Last hope for big cat

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Experts are hoping for a global tiger recovery plan to be endorsed at a summit to be held this month in Russia, which they say is a make-or-break moment for the critically endangered species.

Current approaches to conserving the tiger have failed to produce desired results, they said.

"The Global Tiger Recovery Plan has been developed over the last year or so in various meetings and workshops through the global tiger initiative process so I feel confident that the plan will be endorsed at the summit," said Scott Roberton, Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Country Representative in Vietnam.

"Agreeing to conservation plans is not a problem for most governments, including Vietnam allocating government resources, delivering tangible commitments to the goals and objectives and seeing through the activities is where the obstacles lie. I will wait to see what kind of monitoring program governments agree to that will ensure the plan is implemented and what state funds will be committed to implementation," he told Thanh Nien Weekly via email.

On November 21, leaders of the few remaining countries where tigers are still found in the wild will meet for a four-day summit in Russia which they believe offers the last chance to save the critically endangered animal.

The Global Tiger Summit in St Petersburg will bring together the 13 countries that still have wild tigers, along with conservation organizations in an attempt to thrash out a global recovery plan.

Nick Cox, WWF Greater Mekong's Tiger Coordinator, said that the presence of many heads of governments who have confirmed their participation already indicates that it is a success.

"This is the first time in history that heads of governments have come together to talk about a single species on our planet. This indicates how seriously the governments are taking this issue," he said.

The "tiger range" countries attending the conference are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam. Britain and the US are also being urged to attend.

The WWF (formerly the World Wide Fund for Nature) says it is optimistic about the summit's chances of success, but warns that failure will lead to the extinction of the tiger across much of Asia.

Sarah Brook, WWF Vietnam's Species Coordinator, said the organization hopes that each tiger range state will present strong national tiger recovery plans and commit the necessary resources to implement them successfully.

"We also hope for full international cooperation to ensure the global tiger recovery program will double the number of wild tigers by 2022," she told Thanh Nien Weekly.

"Vietnam has a strong role to play, as a growing consumer of tigers and tiger parts. Tackling illegal trade of tigers in and through Vietnam and reducing national demand for tiger products will be key contributions for Vietnam to this process," she added.

Tiger numbers worldwide have collapsed from an estimated 100,000 over the past century to 3,200 in the wild at present, due to poaching and human encroachment. Of the 3,200, only about 1,000 are breeding females. The situation is so critical that four of the 13 countries attending the summit China, Vietnam, Cambodia and North Korea no longer have viable breeding populations, according to a study released last month.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Cambridge University, the World Bank and WCS, concluded that "current approaches to tiger conservation are not slowing the decline in tiger numbers, which has continued unabated over the last two decades".

WWF's Brook said that although Vietnam does not currently have many tigers remaining in the wild (there are thought to be less than 30), recovery is possible over the longterm if strong enough actions are put into place and maintained.

"Strengthened law enforcement and international cooperation are very important issues for Vietnam to address," she said, adding that the international community is ready to support the Vietnamese government in implementing the national tiger recovery plan.

Roberton of WCS called for Vietnam to focus on strengthening wildlife crime law enforcement to more effectively address the demand and illegal trade in tigers, tiger products and tiger prey throughout the country.

"It seems that there are certain individuals within the Vietnamese government that hope to establish commercial tiger farming in Vietnam. If this is allowed to happen either directly or by passively doing nothing to adjust current development of captive tiger facilities, I believe it seals a future of no wild tigers in Vietnam. It will also have significant impacts on wild populations throughout the region," he said.

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