By Mark Kinver Environment reporter, BBC News
Crime chiefs from countries with populations of wild tigers have agreed to work together in order to combat the illegal trade in the big cats.
Heads of police and customs from 13 nations agreed to tighten controls and improve cross-border co-operation at a two-day meeting in Bangkok.
Only six subspecies remain, with fewer than 1,000 tigers in each group.
Smuggling of tiger parts is one of the main threats facing the planet’s remaining big cats, say experts.
The seminar in Thailand’s capital, organised by Interpol and hosted by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), was attended by 26 senior crime officials and representatives from partner organisations, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
‘Natural heritage abuse’
“[Our efforts to fight tiger crime] must not just result in seizures – they must result in prosecutions, convictions and strong penalties to stop the flow of contraband,” said John Scanlon, Cites secretary general.
“If we get the enforcement system right for the tiger, we will help save countless other species together with their ecosystems.”
Jean-Michel Louboutin, Interpol’s executive director of police services, observed: “This important seminar has highlighted the environmental crime challenges facing senior law enforcement officers, and the need for enhanced international co-operation.
“Criminals cannot prosper from abusing our shared national heritage.”
Delegates also used the meeting to formally endorse the Interpol-led Project Predator.
The initiative, launched in November 2011, has three main aims:
* organising collaborative, high-level international efforts to improve political will to tackle the problem of illegal trade in tiger parts
* transforming politicians’ will to act into tangible support from government departments and agencies
* training enforcement officers in the necessary skills
Project Predator is also encouraging countries to establish National Tiger Crime Task Forces, which will form working partnerships with Interpol, in order to provide “modern intelligence-led enforcement practices for tiger conservation”.
Interpol said the project would not be limited to the protection of tigers, but would extend to the all of Asia’s big cat species, such as the snow leopard and Asiatic lion, as these animals faced similar threats.
The meeting in Bangkok is the latest development in efforts to improve protection and conservation measures since a high-profile summit in November 2010 pledged to double the global population of tigers by 2022.
At the gathering in St Petersburg, Russia, senior political figures from the 13 range nations pledged to protect tiger habitats, address poaching, illegal trade and provide the financial resources for the plan.
Over the past century, tiger numbers have dropped from about 100,000 to about 4,000 tigers in the wild today.
And over the past decade, there has been a 40% decline, with conservationists warning that some populations were expected to disappear completely within 20 years unless urgent action was taken.