Bringing tigers back from the brink

Protecting habitat by linking human and environmental security will save tigers


by Dr. Keith Martin

tiger emerging from darkness

The goal of this high-profile Summit, initiated by Russian president Vladimir Putin and World Bank chief Robert Zoellick, was to galvanize the public into supporting the goal of doubling the number of tigers in the wild by 2022. The Summit ended with sustained concern over the loss of the world’s tigers, despite $330m worth of donor pledges to make living tigers more valuable while alive.

At the present time, a dead tiger can net a poacher up to $50,000. This illegal practice has decimated tiger populations worldwide. Unfortunately, the Summit did not conclude with the implementation of a measure to ensure the punishment of individuals poaching and trafficking tigers and it is significant that China, which constitutes the largest market for tiger parts, did not strongly commit to ending the practice. A number of celebrities also supported the Summit, with actor Leonardo DiCaprio pledging $1m of his own money.

It is hard to imagine a world without tigers. Yet today, there are fewer than 3,200 of these magnificent predators left on the planet. In the past century, their populations have plummeted from 100,000 to only about 2,500 breeding adults.

This catastrophic decline in tiger populations is a direct result of two things: 1) habitat destruction, and 2) relentless hunting for their bones, claws and teeth, which are used to make ornaments and products that falsely claim to have medicinal value. To save these animals, rapid and effective action must be taken to protect their habitats and reduce demand for their body parts. Additionally, domestic laws should be strengthened to prosecute those involved in the poaching, trade, or sale of tiger products and penalties should be increased and enforced for those identified as being involved in these activities.

World’s first Tiger Summit

On November 21, the 13 countries where tigers still roam (TRCs) met in St. Petersburg, Russia, for a four-day summit to launch a last ditch effort to save this magnificent animal. At this meeting, two major initiatives were addressed:

To protect tiger habitats by supporting local projects, such as eco and ethno-tourism opportunities that have small environmental footprints and which also can generate substantial revenues. Funds from these ventures can be used to protect and expand critical habitats and to finance the economic, health and infrastructure needs of the people who live near these biospheres. When people who live near ecosystems receive direct economic benefits from them, they will preserve them. Demonstrating that the habitats of tigers have greater value preserved than destroyed creates a personal incentive for people to protect them.

To reduce the demand for tiger parts. An international public awareness campaign must be started that clearly shows that tiger parts are utterly ineffective at treating medical problems. National and international naturopathic associations should become partners to spread this message.

The annihilation of tigers is not an esoteric issue. Tiger habitats can have immense, long-term, sustainable economic and ecological value to the people who live near them. They can also act as carbon sinks and buffers to deforestation and the degradation of water sources.

Human security and environmental security are two halves of the same whole. Initiatives that support both of these objectives will preserve the remarkable biodiversity on our planet and will enable us to save keystone species like tigers. It would be hard to imagine a world without them.

To support the Global Tiger Initiative, visit www.globaltigerinitiative.org. To learn more about the Save Tigers Now campaign, visit www.icforum.info and www.savetigersnow.org.

Dr. Keith Martin is a physician and Member of Canada’s Parliament, as well as the founder and chair of the Canadian Parliament’s first All-Party International Conservation Caucus. In 2010, he launched the International Conservation Forum (www.icforum.info), which offers conservationists, environmentalists, scientists, NGOs and the general public a platform to share research findings and solutions to urgent environmental challenges. Most recently, Dr. Martin launched an international campaign to save rhinos from extinction. Learn more at www.icforum.info/category/rhinos/