Thirteen Asian countries have pledged to double their numbers of wild tigers by 2022, the next Chinese year of the tiger. Human encroachment and poaching have devastated wild tiger populations.
Representatives from the thirteen Asian nations with wild tiger populations agreed Friday to aim for a doubling of wild tiger numbers in the next twelve years.
The tiger range nations pledged to better protect wild tigers and their habitats.
The commitment to re-populate wild tigers was made in Thailand at the first Asia ministerial conference on tiger conservation and was welcomed by conservation groups.
Michael Baltzer, is in charge of the global tiger initiative for the conservation group WWF (World Wildlife Fund), says time is running out to save wild tigers.
"This is important because the tigers are in a serious decline and it's really the tipping point for tigers," he said. "This is the Year of the Tiger and it's the year that all of the concerned organizations have come together and said enough is enough. We really need to turn around the future for wild tigers and so it's really this year or never."
The meeting in Thailand was organized in part by the Global Tiger Initiative, a coalition of the World Bank, conservation groups, and the Smithsonian Institute that aims to repopulate wild tigers.
"You know if you save the tiger, you are saving the habitat for a lot of other species," said Keshav Varma, the program director for the World Bank's Global Tiger Initiative. "So the tiger is symbolic about this and as the apex and the most charismatic species, it is drawing attention to the habitat and to the prey base, to encroachment, to corruption, to so many issues."
Tigers are found wild in China, Russia and most of South and Southeast Asia.
But whereas a century ago there were an estimated 100,000 wild tigers found from Iran to Indonesia to Russia, now around 3,500 are believed to live in only seven percent of their original territory.
The WWF says a poaching epidemic has wiped out much of the wild tiger population.
Tigers are killed so their bones and organs can be sold as expensive Chinese folk medicines.
Intensive hunting of tiger prey and infrastructure development has also contributed to reducing wild tiger numbers.