Can even Putin stop poaching for fun and tiger body parts?

Tiger Summit

With the world’s tiger population down to about 3,200, but Vladmir Putin is on the case. He championed the World Bank‘s Global Tiger Initiative in St. Petersburg that ended Wednesday. He lured in $300 million in international pledges, including $45 million from Russia, $50 million from the World Wildlife Fund and $1 million from Leonardo DiCaprio.

The big idea of the conference is to double the wild tiger population by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022. The project concentrates on saving tigers in select locations and cracking down on poaching.  TRAFFIC estimates 104 tigers are poached each year–20 to 30 in Russia–mainly for Chinese medicine. Many private non-profits try to curb poaching, either through education or by hiring rangers.

About 5,000 tigers live in captivity in China, mainly in grotesque tiger “farms.” Earlier this year China acknowledged they only had 50 left in the wild. Tigers used to live across Asia,  but now only survive in 13 countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Viet Nam. They might still exist in North Korea, but who knows? The U.S. and Germany, which obviously don’t have tigers, pledged $9 million and $17 million, respectively.

This photo of a poached endangered sheep at a helicopter crash revealed how Russian politicians and environmental officers were abusing their power

India has been making progress at setting up tiger preserves and promoting tiger tourism (although there have been setbacks, like when some tiger preserves were found to be tiger-free). Chinese officials hold the key. They might ban breeding on the tiger “farms,” which could help cut demand for parts, or they might open up trade in parts again, which would increase poaching.

Putin already has stuck his neck out to protect the tiger–as well as seals, by banning seal hunts. Not all of the Russian government has gone along with his pet project of conserving wildlife. In 2009 a helicopter crashed in the Altai province with several high-ranking Russian national and regional officials; machine guns and two critically endangered argali sheep, one with a knife stuck in its back leg, were found in the wreckage. Activists say officials take bribes to allow helicopter hunting, which is a big status symbol. With that kind of attitude around the country, the tiger’s best hope may be having Putin as a friend.

Poaching is just the tiger’s worst problem. They also have less habitat and fewer prey animals because of human development.

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Where to See Wildlife in Asia

Where to See Tigers in India

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