Russia launches program to save tigers worldwide

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November 12, 2009 7:02:55 AM PST
Vladimir Putin has made headlines by championing the endangered Siberian tiger - posing with a cuddly cub and placing a tracking collar on a full-grown female in the wilds of his country's Far East. Now Russia is helping plan an ambitious program it hopes can double the global tiger population by 2022.

Russia hopes to hold a "tiger summit" in the Far East city of Vladivostok in September to coordinate multinational efforts to protect the Amur tiger, its habitats and increasingly scarce food sources, representatives of Russia's Natural Resources Ministry, the World Bank and the World Wildlife Fund said Wednesday.

"We decided that this time we should do something serious in order to preserve tigers on our planet," said Igor Chestin, director of the Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund. "The situation is catastrophic."

The meeting would be hosted by Putin, Russia's powerful prime minister, and include leaders of countries such as India and China, according to Chestin and Deputy Natural Resources Minister Igor Maidanov.

The goal of the program, which could involve as many as 13 countries, would be to double the number of tigers worldwide to some 6,500 by 2022. Chestin said this would require a total $1 billion (euro0.67 billion) from all participating countries - a target he said could be met with both government funds and private sponsorship.

Putin's support, which Maidanov said was expected, would likely give the effort a major boost.

Last year, Putin was given an Amur cub on his birthday and showed it off to journalists inside his home before putting it in other hands. Months earlier, Russian television networks showed him patting a grown female on the cheek after shooting it with a tranquilizer gun as part of a program to track the rare cats on a Russian wildlife preserve.

His Web site contains a section dedicated to the protection of the Amur tiger - also known as the Siberian or Ussuri tiger - and one page tracks his tiger's movements as it prowls around the Far East.

The overall tiger population worldwide is believed to be 3,200 worldwide, according to the WWF.

Hunters kill tigers for their prized pelts and body parts, some of which are used in traditional Chinese medicines, while logging and housing developments have encroached on tiger habitats.

Funds raised in the program would be used to improve these habitats by providing more park rangers and protecting deer and boar that the tiger hunts for food.

Chestin said that in most countries where the tiger lives conditions for survival are "extremely unfavorable," though the situation in Russia - where some 450 adult Amur tigers live in the Far East - has stabilized in recent years. Still, WWF-Russia estimates that 30 to 50 Amur tigers are killed every year.

Chestin said that tigers' survival requires vast protected territories, a large food base - mainly hoofed animals such as deer and boar - and a crackdown on the trade in tiger body parts.

India, for instance, has the necessary food resources but lacks clearly marked territories where its tigers can roam free, he said. Russia, by contrast, has designated three territories as habitats for the Amur tiger, though there is a growing problem with food.

Maidanov said that overhunting of deer and boar in Russia's Far East left the Amur tigers without adequate food supplies - an adult tiger must devour up to 70 hoofed animals a year to survive - and forced them to rummage in garbage cans and waste dumps for subsistence. This brought them closer to residential areas, with sometimes tragic results for both the tigers and humans.


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