Hundreds of millions of dollars have spent or pledged on tiger conservation projects, much of it on tiger reserves. The Global Environmental Facility and the World Bank are supporting $67 million eco-development schemes to relieve the human pressures on five tiger preserves. In 1994, the Exxon Corporation pledged more than a million a year for five years as part of its worldwide "Save the Tiger Fund."

"Governments will have to designate protected areas for tigers," Naturalist Alan Rabinowitz said, "then commit the resources necessary to guard and manage them without compromise." More pressure is being put on countries with tiger to spend their money effectively. NGOs have waht is needed is a stable, long-term mechanism work in work in conjunction with the Redd-plus scheme to protect forests with carbon financing. "We know how to save tigers. The problem is we don't sustain it. We fund conservation for a few years and then it tails off," said Eric Dinerstein, chief scientist at WWF. "We have to find sustainable financing."

Kathy Lally wrote in the Washington Post, “So far, there's been polite disagreement about how far-reaching the plans should be, with much sentiment to go big and broad - engaging and educating communities, vastly expanding protected landscapes and restoring tigers to a much wider range than they now inhabit. Others argue that the situation is so dire that time and money should be concentrated on relatively few areas before declaring loftier ambitions. "We want to see tigers living in large, healthy landscapes," said Barney Long, WWF tiger program manager, "not in small parks where they are vulnerable to outbreaks of poaching." [Source: Kathy Lally, Washington Post, November 20, 2010]

“The Wildlife Conservation Society and Panthera, a conservation organization dedicated to wild cats, have proposed narrowing efforts, and WCS has suggested 42 sites where tigers should be protected. Joe Walston, director of WCS-Asia, says that with 70 percent of the world's tigers fairly concentrated - including 18 "source sites" in India, eight in Malaysia and six in Russia - money should be aimed at monitoring and strengthening law enforcement to stop poaching in such areas.

“Broader attempts are too risky, warns Luke Hunter, Panthera's executive vice president. "If you start talking about infrastructure and saying a dam can't be built unless it doesn't harm tigers, that's all good," he said. "The problem is we don't have time for it. Educating communities is a good thing, but by the time the children have grown up, the tigers will be gone." The World Bank’s Robert Zoellick contends that those points of view are less contradictory than they appear. "We all agree that if you don't preserve the core population, there's nothing to talk about," he said, but at the same time those populations need room to roam.

Laws that Protect Endangered Animals

In 1993, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) warned China and Taiwan, the two countries where the trade in tiger and rhino parts is most prevalent, to take steps to shut down the trade or face trade sanctions. In response, Chinese authorities said they would assign 40,000 people to enforce laws protecting endangered animals. Conservationist say that Taiwan and China would do just enough to stave off sanctions and then allow the market to resume business.

The CITES treaty has been signed by 130 nations. It protects 25,000 species and enforces bans on a number of items including tiger bones, rhinoceros horns, musk glands and bear gall bladders.

Korea had hoped for exemption on seven species — musks, bears, tigers, pangolins, turtles, mink whales and Bryde's whales.

The politics of the sanctions on endangered animals is tricky. Why, for example, are sanctions imposed for the mistreatment of tigers and not on the torture and imprisonment of Tibetans. There is also the issue of free trade. "Once you impose sanctions," a State department official asked, "then what?"

The U.S. has used a section of the U.S. Fisheries Protective Act known as the Pelly amendment to impose sanctions on nations whose acts hurts endangered species. The amendment was intended to curb the use of drift nets by Korea and Japan.

Tiger Conservation in India and Nepal

In India and Nepal, conservationists are working to establish links are corridors between isolated preserves and tiger habitat fragments. The project is focused on helping 200 tigers that live in the Terai. A region along the India-Nepal border that was once occupied by malarial swamps and grasslands but is now is a major agricultural area.

The Terai Arc Landscape Program, which is funded by the World Wildlife Fund, Save the Tiger and the Indian and Nepali governments, aims to connect the 11 reserves in the his area, help elephants and rhinos and deer and assisted displaced local farmers. It provided incentive for farmers to plant trees an thatch grass, which will provide cover for tigers and their prey and allow them to return. The project was launched in 2001 and is expected to take 50 years to complete.

The skins, carcasses and bones of tigers that die naturally are often burned to prevent them from being sold on the black market.

Project Tiger

In 1973, the government of India under Indira Gandhi and the World Wildlife Fund launched a campaign, called Project Tiger, to save the tiger, India's national animal, from extinction. The project began with a million dollar grant from the World Wildlife Fund and $4.5 million dollars from the Indian government.

"The object," said one Indian wildlife official, was “to start a nucleus of regenerating the species, a sort of series of nurseries for tigers, where they can rest, breed, spread out." Nine existing sanctuaries, encompassing teak and bamboo forests and mangrove swamps, were designated tiger reserves. Over the years Project Tiger has expanded the number of protected areas or tigers from 7 to 27. They are in more than a seven states and cover 35,00 square kilometers.

As part of Project Tiger, villagers were relocated; tiger hunting and trading in tiger skins and parts were banned; and problem tigers and leopards are not shot with dart guns and moved to national parks instead of being killed. Funds were used to pay park rangers, educate villagers on ways to feed their animals without encroaching on tiger habitats, build roads and dams, pay the cost of moving villages and problem tigers, and provide anti-poaching patrols with walkie-talkies, radios, jeeps and elephants. Over 10,000 men took part in Project Tiger census, systematically crisscrossing blocks of land with glass plates on which they traced prints and recorded their location.

To save the tigers in Kanha National, officials focused stopping disturbance caused by logging operations, villagers and cattle by relocating them. Then to rebuild the habitat — allow the grass to grow back , protect if from fire, build dams and water holes for the animals and, of course, stop shooting of any kind...The environment responds quickly, and once the forestry operations have ceased and the villages have been shifted, the animals lose their fear.

As a result of Project Tiger the number of tigers reportedly rose from 1,827 animals in 1973 to more than 4,000 in 1984 and 4,300 in 1992. The program was regarded as so successful that one Indian official told the New York Times in the 1980s, "You can say that there is now no danger of extinction of the tiger in India."

After Gandhi's death in 1984, power shifted from Delhi to state and local governments, where politicians more interested in winning the votes of villages, who were often more interested in tiger habitats for land for crops and grazing than tigers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s tigers in India in alarming numbers (See Above).

Problems with Project Tiger

tiger pugmarks in the Sundarbans

In the early 1990s, Project Tiger figures have been called into question. New York Times correspondent John Burns wrote, “At best its officials were said to have succumbed to bureaucratic instincts, inflating tiger counts to please politicians in New Delhi. At worst, they were denounced as crooks, conniving with poachers by turning a blind eye to illicit hunting in the reserves. [Source: John Burns, New York Times, March 15, 1994]

On the methodology used in the original census one tiger expert told Ward, "It's all nonsense. I've been tracking tigers almost every day now for 40 years and even I am unable to differentiate from pugmarks alone between tigers of the same size and sex." Some filed workers turned in pug marking tracings with five toes even though tigers only have four.

"A new census was ordered involving independent conservationist. Strict application of method used for generations---plaster-casts and tracings of tiger "pugmarks," or pawprints, found on forest trails, and sightings of tiger appearing at water holes---produced stark results.

Ranthambhore, which had reported 45 tigers in 1991 was found to have only 28 tigers. Similar counts elsewhere, and guesswork about the two thirds of India's tigers believed to live outside the reserves, led some of India's top tiger experts to conclude that real count could be as low as 2,700.

Save Tigers Now and Leonardo DiCaprio, Vladamir Putin and Wen Jiabao

Save Tigers Now is a global campaign by World Wildlife Fund and Leonardo DiCaprio. The goal of the group is to build political, financial and public support to double the number of wild tigers by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger. Leonardo DiCaprio and Carter S. Roberts wrote in the Washington Post, “Because saving tigers is a compelling and cost-effective means of preserving so much more that is essential to life on Earth. The tiger is what conservationists call an "umbrella" species. By rescuing them, we save everything beneath their ecological umbrella - everything connected to them - including the world's last great forests, whose carbon storage mitigates climate change. For example, Indonesia's 18 million-acre peat forests, home to the Sumatran tiger, contain 36 percent of the world's tropical carbon stores. So if we protect tigers by stopping deforestation, we also salvage the carbon storage these forests provide. A forest that can't support tigers isn't of much use to us, either.[Source: Leonardo DiCaprio and Carter S. Roberts, Washington Post, November 7, 2010]

In November 2010, The Guardian reported: “Leonardo DiCaprio made a million-dollar commitment to conserve tigers today as the leaders of Russia, China and a dozen Asian nations struggled to put together a finance package to double the wild population of the endangered predator. The star of Titanic, announced plans to donate part of his fortune through the environment group WWF to fund anti-poaching efforts, habitat protection and campaigns to raise awareness about the plight of the animal. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, November 23, 2010]

"Illegal poaching of tigers for their parts and massive habitat loss due to palm oil, timber and paper production are driving this species to extinction," said DiCaprio. "If we don't take action now, one of the most iconic animals on our planet could be gone in just a few decades." DiCaprio made the announcement from St Petersburg where he attended a tiger summit attended by 500 conservationists and world leaders hosted by Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and the World Bank. The highest-level event ever staged to save a single species, the gathering was for 13 heads of state in countries where tigers exist in the wild. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was among those attended.

At the meeting Putin and Wen pledged that Russia and China would do their part to double the world’s tiger population by 2022. Putin said, “It is very important to save this wonderful, imperial creature — the tiger — for future generations,” adding that its situation worldwide was approaching a catastrophe. Earlier the Chinese government issued a directive calling for increased protection of wild tigers through habitat management, public education and stronger law enforcement action. While disputes remain about Chinese tiger farming and the use of tiger parts in traditional medicine, there are signs of co-operation.

World Bank and Global Tiger Initiative

In 2008 the World Bank launched a joint project called the Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) with conservation groups. According to the GTI website: the GTI goals are: 1) To support capacity-building in governments for responding effectively to the transnational challenge of illegal trade in wildlife and for scientifically managing tiger landscapes in the face of mounting and varied threats; 2) To curtail international demand for tiger parts and other wildlife that has been responsible for drastic declines in tiger populations; 3) To develop mechanisms for safeguarding habitats from development through planning “smart, green” infrastructure and sensitive industrial development; 4) To create innovative and sustainable financing mechanisms for tiger landscapes including protected areas; 5) To build strong local constituencies for tiger conservation through development of economic incentives and alternative livelihoods for local people; 6) To spread the recognition among governments, international aid agencies and the public that tiger habitats are high-value diverse ecosystems with the potential to provide immense benefits-both tangible and intangible.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Carter S. Roberts wrote in the Washington Post, “The $350 million, five-year Global Tiger Recovery Program these countries are proposing will battle deforestation, poaching and the market for tiger parts. The money will come from both government and private sources. We are personally committed to raising funds to support these efforts. Multilateral agencies such as the World Bank are also on board. [Source: Leonardo DiCaprio and Carter S. Roberts, Washington Post, November 7, 2010]

Some think this is not enough. Stanley Johnson, of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, said $350 million over five years was "chicken feed". "If we can mobilise $80 billion to save Irish banks, then surely a tiny fraction of that can be mobilised to save tigers," he said. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, November 23, 2010]

Criticism of the "Sustainable Use" Concept of Tiger Conservation

Ullas Karanth, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's India Program, told the New York Times in 2006: “I feel negatively toward the "sustainable use" concept that one hears so much in development circles. It's naïve. People and tigers have never coexisted harmoniously. They compete for land, protein, resources. In a country like India where there are so many people and so little land, sustainable development is actually a recipe for wiping out the protected areas. If you want tigers, you can't have people sweeping through the reserves cutting down trees, gathering forest products, hunting for protein and creating gardens that fragment the natural areas. [Source: Claudia Dreifus, New York Times, August 16, 2005]

“Moreover, you definitely should not be paying forestry officials - charged with protecting wildlife - to do rural economic development. If you do it, their mission drifts toward development and the wildlife conservation part gets lost. To protect wildlife, you have to do the harder thing, which is set aside some areas where human activities are reduced or eliminated. At present, about 5 percent of the country is designated as protected. But I estimate that 75 percent of that "protected" land has been compromised by human activity. This needs to be halted.”

Abandon 'Hopeless' Tiger Populations and Save the Few We Can, Say Experts

Ben Webster wrote in the Times of London, “Protecting tigers in the wild should be abandoned in parts of Asia and conservation funding focused on a few key sites where there is hope of successful breeding, a study has recommended. It stated that tiger populations were now too low in several countries, including China, Vietnam, Cambodia and North Korea, for there to be any realistic chance of numbers recovering to a sustainable level. The study by the University of Cambridge concluded that all public and private funding for tiger conservation should be devoted to 42 core sites in six countries where numbers could recover to include at least 25 breeding females. [Source: Ben Webster, Times of London, September 15, 2010]

“The core sites cover 6 per cent of the land deemed to be tiger habitat.The recommendations are likely to provoke uproar at the "tiger summit" in St Petersburg in November, where leaders of the 13 "tiger range states" will discuss how to allocate resources. The study found that misguided efforts by conservationists were partly responsible for the continuing decline in the number of tigers in the wild. Encouraged by the apparent success of reserves in the 1970s, conservation campaigns had broadened their ambitions and tried to protect much larger areas.

“Resources had been spread too thinly as a result and rangers had become overstretched and unable to cope with the growth in poaching linked to the illegal trade in powdered tiger bone as a traditional Chinese medicine. The study, published in the journal PLoS Biology, concluded: "Current approaches to tiger conservation are not slowing the decline in tiger numbers, which has continued unabated over the last two decades.

“The largest number of core tiger sites are in India, which has 18 of the 42 identified by the study. Sumatra has eight and the Russian Far East, in the region north of Vladivostock, has six. A small number of sites were considered worth protecting in Malaysia and Thailand, and one in Laos. Dr John Robinson, one of the authors of the report, said that northeast China now had only about ten tigers and the only evidence of any breeding was a dead cub found last year. An 18-month search in eastern Cambodia, which had a significant population of tigers a decade ago, had yielded no evidence that any survived.

“Speaking to The Times, Dr Robinson said that the number of tigers could fall below 1,000 by 2025 unless conservation efforts were concentrated on the 42 sites. "We should be putting our resources into core sites," he said. However, he admitted that it would be difficult to get countries to agree to give up their conservation money for the sake of healthier tiger populations elsewhere. Funding for the core sites needed to be doubled to dollars 82 million a year for stronger enforcement of wildlife laws and better training of rangers, he said. The best-protected habitats had paid informers who tipped off rangers about poaching.

“Professor Nigel Leader-Williams, who also contributed to the study, said that an Asia-wide network of large landscapes for tigers might still be feasible in the long term. "But the immediate priority must be to ensure that the few breeding populations still in existence can be protected and monitored," he said. "Without this, all other efforts are bound to fail."

Pro-Tiger Activism in Countries Where Tigers Live

Rama Lakshmi wrote in the Washington Post, In Karnataka, India in 2010, “Rangers and Wildlife Conservation Society activists have fought to prevent the irreparable loss of tiger-movement corridors because of development projects. They have opposed new railway lines, highway expansion, mining projects and new dams. In 2008, they campaigned to stop a World Bank-funded project to expand 13 miles of road inside the tiger-bearing forest and forced a ban on daily vehicle traffic for 12 hours, from dusk to dawn. About four miles of traffic was also diverted outside the park. [Source: Rama Lakshmi, Washington Post, April 24, 2011]

In Thailand there are objections to a dam that will flood prime tiger habitat in Mae Wong national park. , Nirmal Ghosh wrote in The Straits Times, “Thailand's pledge to double the number of endangered wild tigers in the country's jungles by 2022 will be in jeopardy if a new dam at a national park is built, environmental organizations have warned. The dam on the Mae Wong river, at the national park of the same name in Nakhon Sawan province, north-west of Bangkok, forms part of the government's flood management plan. The project reportedly will help irrigate up to 480 square kilometers of farmland. However, to do that, it will destroy around 1,760 hectares of low-lying forest - the best habitat for wildlife, including the tiger. The accompanying access roads could also open up the forest further to illegal activity. [Source: Nirmal Ghosh, The Straits Times, May 04 2012]

“The 900-square-kilometer national park has been protected for more than 24 years. "Successive governments have invested in total more than THB 300 million (US$9.65 million) to make the park as secure as it is today," Anak Pattanavibool, the director of the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Thailand program, wrote last week in the Bangkok Post. "The international community... has hailed the long and firmly held policy of Thailand to protect the Western Forest Complex and its associated natural heritage as an example for others to follow."

“Some environmental agencies are urging that the Mae Wong National Park be recognized also as one of the country's natural heritage sites, the Post reported. The project has now become a test of Thailand's flood management plan - and also the clout of the Department of National Parks, which has the authority to turn down the project. Building a dam and reservoir in a national park is illegal in the first place, Anak said in an interview. Constructing the dam and reservoir would destroy Thailand's reputation for wildlife protection, he said.

“Conservationists have an ally in the Stop Global Warming Association (SGWA) - an independent non-government organization headed by lawyer Srisuwan Janya, who shot to fame some two years ago after winning a landmark judgment against polluting industries in the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate. Both WCS and SGWA do not believe the dam will help in flood control.

“SGWA has started a campaign against the dam on cost grounds, saying the estimate given last year was only THB 9.6 billion ($310 million). It is trying to gather 13,280 co-complainants to file a legal challenge to the project. "The approved budget for the construction is too high," Srisuwan said last month. "The budget for the construction will come from massive foreign loans, and our offspring will have to repay the loans. They will also suffer the loss of forest land."Villages once situated in the area that will be flooded by the reservoir were relocated in the interest of wildlife conservation, Anak said. The ecosystem recovered and wildlife, including prey species and tigers, returned to the area, he said.

Hukawang Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Myanmar

The Hukawng Valley (near India in northwest Myanmar) is one of the remotest places in Myanmar and home to some the last large concentrations of wild life in Southeast Asia. Located between the Samgpang and Kumon mountains, it is has hardly any people living in and is virtually void of roads and villages. Much of the travel in the area is done on foot or by boat on the Tanai and Turung Rivers. Tanai is the largest town near the valley. [Source: Alan Rabinowitz, National Geographic, April 2004]

Among the animals found here are tigers, clouded leopard, golden cat, Asiatic black bear, elephants, macaques, gibbons, great hornbills, green peafowl, barking deer, samar deer, and dhole. A survey of animals in the early 2000s estimated that “probably fewer than a hundred tigers remain in the valley.” The three ethnic groups that dominate the region are the Kachin who live in the lowlands and the Naga and Lisu who live in the highlands. For a long time the areas was controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Hukawang Valley Wildlife Sanctuary was established in April 2001. It covers about 2,500 square miles. Hunting is banned but goes on anyway. There are plans to add 5,500 square miles to the sanctuary, tripling it size, making it the largest tiger refuge in the world. In this area tiger hunting would be banned but the hunting of other animals for food would be allowed in “exclusion zones.”

Animals such as tigers and leopard are hunted too supply body parts for the Chinese medicine market. Hunters are paid $8 for a bear foot which can sell for hundred and even thousands of dollars at restaurants in China. The major focus of conservation is not to get people to stop hunting for food but to get them stop hunting for profit. Hunter are encouraged not only to stop hunting tigers but also to stop hunting tiger prey such as sambar deer and wild boar, many of which have been killed to supply meat that feed an influx of gold miners to the area. .

Even though the KIA signed a peace treaty with the Myanmar government in 1994 the group refused to give up its arms and retains bases in the jungles in the valley. An effort is being made to convince local tribal people and miners to raise livestock so they rely less on wild game for meat.

Chinese Man Gets Jailed for 13 Years for Eating Tigers

In October 2014, a Chinese man was jailed for 13 years for buying and eating endangered tigers and making wine made out of their blood, Xinhua reported. According to Reuters: “The man, identified as a wealthy businessmen with the surname Xu, organised three trips to the southern province of Guangdong in 2013 to buy the tigers, which he then transported to his home region of Guangxi, Xinhua said. [Source: Reuters, theguardian.com, December 31, 2014]

“Xu and his accomplices witnessed the killing of three tigers in three deals with the sellers, one of which was killed by an electric shock, the report said. Xu and his friends ate the tiger meat and he was reported to have said: “If anyone asks, say it is beef, horse or big cat meat,” Xinhua reported. He was arrested after one of his deals was recorded by someone nearby who reported it to the police. The report did not say where the tigers came from, only that they were suspected of being smuggled into the country. Xu was originally sentenced in April and then appealed, but this week a court rejected that appeal, Xinhua said.

What was thought to be the last wild Indochinese tiger in China was killed and eaten by a man who was sentenced to 12 years in jail in 2009.

Tiger-Eating Club Busted in Guangdong

Jake Adelstein wrote in The Daily Beast, “China’s wealthy “dragons” like to dine on tigers. In fact, they’ll even watch them die first and then boast about it on social media. Unfortunately, police don’t consider this behavior worth “liking” and so it became the center of a scandal” in March 2014 “when authorities busted an illegal tiger-eating dinner club in Guangdong province. According to a March 26 report in the state-run regional newspaper the Nanfang Daily, police crashed the party of wealthy businessmen and government officials in the city of Leizhou just as they prepared to nibble on a freshly slaughtered cat. The raid occurred after a drunken dinner guest accidentally posted several grisly pictures of the event on social media, the Nanfang Daily reported. [Source: Jake Adelstein, The Daily Beast, March 31, 2014 \~]

“The story has shone a light on the practice of killing the endangered animals for use in Chinese medicine and for sale to the country’s nouveaux riche, who prize tiger products as both a status symbol and a smart investment. The Taiwanese press first wrote about such dinners in January of this year following a similar incident, when pictures of a freshly butchered tiger appeared on a Chinese micro-blogging service. At the time, authorities in Leizhou denied the reports, asserting that the newspaper had been the victim of a hoax. \~\

“But the existence of underground markets selling tiger in Guangdong has long been an open secret. In 2007, according to the state-run paper the People’s Daily, authorities stopped a truck smuggling tigers into the province, saving at least three of the animals. In 2010, police discovered tiger fur and bones in a truck. The Nanfang Daily’s article claims that the feasts serve as both entertainment and an ostentatious display of wealth for the Chinese elite who want to impress their connections and clients. \~\

“Tiger Feasts” are allegedly quite popular amongst corrupt government officials and elite businessmen who believe consuming the big cats improves performance across a wide range of activities from the boardroom to the bedroom. According to Chinese media reports, smugglers deliver the tranquilized animals by truck to secret locations where the party’s hosts invite their customers and friends for an impromptu dinner theater.\~\

“Organizers hire professional butchers, who receive around $170 per appearance, to slaughter the animal for the diners’ delectation, before carefully chopping up and packaging its remains for sale on the black market. One veteran tiger butcher, who was turned into the authorities, was reported to have killed more than ten tigers since 2007. In a particularly dramatic denouement, the butcher presiding over the busted party at Leizhou died after jumping out of a window in an attempt to evade arrest, according to the Nanfang Daily. \~\

A Nanfang Television news report posted on Chinese web portal Sina, includes a 2012 video showing one such butcher repeatedly electrocuting a tiger. The animal falls to the floor of its tiny steel cage, where it lies twitching. Several men then butcher the carcass on top of a blue tarp. According to sources in Japan with knowledge of the events, after revelers watch the tiger die, they indulge in a feast including such delicacies as tiger steak and ginger-infused tiger penis soup. \~\

It is believed that smugglers bring some of the tigers into Guangdong from Vietnam, though it’s also possible that some of the tigers are domestically raised.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2015

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