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Speeches & Transcripts

World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick Speech at the Tiger Initiative Launch Event

June 9, 2008

Robert B. Zoellick, President, World Bank Group Tiger Initiative Launch Event Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Washington DC, United States

As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning. I’d like to welcome all our guests today to this special event at the National Zoo.
This is a beautiful zoo, and Director John Barry and his colleagues do a wonderful job of creating appealing habitats for all the species they keep.
Of course, what brings us together today is a cause to make sure that in the future, tigers are not only found in zoos.
I’d like to thank our co-hosts, in addition to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, the International Tiger Coalition and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), for helping to coordinate this important kick-off event.  Thank you for your partnership.
I am especially pleased to welcome Harrison Ford, Bo Derek, and Ilya Lagutenko.  Mr. Ford’s environmental work may not be his best known—but may be some of his most important projects.  Even though he has been busy with his latest film, Mr. Ford has graciously taken time out to be with us.  Thank you for taking the time to join us today.
I know Bo Derek well from her work as Special Envoy of the U.S. Secretary of State on Wildlife Trafficking.  She has distinguished herself for her active work in trying to protect animals.  We’re very grateful that she is with us today.
Mr. Ilya Lagutenko is a patron of the British-Russian “Amur” fund for the protection of Amur tigers and leopards, and both he and his band are well known for their conservation activities on wildlife.  We appreciate your support for this new tiger initiative.
I’m also pleased to welcome a number of officials and conservation leaders from governments, international organizations, and civil society organizations.  Thank you for joining us.
The Importance and Magnitude of the Problem

We have here a coalition of renowned scientists and wildlife experts, accomplished actors and performers, ambassadors, NGOs, and others.  From different parts of the world and from varied areas of work, we have come together to address this problem.
Together, we recognize the importance of the tigers and the scale of the crisis confronting them.
Tigers are an umbrella species—their health reflects the health of plants and animals that share their range.  Since tigers are at the top of the food chain, conservation of wild tigers also means the preservation of the habitats in which they live and the prey populations that support them.   In this sense, the health of tigers is an indicator of biodiversity and a barometer for sustainability.  And preserving biodiversity is a global public good.
The decline in the numbers of tigers is shocking: from over 100,000 a century ago to less than 4,000 animals today.  Tigers are disappearing from Central Asia, and from East and South Asia.
One reason for this decline is loss of habitat.  Tigers now occupy less than 7% of their original range.  They have lost this territory because of habitat conversion, encroachment, and degradation.  In some cases it is driven by expanding populations and the legitimate economic and development needs for infrastructure and resources.
Poaching, however, has now become the most urgent and immediate threat to tigers.  The illegal trade in wild tigers remains highly profitable, mainly to meet the demand for tiger bones used in some traditional Asian medicines, and, more recently, a growing illegal market for tiger meat.  Because of poaching, the tigers in many supposedly “secure” reserves across Asia have simply been wiped out.  And when the poachers have eliminated tiger populations, they target other species such as Asiatic lions, snow leopards, and clouded leopards, which have suffered severe declines in numbers as well.
Around the world, individuals, governments, the World Bank Group, the GEF, and conservations groups have already invested considerable resources on tiger conservation – and there have been successes.
The Amur or Siberian tiger has been brought back from the brink of extinction through the combined anti-poaching and conservation efforts of governments, local and international NGOs, and local communities in the Russian Far East.  Today, there are around 500 Amur tigers, and that number has remained stable for more than a decade.
The Terai Arc Landscape project in Nepal offers another possible model for how human communities can coexist alongside core tiger habitats.  For this project, conservationists in the public and private sector are working together to restore, reconnect, and manage 11 national parks into one continuous corridor of protected areas to benefit humans and wildlife.  The presence of tigers and other wildlife in the forest corridor shows early signs of success.
These examples are heartening, and we should learn from them.  They show that tiger populations can recover if habitats can be protected, within and outside protected areas, and poaching of tigers and their prey is stopped.
But while we have won some important battles in tiger conservation, we are losing the larger campaign.  Habitat degradation and fragmentation continue.  Conservation efforts are continually being undermined by poaching and illegal trade.  Wild tigers are slipping away.

Global Responses for a Global Problem
Today’s gathering demonstrates that saving the tiger is a global challenge.
Just as with many of the other challenges of sustainability—such as climate change, pandemic disease, or poverty—the crisis facing tigers overwhelms local capabilities and transcends national boundaries.   This is a problem that cannot be handled by individual nations alone.  It requires an alliance of strong local commitment backed by deep international support.
That is why this strategic partnership that we are launching today is important.  The World Bank Group is using its convening power and global presence to draw together the appropriate stakeholders: governments, global NGOs, scientists, international organizations, corporations, and concerned individuals.
This coalition will apply experience, scientific knowledge, public influence, and national and international cooperation to catalyze the necessary action and creativity to improve management practices, skills, quality of research, and instruments to curb poaching, the demand for tiger parts, and the illegal tiger trade; and to raise awareness of the value and symbolism of tigers.
As the past has shown, this will not be an easy task.  Meeting the needs of both local communities and ensuring the survival of wild tigers will be an enormous challenge.  All those concerned may not agree.  But this does not mean that we should stand on the sidelines and do nothing.  Instead, I think we have an obligation to work together—with conservation groups, scientists, governments, and the public—to learn from the past, and to go forward to address this issue as best we can.
None of this is feasible without resources.  So we will also explore the feasibility of innovative public private partnerships, and review the current financial architecture to support tiger conservation.
Let me briefly identify three important areas of focus.
First, the international community needs to take a close and candid look at what has gone right and what has gone wrong—and why—in our efforts to balance sustainability with development and growth.  Environmental concerns need to be integrated into the mainstream of development and operational plans.  To be successful, we also need an approach to habitat conservation that addresses legitimate growth needs of nations and of the populations living in and around tiger habitats.
The international financing community, including the World Bank Group, need to develop policies and best practices to maintain this sustainable balance.
Second, we need a better understanding of recent trends in poaching and the illegal markets in tiger parts.  We need to explore how to tighten regulations, how to modernize enforcement methods and make them more effective, and how to enhance cross border cooperation.
I look to our partners in trade; regional bodies, such as ASEAN; and the tiger range countries to enhance cooperation and enforcement.
Third, a critical part of this effort will be raising public awareness about poaching practices, the demand for tiger parts, and the tiger trade, and influencing public policy in favor of tiger conservation.  If wild tigers are going to be saved, they must be seen as more valuable alive than dead – as long-term ecological assets for investment, rather than short-term products to sell.  I hope our partners in the media and the entertainment industry can help draw public attention to these issues.
Central to all these efforts, however, must be strong country ownership of the tiger conservation agenda, because it is those who live with the tiger who will determine the tiger’s fate.  I look to our partners in tiger range countries to develop this initiative within their own countries.
There are some positive signs. 
 As we launch this initiative, the Government of India has expressed its strong interest in working with us.  The Government of India has recognized the threat of extinction faced by the tiger and is strongly committed to the preservation of the species.  India may offer the last hope for the tiger, as it has the largest number of wild tigers.
I understand that a Committee, chaired personally by the Prime Minister, periodically monitors tiger conservation measures.  The Government has allocated 6 billion rupees – or $160 million – for tiger conservation over a 5 year period, with 500 million rupees committed in financial year 2008-2009 to set up a Tiger Protection Force.  It also has established a new National Tiger Conservation Authority, which would be autonomous and function on the basis of decentralized, local community driven initiatives.
The Banks’ 5-Point Plan

Reversing the decline in the tiger population will not be easy – but it is possible with a concerted effort.   Today’s event includes a technical workshop with all concerned to launch such an effort.
We have a 5-Point agenda for this initiative going forward:
First, we are initiating a review through the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group of the Bank Group’s projects in tiger habitats to learn lessons from the past that will inform future engagement.
Second, we will facilitate country workshops and other platforms of partnership with NGOs, governments, and the scientific community in countries to develop new models of conservation.
Third, we will review existing efforts and strategies in partnership with other organizations to address the illegal tiger trade and develop awareness raising campaigns to counter the demand for tiger products worldwide.
Fourth, we will be exploring and developing alternative and new funding mechanisms for tiger conservation.  Already, the GEF is proposing a programmatic approach to support this effort.
And fifth, the World Bank Group is offering to host a 2010 ‘Year of the Tiger’ Summit.  This would be an opportunity for all those involved in tiger conservation to review the status of tigers and their habitat.

Biodiversity protection is an integral part of our inclusive and sustainable globalization.  Supporting tiger conservation is part of this global development challenge.
We will not succeed in this effort if we work alone, but we can if we work together.
On our part, I can ensure the World Bank Group’s full support for this initiative.  I will ask for specific plans from the working group and country consultations within six months, so that by 2010 we can be looking at a concrete global program to arrest the current decline in wild tigers.
Thank you for your commitment to this issue.  And thank you for your partnership.