As government representatives and advocacy groups from around the globe prepare to converge on St. Petersburg, Russia, for the world's first Tiger Summit, two U.S. lawmakers have introduced Congressional resolutions recognizing the importance of saving the iconic cats from extinction.
In all, only about 3,200 tigers on the planet live outside captivity, according to recent studies, and their numbers are continuing to decline despite efforts to protect the species in recent years. Only six of the nine recognized tiger subspecies still survive. In comparison, around 100,000 tigers lived in the wild a century ago.
The resolutions, introduced by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam), chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, aim to mobilize Congressional support for U.S.-backed tiger conservation efforts in the 13 tiger range states the countries where the big cats still live in the wild and highlight the benefits that come with such efforts, including improved diplomatic relations with tiger range states such as China and Russia, and halting deforestation in threatened habitats.
It's important to do everything we can to ensure that tigers can flourish in the wild," Kerry said. "The Tiger Summit offers a chance to engage other countries and promote international species conservation. By investing in tigers, we can also promote local community development and create jobs for scientists here in the United States. I urge Congress to support the goals of the summit."
"We are looking at the very real possibility of tigers going extinct in the wild during our lifetimes," Bordallo said. "This collaboration among an unprecedented number of world leaders is our chance to ensure the viability of tiger populations, by committing to the targeted protection of tiger source sites."
The United States is the only government in the world with an active fund dedicated to tiger conservation. Congress passed the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act in 1994, which funds grants for tiger conservation projects in tiger range states, providing everything from training programs to supplies such as GPS units and bicycles for rangers patrolling protected areas.
The Act is funded by Congress on a yearly basis, and the money allotted for conservation efforts is subject to change, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
"The U.S. must continue to be a leader in efforts to conserve iconic species such as this one," Bordallo said.
The Tiger Summit, hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, begins on Nov. 21 and wraps up Nov. 24. The U.S. government is slated to send a small delegation from various agencies, including the FWS, USAID and the Department of Justice.