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Year of the Tiger Dawns With Just 3,200 Wild Tigers Left

KATHMANDU, Nepal, December 28, 2009 (ENS) – To mark 2010 as Year of the Tiger, the government of Nepal has announced the expansion of Bardia National Park in the Terai Arc landscape by 900 square kilometers (347 square miles), which will increase critical habitat for wild tigers.

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal says the government will establish a National Tiger Conservation Authority as well as a Wildlife Crime Control Committee.

Wild tigers in Nepal (Photo by Akash Saha)

“The solutions will be area specific, but the future of conservation will depend upon how we act now and how we make tiger conservation and overall biodiversity much more valuable to the livelihoods of local communities,” the Prime Minister said.

“This is indeed a great conservation initiative, which will certainly help in curbing illegal wildlife trade and poaching in Nepal,” said Anil Manandhar, country representative of WWF Nepal. “We are confident that by embracing innovative conservation strategies Nepal will succeed in doubling its number of endangered tigers.”

Earlier this year, the first ever nationwide estimate of Nepal’s tiger population revealed the presence of 121 breeding tigers in the wild within four protected areas of Nepal.

In the early 1900s, tigers roamed throughout Asia and numbered over 100,000, according to the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which points to current estimates indicating that less than 3,500 of these tigers remain in the wild.

Tigers are today primarily poached for their skins but almost every part of a tiger’s body can be used for decorative or traditional medicinal purposes. Most tigers are now restricted to small pockets of habitat, with several geographical populations literally teetering on the brink of extinction.

In order to ensure that these tiger numbers remain stable and start to increase, WWF and its partners called on the government of Nepal to increase anti-poaching activities and habitat protection.

“In making these commitments at a global forum before the 12 other tiger range countries, the government of Nepal has set an important precedent for others to follow,” said Mike Baltzer, leader of WWF’s Tiger Initiative.

Karnali River, Bardia National Park, Nepal (Photo by Simon Taylor)

The Bardia Park announcement came at the inaugural session of the Kathmandu Global Tiger Workshop on October 27, the first in a series of political negotiation meetings occurring throughout the year leading up to a Tiger Summit in 2010, which is the Year of the Tiger.

This technical workshop preceded a Thailand ministerial meeting planned for January 2010, and will ultimately lead to a Summit of Tiger Range State Leaders during the Year of the Tiger planned for next October.

At the Kathmandu meeting, Prime Minister Nepal said threats to tigers in the wild are increasing. “We are only beginning to learn about the consequences of global threats from climate change on our fragile environment. The dwindling tiger populations and, high rate of loss of historic habitat range warrant immediate strategic and bold actions at landscape level."

" Despite our efforts in last three decades or so, tigers still face many threats. The primary threat in tiger conservation is poaching and habitat loss. Our efforts in environmental conservation have further been challenged by extreme poverty,” he said.

The recommendations of the Kathmandu Global Tiger Workshop will be discussed in the Fifth General Assembly of the Global Tiger Forum in early 2010.

Russia will host a tiger preservation summit in Vladivostok in 2010, according to the Russian branch of WWF.

Scientists decided to use Oriental calendar and the coming Year of the Tiger to promote public awareness of the situation with Amur tigers, said Igor Chestin, director of the Russian branch of WWF.

The conservation group estimates that Russia’s Khabarovsk and Primorye regions are inhabited by 500 Amur tigers at present.

Chestin said that the Russian government, WWF and World Bank initiated the Tiger Summit, in which the heads of 13 states are expected to participate.

The Natural Resources Ministry will draft a tiger preservation program for the summit, which along with anti-poaching measures will urge for measures to stop cutting cedar forests, the natural habitat of tigers, and expand the territory of wildlife reserves.

In an attempt to boost law enforcement’s worldwide operational capability against the poaching of wild tigers and wildlife crime, CITES and INTERPOL jointly held a law enforcement course in Jakarta, from November 30 to December 4.

The 5-day course was attended by 16 law enforcement officials from tiger range states, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam. Its goal was to facilitate and coordinate law enforcement action between wildlife enforcement officers, Customs and police.

With much of the poaching and smuggling “highly organized,” David Higgins of INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme said a multi-agency and multi-national response is needed and that coordinating this type of response is “second-nature” to INTERPOL.

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