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Can Vladimir Putin save endangered tigers?

The Russian leader is overseeing a summit devoted to doubling the animal's dwindling population by 2022. Will it work?

At the behest of Russian President Vladmir Putin, a group of world leaders, conservation bigwigs, and influential financiers have all flocked to St. Petersburg, Russia, for an International Tiger Forum. The 500-person strong, five-day-long summit (co-organized by World Bank leader Robert Zoellick) will attempt to develop a plan to help the wild tiger avoid extinction and double its numbers by 2022. It is, as The Guardian notes, the "highest level political meeting to ever discuss a single species." Can Putin's summit turn things around for the tiger? (Watch a Sky News report about the tiger decline)

How bad is the crisis?A century ago, 100,000 tigers roamed the wild; now, only 3,200 remain. World Wildlife Fund general director Jim Leape has bluntly dismissed existing conservation efforts, noting that they've failed to halt poaching and address other factors behind the animal's decline. Poachers can make big money hawking tiger body parts on the black market, particularly in China, where tiger bones, penises, and hides are in high demand.

Why is Putin so interested?Putin has long been enamored of big cats — he received a tiger cub for his 56th birthday — and his interest may have something to do with the fact that "prominent men have identified with the majesty, power and machismo of large cats," says Professor Stephen R. Kellert, as quoted in The New York Times. In Russia, the Siberian tiger has rebounded from near extinction and become a symbol of the country's strength.

How much will this summit help?The meeting, expected to raise $350 million, has yielded some positive results. Each of the 13 countries that still has the big cats has drawn up a plan of action. But skeptics warn that without a significant drop in demand for tiger products —which probably means more strict oversight by China and other Asian countries — all the effort may come to nothing. According to the World Wildlife Fund, "tigers could be extinct in the wild by that same year of 2022 if dramatic steps are not taken immediately."

Sources: Scientific American, New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post

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