After the roar

The first ever international summit on saving tigers from extinction has concluded at St Petersburg with solemn pledges and plans. The 13 participating countries — all with tiger populations — have promised to double the numbers of the endangered species by 2022. They have signed on to an action plan to strengthen tiger reserves, crack down on poachers and provide financial incentives to local communities to participate in protecting the big cat.

Almost $330 million dollars have been set aside to implement the plan. Tiger conservationists say that without robust intervention, the tiger will be extinct in the next 12 years. Their numbers have plummeted dramatically from an estimated 1,00,000 a century ago to just 3,200 today. While the summit is a promising step, wildlife activists say that this is not the robust intervention that they were hoping for.

The World Bank is among the main donors backing the summit and the action plan. It is hard not to be sceptical of its role. After all, World Bank funded hydro-electric power projects, roads and other infrastructure projects have torn through tiger habitats. Has the Bank changed its position on development and environment?

Or is this new generosity towards saving the tiger just a ruse? It is this unease with the Bank’s role in tiger conservation that is reported to be behind India’s low-profile at the St Petersburg summit. However, whatever its misgivings about the Bank’s role, India should have been at the forefront of the global effort to protect tigers.

While the Russian and Chinese prime ministers were present at the summit, it was an official from the environment ministry who represented India at St Petersburg. India is home to half the world’s tigers. Demand in China for tiger parts used in traditional medicines and aphrodisiacs has made India the centre of the world’s poaching trade. India should have provided leadership to the St Petersburg summit, pressing for strong mechanisms with teeth to halt the trade that is depleting its tiger population.
The world is on the brink of losing the tiger, easily among the most magnificent of animals on the planet. The health of our ecosystem depends on keeping the big cats alive. Participants at the summit roared in unison about their commitment to protecting the tiger. They must co-operate now to save it from extinction.

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