My blog has a focus - learning and education in the enterprise. I do my best to not divert from this focus. Unless of course, there's something I really feel strongly about. First things first, there are just 3200 odd tigers left in the wild today. Of those about 1400 odd tigers are in India - most people believe this country to have the best chance of bringing the tiger back from extinction. First things first, I'm not a natural conservationist. I'm more an inspired wildlife enthusiast. I'm inspired by my friend and colleague Chirdeep Shetty, who has spent several months in the forests doing his bit to help with tiger conservation. Recently Chirdeep did a moving presentation about tiger conservation and his message has stuck with me. The least I can do is to echo Chirdeep's words and do my individual best to save our tigers. If by the end of this article, you feel that this is important enough, do what you can to spread the word and make a difference.
Why Care about Tigers?
The tiger is an apex predator. If nothing, my school biology lessons told me that nature is a game of balance. To save a creature at the top of the food chain, you need to save the members of the pyramid under it. Which means that you save prey animals, plants, scavengers, insects, birds and every other piece of our bio-diversity puzzle. Let me outline a few reasons we absolutely need to care about this issue:
- Saving the tiger saves the bio-diversity of our forests. The moment tigers go extinct, we'll see an overpopulation of prey species, followed by a destruction of plant species, followed by several other snowball effects.
- Saving the tiger saves our forest areas. Tigers are territorial animals and need between 20-80 sq km of forest land per cat. Each tiger saved leads to 50 sq km of forest land saved.
- Saving the tiger saves our rivers. In India, 600 river sources reside in our forests. The day forests go away, the reservoirs go away too! What will we do without water?
- Saving the tiger helps medical research. The forests are a home to various plant species that are important ingredients in alternative medicine. When the forests disappear, where will we get new medicines from?
- Saving the tiger helps employment. India in particular gets millions of dollars of revenue from wildlife tourism, purely centered around the tiger. The day the tiger disappears, the money and employment from this activity will go away. Where do we employ the thousands of people working in wildlife tourism?
- Saving the tiger is a question of national identity. The tiger is our national animal. It makes heaps of sense to save our tigers, lest we lose our national identity.
What Threatens the Tigers?
In recent years, tiger populations have been shrinking. From over 100,000 tigers in the world at the turn of the previous century we've killed most of them to leave just over 3000 on the face of the earth today. Tiger populations face several threats today, including but not limited to habitat loss, human-animal conflict and territorial fights. Shekar Dattari's amazing movie - The Truth about Tigers outlines the several issues that plague the tiger's survival today. The single biggest threat to the tigers today is organised poaching. Worldwide demand for tiger parts, where a tiger skin can fetch upto $25,000 is a death knell for the big cats. The biggest concentration of demand is in China and Tibet, where tiger parts for medicine and as a sign of luxury and status is wiping out tiger populations from all over the world, particularly India. The South China tiger is near extinct. The Balinese and Javan tigers are extinct. The Sumatran tiger as well as the Indo-Chinese tiger and Siberian tiger are struggling. The demand is so high that a poor Indian struggling to make ends meet, can earn Rs.50,000 (about $1000) in the black market for supplying a tiger skin. That's life changing money and is a big enough risk for a poor man to take. As long as the demand continues, the killing can't stop.
What Can We Do to Save the Tigers?
Saving tigers takes steps both at the micro and macro level. There's always the question of political will, international cooperation and the skill of forest officials, when it comes to save this magnificent beast. It's easy to believe that we can't influence such big things. That said, every large movement has small efforts that count. Here's what I think all of us can do:
- Be a responsible eco-tourist: It takes less than Rs 150/- (about $3) to visit a tiger reserve like Ranthambore. By discovering our natural heritage, we understand our animals better and can offer constructive solutions for their protection. Our photographs make for great stories to tell our families and to bring them into the conservation fold.
- Raise your voice: Repeat yourself and speak untiringly about the welfare of our tigers. It's not enough to say things once and to then let the drama unfold. Make a presentation to your colleagues, blog about the issue, tweet, talk to anyone who's willing to listen. Awareness about the issue helps our tigers in a big way. Raising international awareness stops the demand for tiger parts. Raising local awareness creates a voice that's big enough for our politicians to listen to and demonstrate their will.
- Donate to the cause: I'm so pleased that NDTV's tiger campaign has been able to raise enough money to buy Rapid Response Kits for almost every reserve of significance in India. I've made a donation that I could afford. Every little bit counts, so don't feel overwhelmed by the size of the problem. If you can afford it, buy the 2011 cats calendar and help conservation. There's also the Dakini Tiger Campaign. There are several ways to donate, find the one that you like.
- Volunteer your help: I'm volunteering a month's time next year, to any tiger saving effort that can use my time. I'm yet to receive a response, but I'm sure I'll get one by the time I'm ready. WWF India gives you a fantastic opportunity to volunteer your time to save our tigers.
- Be responsible in the use of natural resources: Firstly, do not buy any illegal animal products regardless of how small they seem. I've seen people wear tiger teeth and claws. It seems like a small thing, but that comes from another dead tiger. On a more daily note -- we need to find ways to use less paper. In an age of electronic media, we're in a place where we can bring down our paper usage in a big way. Let's find ways to reduce our timber usage - I understand having teakwood furniture feels good, but let's think of the trees we cut to get the awesome furniture in our homes. That leads to a smaller habitat for the tiger!
- Keep the faith: We can't save the tiger if we don't believe we can. We need to believe in the power of democracy to make change. We need to keep creating the pressure via our social networks, newspapers and news channels. If we can force our governments to show the right kind of will and protect the tiger, the numbers are likely to multiply quite fast.
I feel very passionately about saving the tiger and I'm touched by the efforts of the Aircel-NDTV team and the amount of momentum I've seen on the Twitter stream today. I've seen a huge number of educated Indians get together as a collective for something that seems like a national event. This is the power of democracy and an example of what a large group of people can do if we can put our minds to it. If you don't feel convinced by the efforts of a certain group, please find a way to do something yourself. Just don't be an armchair critic.
I want to end this post with a quote from the world's largest (and one of it's most ancient) epic - The Mahabharata. Let's remember that even our ancestors understood the benefit of saving our tigers. It's time we understood the benefit too.
“Do not cut down the forest with its tigers and do not banish the tigers from the forest; the tiger perishes without the forest and the forest perishes without its tigers” - Mahabharata, 400 BCE