Could this really be the Year of the Tiger? Debbie Banks on the International Tiger Forum

World Leaders at the International Tiger Forum

World Leaders at the International Tiger Forum

On return from the International Tiger Forum, away from the celebrities, the press and the hype,  Debbie Banks reflects on where the tiger is left after St Petersburg.

“No matter how pragmatic your strategy, how robust your evidence or how loud you shout; at the end of the day when it comes to saving wild tigers, it’s down to the political will of the leaders of the countries that tigers live in. They’re the ones that can direct resources towards policies, projects and operations that will lead to more effective enforcement, community engagement and prevent habitat destruction.

That’s why, after 14 years in tiger conservation and the wild tiger population at a mere 3200 animals, I can’t help but feel just a teensy bit positive after hearing five Prime Ministers speak at the International Tiger Forum in St Petersburg, Russia. They have indeed committed to doubling the wild tiger population by 2022; the next Year of the Tiger.

There’s never been a high level summit for the tiger before and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin really set the tone of the summit by talking about the value of the wild tiger, the forests it lives in and what that means for humanity.

China’s Premier Wen Jiabao

China’s Premier Wen Jiabao

He and his counterparts, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Nepal’s Prime Minister Madhav Kumar and Laos PDR Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh all talked about the need to work together to save the tiger and end the tiger trade, with Wen committing China to “vigorously combat poaching, trade and smuggling of tiger products”. Music to our cynical conservationists’ ears.

Naomi Campbell & Ilya Lagutenko at the Tiger Forum

Naomi Campbell & Ilya Lagutenko at the Tiger Forum

The summit closed with a star-studded event hosted by Russia’s no.1 rock star Ilya Lagutenko and Naomi Campbell, with musicians from Malaysia and China. Putin spoke again about the tiger, from the heart and with humour, praising Leonardo DiCaprio for being a “real man” to persist in his efforts to get the concert despite two aircraft-related near-disasters. And one of the tiger’s real heroes, forest inspector, Anatoly Belov was honoured for his tiger protection efforts.

Earlier in the week the technical nitty gritty arising from 12 months of discussions was concluded with the formal adoption of the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP), and the formal launch of the International Consortium for Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).

With a shortfall of $350m to implement the GTRP and ICCWC, tiger range countries had arrived in St Petersburg expecting the international community to put the money on the table; apart from India, which is investing well over a $1bn in tiger conservation over the next five years.

In the same week that an $80bn bailout was announced for the Celtic tiger, the donor community squirted out a measly $332m to save Asia’s tigers. It’s a paltry sum and much of it tied to climate and forest-related activities, some of it is in the form of loans, and only a little of it available for emergency enforcement responses. Nonetheless, it’s a start. It’s what happens now that the summit is over that is really important.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Of course, there are immediate actions governments can take that are low cost and will go a long way to reversing the tigers fortunes. We believe that if the leaders take the following steps it will instil confidence in the public and donors that this Year of the Tiger marks that much-needed gear change in political will; which in turn could generate more financial support.

1) As a matter of priority, the leaders of tiger countries must broadcast a message to the nation, declaring their commitment to double the tiger populations and engage their public, the entire government and industry in the task. This would be a sign that the promises made in St Petersburg were real, and it won’t cost them a penny.


Tweeting from the Forum, Debbie Banks & Will Travers

Tweeting from the Forum, Debbie Banks & Will Travers

2) The leaders can demonstrate their commitment to ending the tiger trade by:

  • Immediately instructing all law enforcement agencies to provide intelligence on criminals engaged in the tiger trade to their INTERPOL National Central Bureau;
  • Assigning a senior police investigator in the INTERPOL National Central Bureau to work on tiger / wildlife crime on a fulltime basis;
  • Calling a round-table of the highest level decision-makers in police and Customs to ensure the right people attend a forthcoming tiger trade seminar and that wildlife crime is placed on the curricula of their training academies.

3) The leaders can send a clear signal to consumers of tiger parts that there will be zero tolerance on trade and they can remove any reason for speculation on the part of tiger farmers by:

  • Destroying stockpiles of tiger parts and derivatives;
  • Taking enforcement action to close down operations that leak parts and derivatives of captive bred tigers on to the market place.


Come and hear more about the summit from EIA, Born Free and WildAid, and how together we can turn words into action at the Saving Wild Tigers Forum on 7th December, 8.30pm at the Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR.

For more information click here

For a copy of EIA’s latest report Enforcement not Extinction: Zero Tolerance on Tiger Trade, please click here.

Debbie Banks, Senior  Campaigner

Debbie Banks

Senior Campaigner

  • Clare

    great to hear from you Debbie and hear just a ‘teensy’ bit of hope for the tiger – my question is, where was India in all of this?

    • Debbie Banks

      Hi Clare,

      India was represented in Russia by the Joint Director of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, while the final meeting to seal the text of the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) was convened in India the month before the Summit.

      So they are committed to the overall objective of doubling the world’s wild tiger population by 2022, whilst stressing that it is unlikely they could double India’s own population in that timeframe. The national priorities for India, and of course the others, are listed in the GTRP and can be found here

      Unfortunately the Indian PM was busying dealing with a breaking corruption scandal surrounding one of his other Ministers. While Minister Jairam Ramesh was committed to be in Parliament and then prepare for climate talks in Cancun…or at least that’s what we’ve been told are the reasons behind India not sending a higher level delegation.

      Cheers Debbie

  • The forum, I hope it will bring better conservation at ground level and less conversation.India as one of the major players,has to shake up the MOEF,give it the resources for forests and allow NTCA be responsible for Tiger.Tiger is dying due to lack of protection and education at source.We have lost 7 / 8 Tiger in India in the last two weeks,One of them a well known Tiger in Madhya Pradesh.If Tiger is to survive people and organisations need to put aside their differences,so as to collaborate together.

    • Debbie Banks

      Absolutely Phil, the forum and summit should in theory be just the beginning.

      Its up to all of us, as independent eyes and ears, to use the commitments made in the St Petersburg Declaration and in the words of the leaders present, to keep the momentum going and point out where things are going pear-shaped!

      Cheers Debbie

  • Hi Debbie Firstly well done for ‘flying the flag’ at the International Tiger Summit. I am with you 100% on your assessment on the chances of tiger numbers being doubled by the next ‘Year of the Tiger’ in 2022. In my opinion it really does not really matter how much money is thrown at tiger conservation unless the 13 tiger range States are prepared to give top priority to saving and increasing tiger numbers. Unfortunately we constantly see the erosion of tiger habitat mainly due to bribery and corruption of ‘big business’ that wishes to enter the ‘kingdom of the tiger’ to remove timber and mining for minerals. However, perhaps the most important factor is the attitude of China and whether it really intends to enforce its laws against the domestic trade in tiger skins and derivatives plus the winding up of the wretched ‘tiger farms’ in their country. Now we and the world will watch and hope that the countries that attended the conference will put words into action. Thanks once again for all the effort that Alisdair, yourself and all the EIA team have put into saving the wild tiger-it means so very much to so many people. Mike

    • Debbie Banks

      Cheers Mike, thank you for your continued support for our efforts!

      We’re hearing tiny glimmers of hope from our friends in China, where some sections of government and well-respected artists and spokespersons are raising the issue of tiger trade and farming from within, perhaps the most effective way to bring about change.

      If EIA can continue to investigate the trade, then of course we will continue to expose the gaps in enforcement in relation to trade in parts and derivatives of wild and captive bred tigers. How governments respond to that will be the test of how deep their commitment really is!

      Thanks, Debbie

  • Great article Debbie.
    We have high hopes that most of the $300 million committed will go towards paying off the tribes on the Myanmar,China border. I meant pay off as in protecting the tigers instead of poaching them.
    Looking forward to more articles like this. We’ve started on a campaign recently to bring awareness to North America but got steam rolled by a flood of desperate calls to free captive tigers in America.
    The campaign will go on and like it or not, everyone will hear nothing but tiger rescue from us.

    • Debbie Banks

      Grrrrrreat stuff! Tenacity and persistence are what’s required for the tiger. It is after all a conservation-dependent species and we may never be in a world again where we can leave it’s survival to chance or nature.

      Cheers Debbie

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  • For once, I have to indicate that these global Leaders can only come out blabbering and fake promises as far Tiger status is concerned. Their political crooning is Never going to allow Tiger double their numbers in another 11-12 years. I don’t believe what Wen Jiabao projects if it’s about Tiger. Chinese are infamous to even consume human meat, forget about their fascination about Tigers since the dawn of civilization. Putin can’t be patrolling Siberia (the largest forest cover in world) simply because they have nuke-facility to develop and keep. Their vested interests are many miles away from Tiger conservation

    Look, this indeed is harsh comments about global dignitaries but the matter of fact is that in their political agenda the status of Tiger is never at the desired position. Their understanding of the ecological diverseness and simple aspects such as impact of apex predators in a food-chain system is shockingly below par.

    So, what is our best shot to tackle the issue? Well, nothing new but to refocus on what our priorities are.

    A) For a country like India (where most Tigers are) it is the education. India got its part of Tigers due to a few simple reasons. One, the Hindus are a largely a Vegetarian culture. And second, Tiger is being associated with several deities and hence garners god-like image in this country. But with a international price tag of $50,000 poor Indians are wilting against the Chinese/Tibetan desires. The moral of Indians is dwindling at a rapid pace. More people in this newer generation eat meat, hunt and find it cool to use and buy wildlife products.

    B) Enforce capital punishment on Poachers and traders. For heaven sake traders like Sansar-chand and his whole clan should’ve been sentenced to death a 1000 times over. And his is one of the only two mafia gang that operates in India and Nepal.

    Phew…. Too many sentiments for a comment.

  • Debbie Banks


    We can’t assume that the fine words committed to in St Petersburg will automatically turn into action. It’s up to concerned individuals all over the world to hold the leaders to account and prove they are making the changes needed.

    That’s why we, and our colleagues in organisations from across the tiger’s range will continue to be the independent eyes and ears, looking for signs of progress and exposing lack of action or decisions that do the opposite.

    Check out our report here , which sets out the actions we believe are the first critical steps governments must take if they mean what they say!

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