Actor Dick Van Dyke has been named an official Year of the Tiger Ambassador by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and will help the organization promote tiger conservation.

With as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild, Van Dyke will help WWF raise awareness and funds for tiger conservation with the goal of doubling wild tiger populations by 2022.

“Who would have thought that I might outlive one of the most majestic species to ever walk the planet,” stated Van Dyke. “When I learned that tigers, which numbered close to 80,000 when I was born in the 1920’s, were closing in on extinction, I was stunned.”

The latest celebrity to aid WWF’s efforts in bringing back tiger populations, joining previously announced supporters Leonardo DiCaprio and Ethan Suplee, Van Dyke recently filmed a video spot encouraging people to donate $10 towards tiger conservation by sending a text message from a cell phone with the word “TIGERS” in it to the number 20222.

“It’s amazing — just a few years ago we had to pull out the checkbook and mail off a check to donate money,” stated Van Dyke. “Now, just by texting ‘TIGERS’ to 20222, we can donate $10 towards protecting tiger habitat and cracking down on poaching. It couldn’t get any simpler.”

Yesterday on Capitol Hill WWF experts Sybille Klenzendorf, managing director of the Species Conservation Program, and Crawford Allan, director of TRAFFIC-North America, will participate in a congressional briefing, sponsored by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), to discuss the state of wild tigers and current efforts to ensure their survival.

Klenzendorf and Allan will also discuss how the U.S. can aid in doubling tiger populations over the next decade, including sending a high-level representative from the Obama administration to this fall’s Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and World Bank President Robert Zoellick. Other issues to be talked about include the need for stricter U.S. laws regulating captive tigers — there are more tigers in captivity in the U.S. than in the wild around the world — and increased U.S. funding and technical support for tiger conservation in Asia.

Tiger populations are shrinking fast, as the species is severely threatened by habitat loss and poaching. Their skins, bones and other body parts are used in many cultures as medicines, talismans, status symbols and clothing. But tigers can thrive if they have strong protection from poaching and habitat loss and enough prey to eat.

This is the first time WWF has used mobile fundraising and all of the donations received will be earmarked directly for tiger conservation. In addition to “Texting for Tigers,” WWF is encouraging people on Facebook and Twitter to spread awareness about the current plight of tigers. Supporters can use WWF’s Facebook application to add a tiger mask, tiger stripes or paw prints to their profile pictures and tag all of their tweets with #savetigersnow.

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