for wild tigers? I believe that the build-up to the Summit and the Summit itself started a three-part paradigm shift. However, I am also convinced that this shift will be incomplete and final results will remain uncertain without sustained effort to pursue further change in the months and years ahead.

One learns readily from success—and there have been some successes in tiger conservation. Success in recovering tiger numbers and habitat has come from working on multiple fronts. For example, in the Russian Far East, it has come largely from vigilant protection of tigers and prey and enforcement of wildlife laws. In Thailand, success is associated with the introduction of new technology for smart patrolling along with more and better trained and motivated boots on the ground in protected areas.  Contrast this with published reports of field protection staff being unpaid for months or not having shoes and raincoats while poachers have cell phones, guns, and jeeps.  In Nepal, success has come from making local communities full partners in conservation, by sharing with them 50 percent of the revenues from tourism in national parks. Contrast this with the experience in many reserves, Bangladesh’s Sunderbans being a case in point, where the dominant issue has been tiger-community conflict. In Malaysia, success has come from smart spatial land-use planning and responsible infrastructure development, which values nature and biodiversity and finds creative ways to pursue development while conserving nature. Contrast this with the global experience where 40 percent of tiger habitat has been lost in the last decade to encroachment from infrastructure, commercial agriculture, and urbanization.  India’s own Khana tiger reserve sets an example for outstanding conservation management, but contrast this with the below-capacity performance at Panna or Simlipal reserves, to name a few. Chinese society is frequently cited as being a major consumer of tiger parts and derivatives; contrast this with success in Japan and Korea to curb similar demand. How is this problem of comparative performance differentials to be addressed?

Nonetheless, the unavoidable fact is we have lost half our wild tigers in the last decade, even as these local successes were being achieved. So the issue in wild tiger conservation is generically the same as in economic development: how does one scale up from known success to achieve large-scale impact? The Summit process has started us on a new path to try to scale up from past successes, but the road ahead is still uphill.

Experts, who love to differ, now agree. Doubling numbers of wild tigers, or Tx2, is feasible, even while each TRC’s goal is appropriately different.  The key actions necessary to achieve the goal are not in major dispute. But more significantly, the process that started with Global Tiger Workshop in Kathmandu a year ago has ensured that the TRC’s are in the drivers’ seat. This is first key element of the paradigm shift.

With 13 diverse countries involved, solutions to the problem of saving wild tiger will never be “one shoe fits all.”  The Global Tiger Recovery Program includes a customized set of national priorities and needed policy, institutional, and expenditure actions and also identifies areas in which TRC’s need global support. The framework is common, the details are customized. This forms the second key part of the new paradigm.

The bottom-up momentum coming into the Delhi workshop has led the TRC’s to offer a new modus operandi for implementing the Global Tiger Recovery Program. The Delhi Consensus agrees on a new process of mutual learning and accountability among the TRC’s. This third element of the new paradigm is quite different from the approach of creating a global super structure that could be seen as instructing  on what to do.

But the three-part paradigm shift will be incomplete without some additional change.With the policy attention on the current economic slowdown in the developed world and on pursuing rapid poverty reduction elsewhere and with climate change sucking all the remaining oxygen, how are policy and expenditure choices in favor of wildlife conservation going to be made to support the agenda?  How well will those who matter—the larger society and policy makers and political leaders—factor in the long-term value of intact habitats when confronted with options to divert them to other uses to produce immediate jobs and corporate profits? If ecosystem services, including tourism potential, water harvesting, flood protection, storage of germplasm and medicinal plants and carbon sequestration are valued properly, intact habitats with robust ecosystems can easily produce annual benefits worth $250-500 per hectare. Yet the world spends less than $1 per hectare to protect tiger habitats.

There are serious development trade-offs and choices to be made in the use of public resources, both national and international.  Even environment ministers cannot deal with these issues without the engagement, understanding, and support of other sectors and the public at large.  The road to the Summit has increased the “political will” to make choices in favor of tiger landscapes; Prime Minister Putin summed it up well in Saint Petersburg: “This forum is not about protecting one wild life species- the tiger. This forum is about protecting nature.  We seek to reconfigure the structure of economic activity in areas populated by tigers and to integrate tiger conservation into long-term socioeconomic development plans.” To sustain the momentum, the paradigm shift needs to be supported by a deeper and wider understanding of the true value of tiger landscapes.

The world expends little effort to stop the flourishing illegal international trade in wild tiger parts and derivatives. The Summit produced a reassurance from China, whose Prime Minister publicly told his fellow PM's that China is resolved to continue to implement its ban on internal tiger trade. INTERPOL and CITES have formed an alliance with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Customs Organization, backed up by the World Bank, to move environmental crime high on the agenda of these global institutions. Until the new consortium can actually help  do a better job of joint patrolling and interdictions of poachers and smugglers, the paradigm shift will be on paper only.

Leonardo, Priety, other celebrities with the support of print and visual media, are leading the effort to stir up a passion for supporting those on the front lines of conservation and for not tolerating the consumption of tigers and other threatened wildlife. The message needs to be sustained, until the front lines have been significantly fortified and a behavior shift is evident on the demand side; only this will ensure that something useful comes from the Summit’s paradigm shift.

Other changes are needed to ensure that paradigm shift leads to rapid results on the ground. In particular, change must extend to how the international community comes behind the  to help them carry out the recovery program through a new system of mutual accountability.  Some of the questions which come to my mind in this context are:

How does one ensure that the $400 million “pledged” at the Summit to implement the Global Tiger Recovery Program are real, incremental, and support the TRC-driven portfolio of priority activities, while allowing for fine tuning? How is this to be done without taking the initiative away from the TRC’s?

How does one develop a TRC-wide monitoring and progress-tracking system that reflects the uniqueness of each TRC and still has the robustness to support a system of mutual accountability?

How do all those international organizations that support national capacity building, ensure that the front-line soldiers in the battle against poachers and smugglers are better equipped and urgently trained to do their jobs in environments that recognize and reward performance?

Finally, how will the existing Global Tiger Forum, which TRC’s want to see play a role in the recovery program, be revitalized while maintaining the huge momentum generated by the Summit?

Yes, the Summit launched us on a new path. The road ahead is uphill and calls for more thought and action, and many more conversations. In one year’s time, when we sit down to take stock, we will know how well we have progressed on making the additional changes needed to complete the paradigm shift begun at the Summit and to change the dynamic in favor of conserving tigers and their landscapes.

I believe that the job has just begun, once again.

Anand Seth guided the collaborative development of the Global Tiger Recovery program adopted at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit. 

December 20, 2010

http://www.21stcenturytiger.org/index.php?pg=1292845036


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