After meeting in Bhutan this week, all countries with wild tiger populations have committed to increasing investment in frontline tiger protection - to support the forest guards and park rangers who face danger every day from ruthless poachers. It’s great news, but may not be enough on its own to make a significant dent in poaching.
The world’s target of doubling wild tiger numbers by 2022, which was agreed by the 13 ‘tiger range’ countries back in 2010, is being severely undermined by rampant poaching and because of persistent demand for tiger body parts and products.
In a positive move, at the second Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation (just ended in Bhutan), the commitment to doubling wild tiger numbers has been confirmed. And delegates have specifically called for increased support and resources for frontline anti-poaching staff.
These frontline staff are crucial to achieving ‘zero poaching’ and doubling tiger numbers - but they’re not always fully appreciated or recognised for their work. (At the conference Her Royal Highness Princess Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck awarded certificates of recognition to five rangers and foresters working in parks in Bhutan.)
So the declaration of intent is a very welcome and important step… but it may not be enough on its own.
We need a major intensive, collaborative push by everyone concerned – tiger range countries working with partners and donors – to eradicate, or at least drastically reduce poaching as soon as possible.
Each day’s delay is a setback for tigers. Each time a tiger is poached, it makes it harder to reach the doubling target.
Recent progress includes the Indian government proposing a significant increase in its tiger conservation budget for the next five years.
All tiger range countries committed at the conference to improving the management of protected areas, with Cambodia also announcing plans to create an inviolate space in its Eastern Plains, as the basis for a reintroduction programme to recover tiger populations in the country.
There was also a general commitment to step up trans-boundary collaboration against the illegal tiger trade, and to launch targeted demand reduction programmes.
Bhutan was a perfect and inspirational setting for the conference. It’s a small nation but one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. Its population is supportive of tiger conservation, and it boasts one of the most progressive conservation policies in the world, including a commitment to maintain 60% forest cover (it’s over 70% at the moment).