Tigers, Be Afraid!
by Anand Seth.
A personal view and tiger blog by a former Director of the World Bank, and till 2013 Senior Advisor to GTI and in the latter capacity, helped TRCs and GTI create the GTRP.
The 3000 of you in the wild have known for some time that your days are numbered. But the Tiger “Summit” of 2010 gave you some hope. After all, with five Prime Ministers and President of the World Bank in attendance, a Saint Petersburg Declaration was adopted and implementation of Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP), aiming to double your numbers by 2022, was launched. My colleagues called me the “architect” of GTRP. Now four years into its implementation, the architect is a bit worried.
So, perhaps you should be too. After all it is your survival that is at stake.
Mind you, there are more tiger experts working for you; there are more tiger conferences talking about you; there are more networks and consortia with you (and wildlife) in their names and more glossy publications about you. Since the Summit, there have been at least 4 conferences of more than 150 people, at least 5 workshops involving 25 plus experts. New acronyms such as SAWEN, ICCWC, IWBC, MDTF have been created. Initiatives like Open Parks Network, Zero Poaching, Wildlife Premium Market, Global Forest Watch etc. have emerged. Number of scientific articles about you and your genetics is increasing. Resolutions about totally eliminating tiger trade have been passed at conferences attended by 400 plus people. Kazakhstan has decided to restore long lost tiger populations. Five new tiger reserves have been created. Even the rarely seen snow leopards now have an SLRP of their own, inspired by your GTRP!
But dear tigers, four years into implementation, the GTRP faces challenges that are bothersome.
First, we still do not know for sure how many of you are there! India and Nepal for starters know and feel good that numbers are encouragingly higher, though since 2008, 20% of your habitat in India has been lost and at least 30% of you live outside tiger reserves, where it will be virtually impossible to save you from the effects of future development. Many other TRCs are still uncertain about exact numbers or believe that your numbers are down and are still setting up systems to measure. Similarly, four years into the program, we do not really know if overall habitat loss is halted, or poaching has reduced, or interdiction of smugglers is up or known hot spots of illegal tiger trade are being eliminated. If one cannot monitor outcomes, how can one manage?
Secondly, some countries have created special security forces and many have added front line staff to guard you in the reserves. Most of these staff stay away from their families in ramshackle huts and have no life insurance though the work is risky. While poachers have jeeps, guns, cell phones and GPS devices, most front line staff are on foot, and many of those who protect you, do not even have boots or rain coats! How can they win the war against poachers?
Thirdly, demand for your body parts continues unabated, whether by traditional medicine consumers, or tiger skin rug connoisseurs, or those who believe your bones are better than Viagra, or those who drink tiger wine thinking it is exotic. A short ad campaign in which you were quoted as saying “I am not a rug” is over. Unless celebrities start speaking up against things derived from a dead you, how will demand that poachers rely upon, be eliminated?
Fourthly, you know we humans need to drive everywhere, into wilderness too. But these roads being built around or in your habitat, do not allow you to roam, something critical to your survival. In-breeding will destroy you as fast as poachers will. These smart roads cost a bit more, due changes in alignment or to create underpasses. The one major TRC with a known willingness to pay these extra costs is now having a push back! After all, there are real long term benefits that accrue to society from a well-conserved habitat: saving of fresh water, source of bio diversity and medicinal plants, sequestration of carbon etc. Four years ago we pledged to document and tell the world about the real value to humanity of the habitat you protect. We are not there yet.
Fifthly, communities of poor people exist around where you live, living off the same habitat. People from these communities sometimes kill you for profit and other times as retaliation against you for killing their livestock. Most TRCs now compensate people for any loss they suffer on your account. In Africa, lions bring tourism revenues to communities which become their protectors. Of course, unlike you lions are not shy, making it easier to build tourism around them. But in most TRCs gate charges at tiger reserves are set way below market, and the modest revenues go into government coffers rather than to the community. A serious effort to make protectors out of poachers is still work in progress.
Finally, the World Bank, having so effectively championed your cause, is now on the verge of abandoning you, just when we are set to do the real job at hand. The Bank through the Global Tiger Initiative did make things happen. Tiger conservationists began to connect and share knowledge and be held accountable by colleagues from other countries. Partners began to work in tandem with TRCs’ national efforts. Funds began to flow, though Myanmar, the one country with the potential to increase tiger numbers significantly has almost no resources raised so far. Processes of periodic substantive consultations, of joint action planning and of holding each other accountable, which the Bank helped facilitate, are at risk of being abandoned leading to a potential loss of momentum.
You ask, if there is a path of hope ahead. Yes, maybe, if a few things can change:
First, you must tell all who believe in your survival, to focus on implementing the GTRP. Yes, the iconic species that you are, you can trigger lot of tangential energies. Now is the time to insist that only priority must be to implement the GTRP and save you from extinction. Forget all else that sounds exciting.
Secondly, you must ask the World Bank why it wants out, when success is far from assured and failure is likely if it simply steps out. If the World Bank faces budget issues then let us to do things differently: cut out the frills of excessive conferences; drop non-GTRP agendas; cut out supply driven initiatives of “tool kits” and “networks”. Get the focus back on performance by TRCs on implementing the GTRP, through soundly designed and closely monitored performance indicators. Move the GTRP monitoring function to lower cost centers where real expertise does not cost an arm and a leg to mobilize, and where the tigers in the wild actually live. Not only will costs be lower, we will get a sharper focus on you, the tiger in the wild.
Thirdly, why not ask the Bank, which rightly takes pride in putting TRCs in the drivers’ seat, to let TRCs actually take the lead in the future monitoring of GTRP implementation? Having successfully launched GTRP’s first phase of four years, the Bank and its partners can now help TRCs get organized to take the lead at least when it comes to monitoring of real performance based on sound indicators.
Fourthly, you must insist that the World Bank disengagement is strategic: it must continue to do two things that it alone can do well. It must continue to use its convening power to reach out to senior policy makers’ attention and help raise resources. The fact that we have a GTRP under joint implementation by 13 TRCs is because the World Bank, building on the foundations built by tiger conservationists worldwide, reached out to senior policy makers and was able to encourage TRCs to apply some of their borrowings and grants to the tiger and wildlife agenda.
Finally, you must urge other partners waiting in the wings to step in to fill the space left by the Bank. Else all that has been painstakingly built will be lost. Resources going for tiger conservation need to support, in addition to actions by TRCs on the ground, the current but more streamlined process for joint action planning and collaborative monitoring of performance. Help is also needed to build an institution (such as the GTF), to be truly owned by all TRCs to support key aspects of GTRP monitoring and coordination that the World Bank will step out of and other partners would like to see done by the TRCs.
Lastly, all this will need to be accompanied by renewed high profile global leadership of international and national NGOs as well as the World Bank, to ensure that saving you from extinction remains high in the public mind and resources keep flowing to the front lines.
Written in the hope that you, the majestic tiger in the wild, will live forever;