Citing tiger population counts that have dwindled to a few thousand, several Hollywood stars have come out in support of a preservation campaign announced Monday by the World Bank, according to CNN.
The head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, told those gathered at a news conference at the National Zoo that the conservation initiative will find out "how to work with the local communities, so we can preserve some of the areas in which the tigers live."
Actor Harrison Ford, known for his support of environmental causes, said, "I`m here to celebrate the World Bank`s plan to form a global alliance of conservation partners, to work with the tiger range nations in order to secure a future for these magnificent creatures."
The audience included former actress Bo Derek, now a special envoy at the State Department fighting trafficking in wildlife. She told CNN the World Bank`s initiative to save the tigers should help counter "demand for their body parts, mainly in Asia," and "loss of habitat" caused by the exploitation of natural resources. Watch Derek talk about her role in conservation
Actor Robert Duvall, who lives in the Virginia countryside about 50 miles from Washington, came in to lend his "moral support" to the World Bank`s initiative for tigers.
"I`ve always thought they might be the single most beautiful animal in the world," Duvall told CNN, adding that "people hunt them like crazy. They`re wacko when it comes to shooting things."
Derek spoke to reporters at the State Department Monday, where she expanded on her efforts to protect endangered wildlife from illegal trafficking.
She appeared at a briefing with Claudia McMurray, the Assistant Secretary for Oceans Environment and Science, who said that illegal wildlife trafficking is worth an estimated $10 billion a year.
China is the largest market for trafficked animals used for exotic pets, rare foods, trophies and medicine. The United States is the second largest market in the world.
As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice`s Special Envoy for Wildlife Trafficking, the former movie star said she is focusing her efforts on public awareness of the problem, which she hopes will reduce awareness.
"It was very embarrassing for me to find out that the U.S. is number 2 in consuming endangered wildlife," she said. "I travel often, and so many times someone will tell you `you can buy this, it`s made of tortoiseshell, but it`s a safe tortoiseshell. It`s not endangered.` I think education and awareness is critical."
Derek said that China has a very successful public awareness campaign and the Chinese government has been very cooperative in trying to educate the public about the problem.
Derek voiced concern about the future survival of various species of sharks, which are being captured and de-finned for shark fin soup, considered a rare delicacy in Asia and in the United States.
"It`s very difficult to know how many there are left in the world," Derek said. "Some studies show that in the past 20 years, they`re down 90 percent. They reproduce very slowly. I think that unless people just stop eating the (shark fin) soup, I don`t think the species has a chance."
While it is illegal to traffic shark fins into the United States, enforcing the law is difficult once the animal parts make it into the country.
The World Bank will initially explore local and regional programs that have worked against poaching of endangered tigers, and will next determine how much financing it would take to help replicate the programs elsewhere.
Regional programs against tiger poaching are linked with rising populations tallied in the Russian Far East, according to the report from the World Bank.
Zoellick emphasized his group is "not the key player" but only serves as a catalyst for countries in the region to coordinate efforts to save tigers at risk in their areas.
The World Bank`s initiative will focus 13 countries where tiger poaching threatens remaining populations in the wild: Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, China, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia, India, Russia and Vietnam.