Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



International Tiger Forum

The Global Tiger Initiative (GTI), with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the government of the Russian Federation, hosted an International Forum for Tiger Conservation (also called the “Tiger Summit”) in St. Petersburg from November 21 through November 24, 2010.

At the Summit, leaders of 13 countries in the tigers’ natural range met with international science and conservation experts to formally agree upon what necessary steps to take to keep the world from losing its last wild tigers.

Steve Monfort, head of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, attended this historic meeting, along with other Zoo and SCBI scientists. Here, he chronicles the meeting’s progress and his impressions, thoughts, and discoveries.


Reflections: Was the International Tiger Forum a Success?

From the point of gaining political support and raising awareness, the summit was an unconditional success. The 13 tiger range countries each now has its own concerted National Tiger Recovery Programs and a Global Tiger Recovery Program has been adopted.

In terms of raising the funds necessary, the summit fell short. The need for the next five years has been estimated to be $350 million. Despite the $150 million announced, these were not entirely new funds, and the fact that other donor countries (and range countries) did not step forward with commitments of funds was a disappointment, especially to the range countries in attendance.

The Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) has served as an effective platform to get us to the summit, to engage the tiger range countries, donors, NGOs and other stakeholders. However, it’s clear that the hard work has just begun. While concrete steps to stem the tide of extinction can be taken immediately, increased funding is essential for success. The National Tiger Recovery Program and Global Tiger Recovery Program documents serve as blueprints for action, but they can also now be leveraged as fundraising tools to support specific conservation actions. The GTI and others will be working diligently in the months to come to ensure that the range countries have the resources they need for success.

The future of wild tigers depends on whether or not the range countries, donor nations, bilateral aid agencies, NGOs, and others step up with major pledges of support, and time is of the essence. Success, however, will ultimately be defined in terms of whether or not tiger numbers are sustained, and how close we come to achieving the ambitious goal of doubling the global tiger population by 2022—the next Year of the Tiger. Our team feels the urgency and will do everything we can to ensure success.

Day 3
Tuesday, November 23

Delegates were transported to the Konstantinovsky Palace outside of St. Petersburg where they cleared security and were then shuttled to the “high-level” plenary session. The session was hosted by Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin and World Bank President, Robert Zoellick, with other heads of state: Premier Wen Jiabao of China, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh of Laos, and Prime Minister Madhave Kumar of Nepal. Each dignitary spoke supportively of the importance of conserving tigers. There was a live video link to the Youth Tiger Forum, which was being held simultaneously in Vladivostok. Young delegates from each tiger range countr y made impassioned pleas urging the governments and delegates attending the International Tiger Forum to implement the steps needed to conserve tigers before it is too late.

Robert Zoellick addressed attendees and stated that $100 million in development assistance would be made available to Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and perhaps India from the Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), which provides interest-free credits and grants to developing countries. Presumably, these funds would be used to encourage trans-boundary cooperation on tiger conservation, with a special emphasis on conservation capacity-building.

The head of the Global Environmental Facility Monique Barbut also addressed the delegates. She said they would approve up to $35 million in Global Environmental Facility funding (funds already available to countries to spend on their own environmental priorities) for tiger conservation, plus an additional $15 million set aside to meet goals related to the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program implementation in developing countries.

The United States government announced $600,000 in new funding to support tiger conservation in Russia. No other governments pledged any new funding for tiger conservation.

After a press conference, the delegates were transported to the historic Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg for a “Help the Tiger!” rock concert, hosted by supermodel Naomi Campbell and Russia’s rock star Ilya Lagutenko. The concert featured Malayan rock singer Emma, Chinese rock music stars Wang Feng and Li Hijun, and performances by Ru Lagutenko and his rock group Mumiy Trol. Leonardo DiCaprio made an appearance and it was announced that he had personally donated $1 million to tiger conservation and was releasing a video series highlighting his visits to tiger conservation areas. The evening concluded with a VIP reception hosted by Putin.

The evening’s festivities ended at midnight. The SCBI team hailed a cab in a blowing snowstorm, making it back to the hotel at 1 a.m. After a two-hour rest, the team checked out of the hotel and headed home at 4 a.m., arriving at Washington Dulles Airport at 4 p.m. on the same day, just in time to join their families for Thanksgiving.

Day 2
Monday, November 22

The most important outcome from Day 1 was the unanimous adoption of the Global Tiger Recovery Program. This is the roadmap that defines the action steps proposed by each of the 13 tiger range countries. Day 1 concluded with a banquet sponsored by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, Yuri Trutnev. The event was held at the Ekaterininsky Palace, also called Catherine's Palace. Empress Catherine, the wife of Peter the Great, lived in the palace in the early 1700s. The palace was damaged in World War II, but is being restored to its former glory. This was a great opportunity to network with colleagues in a spectacular setting. It was truly a night to remember!

Presentations on Day 2 continued with plenary sessions to review institutional support and the potential for partnerships to implement the Global Tiger Recovery Program, as well as best practice reports from representatives of each tiger range country. There seems to be strong consensus that the major contribution of the International Tiger Forum may be establishing the political will that is a prerequisite for mobilizing the knowledge, partnerships, and ultimately the funding needed to support tiger conservation. Equally important has been the opportunity for each tiger range country to exhibit their sovereignty with respect to “owning” their own National Tiger Recovery Program that in sum constitute the Global Tiger Recovery Program. The pride and resolve of the individual countries is inspiring, and it’s clear that the stage is set for action if resources materialize.

In talk after talk today, NGOs and governments reconfirmed how they plan to deploy existing resources, including funding, but no major new pledges of financial support have been forthcoming thus far. To paraphrase an imminent tiger conservationist, "Conservation without funding is just conversation." Everyone is hoping that we can soon move past the talk to concerted conservation action.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of such a meeting is the opportunity to engage a wide cross-section of stakeholders and experts in face-to-face discussions about how we can partner to implement elements of the Global Tiger Recover Program. The SCBI team is taking advantage of this access. Along with our Global Tiger Initiative colleagues from the World Bank, we are focused primarily on efforts to build human capacity and improve knowledge sharing. The need is great, and spans the gamut from “front-line” staff to protected area managers to high level decision-makers. Success mandates that we leverage our own resources through partnerships with others. The pressure to produce tangible outcomes in the months to come will be great, and training will be one of the keys to ensuring success.

More to come tomorrow when the high-level heads of state delegation takes center stage.

Day 1
Sunday, November 21

The International Tiger Forum began at 10 a.m. (Daylight only began around 9 a.m.!). The meeting is in Marian Palace, which is quite impressive. The main meeting hall is spectacularly ornate and easily holds the 250 or so people attending the meeting from all over the world. There are elaborate informational displays for each of the 13 tiger range countries, an art show and photography exhibit, and informational booths set up for several nongovernmental organizations.

It's great to finally be here for a meeting that represents the culmination of a process that began two years ago when the Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) was launched at the National Zoo. I'm joined by my Smithsonian colleagues, Francisco Dallmeier, John Seidensticker, and Marshall Jones, along with official delegations from the 13 tiger range countries, plus a host of other country delegations (i.e., USA, Germany, Iran, Switzerland, and Korea), an impressive array of nongovernmental. and other support organizations (i.e., Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, World Bank, European Union, TRAFFIC, Global Environmental Facility, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Global Tiger Forum, Convention on Migratory Species, IUCN, United Nations Environmental Program, United National Development Program, WildAid, Convention on Biological Diversity, USFWS, USAID, and others!).

Before the meeting closes next Wednesday, prime ministers (including our host, Vladimir Putin) from five of the 13 tiger range countries, 11 environment ministers, and the president of the World Bank, will have addressed the delegates and participants.

The goal of the meeting is to adopt the Global Tiger Recovery Program (an Action Plan for saving tigers), discuss best practices in tiger conservation, and how to raise the funds needed to execute the action plans for each tiger range country.

Today the Smithsonian team had the opportunity to meet separately with the ministers of the environment from Malaysia, Nepal, and Thailand. We are working closely with these three countries to develop plans for boosting capacity and improving knowledge sharing to support "on the ground" tiger conservation in these countries. We heard informative presentations from each of the tiger range countries, plus a number of updates from other government representatives, NGOs, and aid organizations.

The goal of the Global Tiger Recovery Plan is to double tiger populations by the next "Year of the Tiger" in 2022. One amazing figure we heard today is that for some countries it may cost as much as $500,000 to $1,000,000 per tiger to achieve this goal! Current global estimates are that only 3,000 tigers remain in the wild today. Doubling that number by 2022 will no doubt require hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 12 years. It remains to be seen whether or not that level of support will materialize from this landmark meeting.

However, there is a strong sense that the GTI has provided an effective platform for raising global awareness about the need for tiger conservation. And there is great hope that this momentum will translate into funds, strong partnerships, and sustained efforts to reduce the killing of tigers, protect breeding "source" populations, and increase the human capacity to protect tigers and manage their habitats. This may very well be the best, last chance, to save tigers for future generations.