New Delhi: Making a strong pitch for tiger conservation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday underlined the need for collaboration between governments at the highest level to check trafficking in body parts of the wildcat.
Noting that conservation of tiger or nature is "not a drag" on development, the prime minister insisted that both can happen in a mutually and complementary manner and emphasised on the need to reorient the strategy.
Modi said forests are inseparable from wild animals and both are mutually complementary.
"Destruction of one leads to destruction of the other. This is an important cause of climate change which is now affecting us adversely in many ways. This is a global phenomenon which all of us are grappling with," he said.
He was speaking at the inaugural session of the three-day 3rd Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation where tiger range countries will discuss key issues including anti-poaching strategies.
Noting that tiger habitats have reduced drastically across tiger range countries, the prime minister said the situation has been aggravated by the ongoing trafficking in body parts and derivatives of this magnificient animal.
"A major threat to the tiger is the demand for its body parts. The forest and its wild denizens are an open treasury which cannot be locked up. It is painful to learn about trafficking of body parts of tigers and other big cats. We need to collaborate at the highest levels of governments to address the serious issues.
"In India too we have been facing the challenge of poaching. The positive side for us in India is that the majority of people respect trees, animals, forest rivers. They consider earth as mother and the universe as one family," he said.
The prime minister said there is a need to define conservation as a means to achieve development rather than considering it to be "anti-growth".
"We can achieve a framework to foster proactive engagement of industry for conservation. The natural capital denoting the stock of natural system should be treated at par with capital goods. Our economy needs to be viewed as a subset of a larger economy of natural resources and ecosystem services which sustain us," he said.
More than 700 tiger experts, scientists, managers, donors and other stakeholders are gathering to discuss issues related to tiger conservation.
The prime minister said for tiger range countries, a viable tiger population symbolizes a mitigation strategy for climate change that will also create a huge carbon sink in the form of tiger bearing forest.
"Conservation of tiger will go a long way in ensuring a good future for ourselves and coming generations," he said, adding that " by protecting the tiger, we protect the entire ecosystem and the ecological services, which are equally crucial for the well-being of human beings."
He said keeping in mind the ecosystem value of tiger conservation areas, there is a need to consider them as 'natural capital'.
"Benefits from tiger conservation are enormous but intangible. We cannot quantify this in economic terms," he said.
Modi said the country's institutions have done economic valuation of a few tiger reserves and their study highlights that besides conserving the tiger, these reserves also provide a range of economic, social, cultural and spiritual benefits known as ecosystem services.
"We need to define conservation as a means to achieve development rather than considering it to be anti-growth," he said.
"I strongly believe that tiger conservation or conservation of nature, is not a drag on development. Both can happen in a mutually complementary manner. All we need is to re-orient our strategy by factoring in the concerns of the tiger in sectors where tiger conservation is not the goal.
"This is a difficult task but can be achieved. Our genius lies in smartly integrating the tiger and wildlife safeguards in various infrastructures at the landscape level. This essentially takes us to the much needed smart green infrastructure, while adopting a landscape approach," he said.
Modi said this approach would help us to involve business groups through corporate social responsibility for various initiatives towards tiger conservation.
In the Indian context, we intend to achieve this through the Tiger Conservation Plans, he said.
Maintaining that "conservation of tigers is not a choice. It is an imperative," the prime minister said, "I would also like to emphasise that regional cooperation is essential for combating wildlife crime" and called for a resolve to work together to protect the tiger and its space.
He said India, which has 70 per cent of the world's tiger population, launched 'Project Tiger' in 1973 and is committed to complementing the initiatives of other Tiger Range Countries.
Ministers and government officials from all tiger range countries including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, India, Laos PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russian Federation, Thailand, Vietnam, besides Kyrgyz Republic and Kazakhstan, having ranges of snow leopard are participating in the conference.