Integrating Conservation into the Development Agenda “through the Eyes of Wild Tigers”06/19/2009
The World Bank and Smithsonian Institution join hands as the Global Tiger Initiative gains momentum
Wild tigers – a cultural icon for billions of people and one of the indicators of global environmental sustainability – are devastated by illicit wildlife trade and indiscriminate habitat destruction. With only 3,500 animals left in the wild and their habitats shrunk to 7% of their original space, this species faces imminent range collapse and extinction within a decade if the business-as-usual scenario prevails. Despite winning several tiger conservation battles, the world is losing the war. The plight of wild tigers is also emblematic of the broader systemic challenge of reconciling biodiversity conservation and economic development agendas.
A year ago, celebrities and a coalition of international and national organizations came together on a bright, but sweltering summer day at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, along with President Zoellick, to launch the Global Tiger Initiative. Since then, officials and practitioners from Tiger Range Countries, prominent conservationists and experts have been stepping up efforts on the ground and through country dialogues to follow through on an urgent mission to save this majestic species and to create a new paradigm of development that seeks to mainstream endangered wildlife conservation and biodiversity into the development agenda.
The partnership gained high-level support from a number of organizations in a public event staged at the historic Smithsonian Castle on Friday, June 19, as the Smithsonian’s Secretary Wayne Clough, President Zoellick, US Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, and others spoke passionately on the issue of wildlife conservation. The Smithsonian and World Bank signed a new memorandum of understanding to solidify a conservation and development network to train policy-makers and practitioners from the Tiger Range Countries to take smart action on the ground in established tiger reserves and Tiger Conservation Landscapes across South and East Asia and the Russian Far East.
“The Smithsonian has had a long concern for wild tigers… and with programs like this, the World Bank Conservation and Development Network, we have the opportunity to train hundreds of decision-makers, professionals, and practitioners who are on the ground engaged in stabilizing and eventually restoring the wild tiger populations, said Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
President Zoellick has a keen interest in species conservation, the preservation of wild tigers, and in the relationships with conservation and the Bank’s development agenda. He said in remarks on Friday, “There’s a new energy and sense of urgency about tiger conservation in this dialogue… this won’t work if it just comes out of Washington or North America or Europe. It has to be embedded in the Tiger Range Countries.” He also highlighted the very special role the United States and China – as the world’s two largest consumers of wildlife products – could jointly play in reducing the global demand for dead tigers and endangered species.
Putting ink to the MOU signaled the beginning of a unique partnership between the World Bank and the Smithsonian Institution, raising hopes that the research and conservation experience of the Smithsonian will synergize with the development expertise of the World Bank to turn the tide in favor of wild tigers. The agreement establishes training in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the Tiger Range Countries to build capacity and to support the Conservation and Development Network as a long-term community of conservation practitioners among various governments and organizations. It also sets the stage for participants in the Global Tiger Initiative to carry out further fund-raising and an expansion of members in the Smithsonian – World Bank partnership to leverage significant funds to mobilize the training efforts.
The network is expected to gain further momentum as preparations move ahead for next year’s “Year of the Tiger” Summit, where top leaders from the tiger range countries along with the World Bank, GEF and other organizations participating in the Global Tiger Initiative plan to “review significant progress on the ground” regarding necessary actions and commit to wide-ranging policies and programs across the Tiger Range Countries that will make stabilization of wild tiger populations possible. Already, the Government of Nepal is preparing to host the Global Tiger Workshop (October 2009) to consolidate technical foundations and buy-in for urgent multi-country actions. Later on, at the beginning of the Year of the Tiger, the Government of Thailand will convene a ministerial-level meeting of Asia and Pacific countries to develop necessary political traction among the region’s environment and other relevant ministries for implementing critical policies related to wildlife crime enforcement and tiger conservation.
Congresswoman Bordallo, who serves on the US House of Representatives’ Natural Resources and Armed Services Committees, reminded the audience at the Smithsonian Castle that efforts to save the tigers and biodiversity in general continue to be overshadowed by significant recent losses of wild tiger populations in existing tiger reserves and national parks in India and other countries.
The leaders of the Smithsonian and World Bank were also joined by other speakers, Dr. Eric Dinerstein, Chief Scientist and Vice President of the World Wildlife Fund and Dr. Pavan Sukhdev, Chairman – Global Markets Centre Mumbai, Deutsche Bank, and Study Leader of a United Nations study on the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.
Dr. Dinerstein spoke of one innovative example that begs for Bank involvement: “We’ve done a
Through the lens of the tiger, the World Bank and partners are engaging with the larger issues of sustainability of biodiversity and ecosystem management. They are also engaged in developing a framework that factors in biodiversity values in the equation of development and ensures infrastructure development in a manner that does no harm, but helps and improves the habitat. All of the distinguished speakers stressed that this initiative is about more than just saving wild tigers. These endangered animals are in many ways a proxy for wider biodiversity and conservation issues. If ways can be found to protect tigers and address the underlying forces that are putting tigers and other endangered species at risk, a lot of progress can be made to deal with many other conservation issues. This is why the Global Tiger Initiative is important for the World Bank.
President Zoellick concluded his remarks Friday with a metaphor attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way that its animals are treated.”