How to Save the Tiger

Commentary by Luke Hunter, special to mongabay.com
July 19, 2011





We are losing the tiger. Two hundred years ago, Asia’s great cat numbered in the hundreds of thousands and inhabited virtually the entire continent, from Siberia to Turkey, and Afghanistan to Bali. Today there are, at best, around 3,200 wild tigers left. The tiger is extinct in at least 14 countries and hangs on in only 7% of the habitat it once occupied - tiny, mostly isolated fragments in what was once an ocean of forest. Three sub-species, from Bali, Java and Central Asia are lost forever, and a fourth, the South China tiger has not been recorded in the wild for over a decade.

The reason, of course, is people. For centuries, we have killed tigers, hunted their prey and cleared their habitat. In India alone, an estimated 80,000 tigers were hunted under British Colonial rule between 1875 and 1925- a staggering 1,600 tigers each year. That’s almost exactly the entire population of tigers in India today.


Luke Hunter.


GPS unit next to a tiger footprint.
Thankfully, the excesses of British and Indian aristocracy blasting away at tigers from elephant-back will never be repeated. However, the species is still hunted to this day. In fact, depending on the region, humans cause up to 83% of tiger deaths, mostly to feed a massive demand for tiger body parts in China and Southeast Asia. There, tigers are consumed as a combined status symbol and ‘traditional remedy’ for everything from impotence to arthritis.

There is nothing medicinal about tigers. Tiger parts and their derivatives, like popular tiger-bone wine, have as much medicinal value as eating beef. It doesn’t matter that science can show this unequivocally; hundreds of millions of Chinese still believe in the tiger’s near supernatural powers, and so tigers will continue to be killed. Attempts to close China’s massive, porous border to smugglers only scratches the surface and it will probably take a generational turnover for the ‘old beliefs’ in China to be replaced by more enlightened attitudes. The simple truth is, if we are to save tigers, we have to stop the killing.

This month, two of the most influential tiger conservation groups joined forces to do just that. My organization Panthera and the Save the Tiger Fund have teamed up to aim a blowtorch at the tiger-killing crisis. The combined effort and pooled funds will be a game changer for how tigers and their habitats are secured by applying successful models of tiger conservation to the heart of the issue, directly in the killing zones. And, yes, those models already exist. Our Tigers Forever program combines a singular focus on intensive, well-trained, well-funded and well-monitored enforcement - the boots on the ground patrolling key tiger areas- with meticulous vigilance on tigers and their prey. It is a simple, proven recipe for saving tigers; if we do a good job of protecting tigers and their prey at the site, the big cats will do the rest.



Save the Tiger Fund and Panthera agree that we cannot be distracted from this focus. There are many things that we could do, many things that perhaps might help, but it is dangerous to say “we must try everything!” We know how to save tigers; the essential, missing piece is a hard-nosed focus instead of plodding through the long shopping-list of activities that have been thrown at the problem for the last decade, and mostly failed. If every dollar, every work-day, every commitment was steered towards protecting tigers from poaching in the wild, we would save the species. We hope the new STF-Panthera union is the catalyst for this paradigm shift. If we want to save the tiger, we cannot afford the alternative.


Luke Hunter.


Dr. Luke Hunter serves as Panthera’s President where he oversees the direction and strategy of all of the organization’s global wild cat conservation programs. Dr. Hunter has conducted fieldwork on large cats in Africa since 1992.















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CITATION:
Commentary by Luke Hunter, special to mongabay.com (July 19, 2011).

How to Save the Tiger.

http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0719-hunter_save_tigers.html