Looking a tiger in the eyes, as we have both experienced, is an immense privilege. To sense the power, the awe, the soul-stirring beauty.
Tigers are iconic - perhaps the ultimate icon of the wild. We borrow their image to symbolize power, grace and beauty, yet we invade their habitat and hunt them to extinction. In the early 20th Century, there were estimated to be 100,000 tigers in the wild. Today, there are thought to be as few as 3,200 - a catastrophic decline. This hard reality creates the need for business and the conservation community to come together in concerted action.
Tigers are part of our planet's natural heritage, a symbol of Earth's biodiversity. They are a key species, crucial for the integrity of the ecosystems in which they live. Those ecosystems, in turn, provide important financial, cultural and spiritual benefits for local communities - and essential resources such as water and food to millions more people. The need to protect these places, and tigers, does not lie with any one organization or group.
At first glance, you may think that a business and a conservation organization would be unlikely partners - but the acceptance of shared responsibility is embedded strongly in the constitution of our two global organizations, Mars and WWF. By matching WWF's conservation expertise with the ability of Mars to build consumer advocacy through innovative marketing campaigns, we can tap into the resources, knowledge and global reach of two organizations to sustain support for one of nature's most compelling species.
In 2013, WWF and Mars joined forces through the WHISKAS brand. A marketing campaign was built around the WHISKAS core brand belief in protecting the independence and well-being of little cats and the natural tie in to the well-being of big cats. Having witnessed the impact of the partnership in the UK, today we are announcing that we are expanding our partnership to other European markets.
Mars seeks to build the awareness and scale of successful brands like WHISKAS while driving consumer advocacy around global issues. Positive marketing that creates multiple benefits. In turn, WWF recognizes the challenges that the global environment faces today are too big, too interconnected and too urgent for any one organization to solve alone. Understanding the scale and complexity of the challenges, WWF partners with businesses, investors, consumers, governments and other civil society organizations to deliver sustainable solutions and meet our overall mission.
Mars and WWF have come together because we share a united belief: that the decline of tigers is reversible, that increasing tiger numbers and ending poaching is possible. Together we can achieve this. Together we can, if we act now, ensure tigers have a home for future generations.
And there is real hope. Nepal has brought down poaching to almost zero. In the far east of Russia, local Siberian tiger populations - the most threatened in the world - have for the first time shown signs of recovery.
This campaign is built on the foundation of Mars' strong sustainability commitments, including their new deforestation policy which applies to 100% of key raw materials including palm oil, sourced by Mars, and impacts directly on tiger habitat.
In 2010, Russia hosted what has become known as the 'Tiger Summit'. It was at this meeting that a global commitment was made to double the number of wild tigers - TX2 - by the next Chinese Year of the Tiger in 2022. A world with more tigers would benefit us all. A world without wild tigers cannot even be contemplated, yet that is what hangs in the balance.
On this Global Tiger Day, both of our organizations recognize that resources are desperately needed to win the war on poaching and secure key tiger habitats for nature's big cats.
We will use the power of our brands to raise those funds - setting a goal of raising over $4.5 million over the next three years. This is in excess of the $1.5 million that has already been raised. WWF will use that critical funding to put in place the programmes, equipment and people required to meet the objective of doubling the wild tiger population. If the fundraising target is achieved, Mars will become the single largest contributor to WWF's Tiger Alive Initiative - a major driving force behind the TX2 goal.
Mars (via its WHISKAS brand) and WWF are strengthening our commitment only because we have seen from our past work together that partnerships like ours, with the support of consumers, can have a major impact. We can really 'earn our stripes' by bringing business and civil society together in an effort to support tigers.
As an ancient Indonesian proverb says, the tiger guards the forest and the forest guards the tiger. We are all connected on this wonderful planet, our only home.
Marco Lambertini is the director general of WWF International, Frank Mars is the board director of Mars, Incorporated