Tiger numbers are at record lows and continue to decline. A recent position paper, written by conservationists affiliated with the Wildlife Conservation Society and other organisations, makes the case for continued intensive protection programmes, targeted at the key 'source sites' which make up only a small fraction (6%) of the tiger's geographic range, but which contain the majority of the world's tigers. They note that tiger parts remain a valuable commodity; their scarcity simply drives up prices, which further increases incentives for poaching. This is no mere theory - declines in populations have been dramatic at reserves where enforcement has been allowed to lapse.
It really is a sobering time for tiger conservation. I remember watching a documentary some years back that was very critical of India's Project Tiger. That drove home for me in very concrete terms how official optimism and pronouncements rarely reflect reality, especially when a conservation is politically sensitive, like the case of the tiger. It is good that this new paper's proposal emphasises how its plan is "financially attainable". That, more than any argument from intrinsic worth, will probably be what catches the eye of policy-makers. I know some conservationists who object in principle to the idea of 'bartering nature', but it seems a foregone conclusion that environmentalism must speak the language of economics ('investments', 'tradeoff', etc.) to remain at the forefront of the public and policy-making consciousness.
Wildlife Conservation Society press release
World Wildlife Fund news webpage on the Tiger Summit