Photo: Babirusa, Wikimedia, CC BY-SA
It's rare that an entire international summit is put together for the sake of a single species -- but that's what's taking place this weekend, when representatives from 13 Asian nations will head to St. Petersburg to try to map out the future of the tiger. The event is being hosted by Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, and delegates from India, China, Indonesia, and elsewhere will be in attendance. They'll attempt to forge a plan to double the remaining population of tigers -- there's only 3,200 of them left -- over the next 12 years. But given the track record of such international summits, I wouldn't hold your breath.The CS Monitor reports on what we should expect from the proceedings:
Countries will outline plans to double the wild tiger population by 2022, the year of the tiger in China, which is also the largest market for tiger skins and body parts, according to researchers. Tigers once roamed much of Asia, but are virtually extinct in some countries due to poaching and forest clearance.Poaching is at the forefront of this crisis -- tigers continue to be killed and traded for their parts, which are used in traditional medicine in China and elsewhere. A successful summit will tackle this burgeoning trade in China, though most observers doubt it will.
But, as with Afghanistan, the tiger summit is fraught with deep divisions over how to turn around an increasingly dire situation.
The Chinese have a proposal to support "tiger farming", or allowing the trade of tiger parts that were raised domestically and killed for their parts. There's intense disagreement over whether this would lessen demand for wild tigers, or simply generate more. There's less disagreement over whether 'tiger farms' would be the saddest places on earth.
Other questions looming at the fore of the debate are whether traditional conservation techniques are working -- there's some doubt that the large reserves in place today are actually helping to keep populations in tact. Some are arguing to replace the current system with a 'source site' system, which would focus on breeding grounds and give up on marginal populations. There's no word on whether the 'corridor system', a conservation idea that's gaining ground in South America, will be considered at the Asian summit.
Needless to say, the stakes are high -- 100 tigers are being poached every year, and their habitats continue to shrink dramatically as developing countries continue to industrialize. Let's hope Putin is as good at negotiating tiger conservation as he is at riding horses shirtless -- in which case we might actually see some progress. As it stands, one of the planet's most beloved species is losing ground fast, and only serious, concerted action can reverse the course.