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Can Vladimir Putin save the world's tigers?

A Russian bear turns his attention to cats.

The fur trade in China is large, he said. But demand for medicinals — scientifically dubious wines, powders, creams and tonics — is much larger.

“I won’t say it’s traditional Chinese medicine,” Schaedla said. “We’ve taken to calling it Chinese folk medicine.” The American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, a Global Tiger Initiative participant, condemns the use of tiger parts for medical purposes.

Reviving the tiger population will require more armed anti-poaching squads to chase down poachers and destroy tiger traps. The World Bank has already promised $1.5 million to train conservation officers in various countries. India’s government has even created an online “Tigernet” database, which tracks poaching arrests and discoveries of tiger remains.

The initiative will also beef up reactive measures, such as training port-of-entry baggage handlers to spot smuggled wildlife products — an effort partially funded, in Thailand at least, by the U.S. government.

Far more difficult, however, is convincing bureaucrats to say no — to bridges, roads and housing developments that recklessly eat into tiger country.

Conservation agencies have secured commitments from India and Thailand. But success is less promising in junta-run Burma, which shares a 82,200 square-mile swath of tiger-friendly habitat with Thailand. Burma’s supply of tigers and weakly governed border with China is already known as a tiger trafficking corridor.

“We believe that tigers are now very close to extinction,” Baltzer said. “They’re really clinging to the last places they can survive.”