India, with more than half of the world’s wild tigers, has a key role to play to save this iconic species from extinction. At India’s invitation, representatives of the 13 tiger range countries and their partners in the Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) met in New Delhi this week to help jump-start the implementation of a Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) which was approved at the historic Tiger Summit held in St Petersburg in November, and which drew heavily from India’s experience. With its growing network of tiger reserves, science-based methodology for monitoring tiger numbers, a dedicated forest cadre and a committed and vibrant civil society, India’s experience and expertise is invaluable in facilitating the range-wide implementation of this global programme.
Knowledge sharing among the tiger range countries is the cornerstone of GTI. Led by the tiger range countries, GTI has forged a unity of purpose among governments and non-government conservation organizations alike, and has generated a diversity of views about how to achieve the goal of doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022. Implementation of our global resolution must now begin in earnest on the ground. For this is where the battle to save wild tigers and their important ecosystems will be fought.
GTRP is built on the foundation of the countries’ respective priorities and the international community must respond urgently. This is a shared responsibility of the founders of GTI, including the World Bank, and of the many other partners who have pledged their technical and financial support. I will cite a few key examples.
First and foremost, the men and women who work on the frontlines of tiger conservation, like the forest service officers who protect India’s 39 tiger reserves, must begin to feel the beneficial impact of our efforts. GTRP commits the international community to build capacity and infrastructure for training, technology and modern equipment to defend tigers and their habitats from poachers and encroachers. In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and other agencies—including the Wildlife Institute of India, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund—the World Bank is now offering a capacity-building programme for area leaders and managers of tiger range countries.
In addition, the World Bank stands ready to provide much required financial resources to other conservation-oriented institutions, such as the Global Tiger Forum and the recently created South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network as well as the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, and to finance regional efforts to build institutions and capacity to combat transboundary illegal trade in wildlife products. Over the next several years, a proposed regional project will put real financial resources on the ground in tiger range countries, to enhance shared capacity, institutions, knowledge and incentives, which are required to tackle illegal wildlife trade and conservation threats. This project will complement other credible efforts by non-governmental organizations, including TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which are developing a large-scale awareness programme to eliminate the senseless demand for tiger parts that drives poaching and trafficking.
With the support of the international community, national governments are leading the way to conduct economic evaluations of biodiversity-rich ecosystems, including tiger conservation landscapes. While we all intuitively know that we must preserve our rich biodiversity, expressing the true value of ecosystems, including the iconic tiger, in dollar and rupees terms, gives an additional sense of urgency to the need for concerted action. India, with its great natural wealth and growing economic prosperity, could set the example in this area as it has in so many others.
However, efforts of the conservation community alone may not be sufficient to meet these shared objectives; it is crucial to engage a multitude of stakeholders in this dialogue. To this effect, the International Tiger Conference in Delhi opened a conversation with the infrastructure and industry sectors which leave a critical footprint on biodiversity. In the face of unprecedented species loss over the past decade, more efforts are required to ensure that economic development takes into account the conservation of biodiversity, as well as the numerous environmental services and products which natural habitats provide to human society. We at the World Bank are exploring those very issues in the development of our environmental strategy.
The country-led GTI process has proven highly successful in developing political will and creating a comprehensive, cooperative global tiger recovery programme. With this foundation, the next step is to identify and finance the building blocks that will ensure successful implementation of national priorities. For the sake of wild tigers, other species and their habitats, and for our own sakes, we must succeed. As Indira Gandhi once said, “A world that is not safe for tigers is not safe for people either.”