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Nations band together to save tigers, eye comeback by 2022

By Diane LaPosta, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Governments, conservation groups pledge $327 million with goal of doubling population
  • Actor Leonardo DiCaprio attends tiger summit, commits $1 million to conservation effort
  • World Wildlife Fund official says wealthier nations must pitch in to help poorer tiger nations
  • Three tigers reportedly have been slain in the last two weeks, including one poisoned in India

(CNN) -- The wild tiger population is less than 4 percent of what it was a century ago, and leaders in 13 nations are taking a stand against the poaching and habitat destruction that have decimated the majestic predators' numbers.

This time around, actions will speak louder than words, they say.

With the conclusion of a high-profile summit, attracting guests as notable as actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, governments and conservation groups pledged $327 million with the goal of doubling the wild tiger population by 2022.

The four-day International Forum on Tiger Conservation, which ended Wednesday, was billed as a last chance for the wild tiger, Its numbers have dropped from 100,000 to 3,600 over the past 100 years.

Poaching, illegal trade and habitat destruction have forced the animal to the brink of extinction, according to the Global Tiger Initiative, which estimates that wild tigers exist today in less than 7 percent of their historic range.

"I am confident that we will look back on this day as a turning point in the effort to save one of the world's best-loved animals," World Wildlife Fund Director Jim Leape said.

Saving the tigers
Tigers headed toward extinction

The St. Petersburg, Russia, summit featured leaders from all 13 countries where tigers still live in the wild: Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Read why Russia was well placed to host the summit

It also enjoyed some celebrity backing as DiCaprio not only attended the summit, he committed $1 million to the cause.

"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," the actor said in a statement. "If we don't take action now, one of the most iconic animals on our planet could be gone in just a few decades. By saving tigers, we can also protect some of our last remaining ancient forests and improve the lives of indigenous communities."

Read more on DiCaprio's donation

While a substantial portion of the funding comes from the so-called tiger countries, the international community provided the majority of the money. The WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the World Bank have pledged a collective $200 million.

"The lineup of international support is critical. Poorer tiger range countries face different challenges. Some countries just can't afford it, and at the end of the day, you cannot save tigers unless you protect them," said Barney Long, head of the WWF's Tiger Program in the U.S.

Michael Baltzer, of the fund's Tigers Alive Initiative, said the effort depends heavily on wealthier nations doing their part.

Wild Tiger Populations
Bangladesh: 440
Bhutan: 75
Cambodia: 20
China: 45
India: 1,411
Indonesia: 325
Laos: 17
Malaysia: 500
Myanmar: 85
Nepal: 155
Russia: 400
Thailand: 200
Vietnam: 10

Source: WWF estimates
RELATED TOPICS
  • Tigers
  • WWF
  • Vladimir Putin

"We hope rich countries will mirror our funding efforts, or ultimately we're going to keep losing tigers," he said.

Read how the big cats might be saved

Among the richer nations already promising contributions are Germany, which has pledged an additional $17.2 million, and the U.S., which will donate $9.2 million to tiger conservation efforts.

Experts say an additional $350 million is needed from the international community to protect and monitor the last remaining habitats for tigers.

Even as the summit was coming to a close, the International Fund for Animal Welfare reported that yet another tiger had been poisoned in north India. It was the third tiger slain in two weeks, according to the group.

Read how one of the tigers injured an alleged poacher

"These tiger deaths highlight how critical it is to translate talk into action," fund President Fred O'Regan said in a statement.

O'Regan applauded the St. Petersburg summit and said he hopes the conference proves successful in "mobilizing the political will needed to save this charismatic and critically endangered species."

"But it's what we do after the meetings to bring the right resources to the people and communities on the front lines of tiger conservation that will make the difference -- or not -- to the fate of wild tigers," he said.

 
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