January 26, 2010

Mekong Tigers Threatened

It may be the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese zodiac, but the World Wildlife Fund revealed numbers on Tuesday that the Mekong tiger population has declined by 70 percent in the last 12 years.

Wild tigers in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam were estimated at around 1,200 individuals during the last Year of the Tiger in 1998. Today there are as few as 350 tigers left in the wild in those regions.

The WWF report was released just in time for the three-day conference on tiger conservation which is being held in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin. 13 Asian countries are expected to attend the conference which begins on Wednesday.

The global wild tiger population has dropped from 100,000 tigers a hundred years ago, to 20,000 in the 80s, and only about 3,200 today.

In Asia the growing demand for tiger body parts used in traditional Chinese medicines is a big factor in the decline in numbers of the Indochinese tiger population. Habitat loss is also key to their reduction. The erection of structures, roads and commercial crop plantations means less and less forests where tigers thrive.

"Action must be taken to ensure this iconic subspecies does not reach the point of no return," Nick Cox, coordinator of the WWF Greater Mekong tiger program, told AFP. If no actions are taken now, "There is a potential for tiger populations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to become locally extinct by the next Year of the Tiger, in 2022."

The WWF said there is no more than 30 tigers per county in the wild in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, areas that tigers once flourished. Most of the remaining populations are scattered along the mountainous border regions between Thailand and Myanmar. The WWF is expecting ministers at the upcoming tiger conference to take action to double the numbers of wild tigers by 2022.

The worldwide effort to secure the future of the world's tigers will culminate in a Tiger Summit in September in Vladivostok, Russia. The political conference will be hosted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Mike Baltzer, head of WWF's global tiger initiative, said there is an extraordinary opportunity to stimulate the political world to stand up and put into action a concrete goal to bring tigers form the brink of extinction. "But to do this, we must stop the trade in tiger parts, rampant poaching, and secure the tiger's habitats," he said.


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