June 10, 2008

Hollywood Adds Support to Global Tiger Initiative

The World Bank is getting a boost from Hollywood for its new global initiative to save the world's tigers from extinction. Celebrities, including long-time environmental activist Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall and Bo Derek, have all thrown their support behind the new campaign, which brings together scientists, wildlife experts and governments to stop the illegal trading of tiger skins, meat and body parts used in traditional Asian medicines.

Although the agency's main mission is to fight poverty in developing countries, the World Bank has seldom become involved in wildlife conservation efforts of endangered species.

Ford said efforts to protect tigers would only succeed if local communities were involved.

"By committing to help wild tigers, the World Bank is sounding its intention to be a global leader in biodiversity conservation," he said during an event at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the decline from 100,000 tigers a century ago to less than 4,000 today was "shocking".

The clearing of large areas of forest land for urban development in Central Asia, the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali, and most of China has contributed to the tiger's decline and in some cases their disappearance.

"If current trends persist, tigers are likely to be the first species of large predator to vanish in historic times," warned a World Bank report.

"Just as with many other challenges of sustainability, such as climate change, pandemic disease, or poverty, the crisis facing tigers overwhelms local capabilities and it is one that transcends local borders," Zoellick told Reuters.

"This is a problem that cannot be handled by individual nations alone, it requires an alliance of strong local commitment backed by deep international support," he said.

The World Bank chief said the agency would begin a series of discussions with countries, the private sector and conservationists to generate funding for tiger conservation programs and research on how to better protect the animals.

Zoellick warned that saving the world's tiger population would not be an easy task, but said tigers had been saved from extinction in certain areas in the past, such as in Russia and Nepal.

"All those concerned may not agree but this does not mean we should stand on the sidelines and do nothing," he said.

The biggest immediate threat to the tigers is poaching and trafficking in tiger parts and meat, something occurring at an all-time high according to John Seidensticker, chief scientist at the Smithsonian National Zoo's Conservation Ecology Center.

"For wild tigers to live they must have much better security on their home ground," he said, urging countries to enforce current laws that protect tigers.

It's something that will require strong political will, Seidensticker said, adding that as a global institution the World Bank was well positioned to coordinate efforts.

"We're at a tipping point and we're going to lose wild tigers but with the World Bank initiative wild tigers now have a chance," he said.


Image Caption: Actor Robert Duvall attends launch of Tiger Conservation Initiative. Photo: © Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank


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