‘The roar of a wild tiger could soon be replaced by silence if the global summit fails to target the illicit demand driving its decline,’ writes Robert Zoellick of the Guardian.
In 1894, when the Jungle Book was first published, 100,000 tigers roamed the wild. Today, that number has plummeted to 3,200. And Shere Khan’s hunting grounds, the habitats in which all wild tigers live, are disappearing. Tigers now occupy only 7% of their 1894 range.
The extinction of the wild tiger would be an extraordinary tragedy. It would be a tragedy not only because of the appalling loss of these animals, but also because it would pose a threat to the health of the habitats in which they live and the prey that support them. Tigers are an umbrella species – their health reflects the health of surrounding plants and animals.
We know what is causing the decline in numbers of wild tigers: illegal poaching; illegal wildlife trade; loss of habitat through conversion, encroachment, and land degradation. But the good news is we have also found that tiger populations can recover. For them to do so, we have to target the illicit demand that drives tiger decline – because the illegal trade in wildlife is nothing more than organised crime.
This year, 2010, is the Year of the Tiger. During 21-24 November, the global tiger summit in St Petersburg, Russia, will bring together the 13 countries that still have wild tigers, along with some wildlife conservation and development partners. The summit will be an historic occasion, where world leaders will undertake specific commitments with the goal of doubling tiger numbers to 7,000 by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger, and protecting their habitats.
By working to save the wild tigers, we’re protecting a majestic animal so it can continue to stir our imagination, just as it did in Kipling’s day. At the same time, we’re arousing attention about all the biodiversity of our planet.