A campaign to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022 was on the agenda on Sunday at the highest level political meeting to ever discuss a single species.
The International Tiger Forum in St Petersburg is being staged in response to a calamitous 97% decline in tigers in the wild over a century.
The Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, and the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, were behind the four-day event, during which it is hoped that $350m will be secured for tiger conservation.
The forum will also include the unveiling of an international consortium to combat wildlife crime and pledges to tighten protection by the 13 countries where tigers live.
There are appeals expected from celebrities including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and model Naomi Campbell.
The unprecedented mobilisation of political, financial and celebrity power was welcomed by conservation groups, but there were concerns that it may prove too little too late unless some actions is taken.
Jim Leape, director general of WWF, said that 40 years of conservation efforts had failed to halt poaching, loss of habitat and the decline of prey species.
As a result, several subspecies have already died out, the wild population has shrunk to just 3,200 tigers and the number continues to shrink every day.
“The reasons for this disaster are well known,” Leape said. “Unless we take drastic action, there will be no tigers by the next year of the tiger in 2022.”
Donors are expected to emerge in the days ahead: the World Bank website notes plans to raise $350 million over the next five years, while the US announced $400,000 to help Russia protect the Amur tiger.
But without a reduction in demand for tiger products, conservationists warn that all efforts could come to nothing.