Tiger accord signed by 13 countries

Officials from the 13 countries where tigers live in the wild signed a declaration Tuesday aimed at saving the iconic cats from extinction.

Feline's demise linked to organized crime: UN

Officials from the 13 countries where tigers live in the wild signed a declaration Tuesday aimed at saving the iconic big cats from extinction.

The accord stipulates that the countries will strive to double their tiger populations by 2022 and crack down on poaching and illicit trade in tiger pelts and body parts.

Tigers once roamed most of Eurasia from the Tigris River to Siberia and Indonesia. But in the past century, 12 countries lost their tiger populations, while three of the nine tiger subspecies have become extinct. Experts say there are now only about 3,200 tigers left in the wild.

The signatory countries — most of which are in Southeast Asia — agreed to preserve and enhance tigers' habitats and involve local communities in their conservation efforts.

"The goal is difficult, but achievable," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told the participants of the "Tiger Summit" in St. Petersburg.

Russia's Far East is home to Siberian tigers, the largest tiger subspecies.

The number of tigers worldwide has plunged 95 per cent over the past century. The Global Tiger Recovery Program estimates the 13 countries will need about $350 million in outside funding in the first five years of the 12-year plan.

Many of the countries with tigers, such as Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal, are impoverished, and saving tigers may depend on sizable donations from the West. The countries will seek donor commitments to help finance conservation measures, the agreement said.

"It is difficult to solve the problems of wildlife conservation in these countries," Putin said.

He said Russia could help revive tiger populations in neighbouring countries such as Iran and Kazakhstan.

Poachers are greatest threat

Demand in China poses the greatest threat to tigers in the wild, and organized crime runs the illicit trade in the felines, international experts said.

About 150 tigers are killed each year by poachers — five per cent of the world's wild tiger population, Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN office on drugs and crime, told participants at the summit on Monday.

He said tiger poaching brings $5 million in profits.

"Often, crimes against wildlife are related to money laundering, violence, and in some cases could even be tied to terrorism," Fedotov said. "Only our common operations will help stop the trade."

Worth up to $50,000

Up to 50 Siberian tigers are killed annually in Russia's Far East to be sold in China, said Yelena Averyanova of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Their pelts, bones and meat are prized in traditional Chinese medicine, and each tiger costs up to $50,000, she said.

Poachers come up with increasingly cruel methods of catching and killing their prey such as attaching explosives covered with animal fat to tree branches, she said. When tigers swallow the bait, it explodes in their mouths, she said.

Much has been done recently to try to save tigers, but conservation groups say their numbers and habitats have continued to fall, by 40 per cent in the past decade alone.

Tigers occupy the top of the ecological system in vast forest landscapes, and their existence depends on diverse and undisturbed habitats.

Economic development and limited capacity for conservation efforts have contributed to degradation and fragmentation of the habitats and depletion of prey animals.