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Hollywood giants Harrison Ford, Bo Derek, and Robert Duvall attended an event yesterday to throw their support behind a new global initiative by the World Bank to save tigers from extinction.

The event, held at Washington’s Smithsonian National Zoo, launched the global development agency’s new Tiger Conservation Initiative, a program that will bring together scientists and governments to try to halt the killing and illegal trade in tiger skins, meat and body parts used in traditional Asian medicines.

“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,” said Ford, Indiana Jones star and environmental warrior. “By committing to help wild tigers, the World Bank is sounding its intention to be a global leader in biodiversity conservation.”

The initiative will focus on 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. World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the decline in the number of tigers was “shocking” – from over 100,000 a century ago to currently less than 4,000.

The program will work with local populations to ensure the species is conserved, and the World Bank will hold a series of discussions with countries, conservationists and the private sector to initiate funding for tiger conservation, and launch studies on how better to protect the cats.

Actress Bo Derek, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s Special Envoy for Wildlife Trafficking, said she will focus her efforts on public awareness of the problem.

“It was very embarrassing for me to find out that the U.S. is number 2 in consuming endangered wildlife,” said the 51-year-old. “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.”

Robert Duvall also voiced his concerns.

“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.”

The World Bank is planning to host a “Year of the Tiger” summit in 2010 to provide a forum for those involved in tiger conservation to review the status of the wild tigers and their habitant.

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