We need to talk about tigers - help us tell the tiger's tale
Jul 21, 2017
As manager of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s TigerTime Campaign I have a vested interest in all things ‘tiger’. Part of TigerTime’s role is to spread awareness of the plight of the wild tiger so I am especially interested in how tigers are portrayed in the mainstream media.
In the last month, column inches in UK publications both online and in print, have been dedicated to multiple births at tiger breeding facilities in China, how a Ferris wheel will be replaced by a tiger exhibit at a theme park and the death of an ancient zoo specimen; the cute, the sideshow and the loved are lauded but there’s little reference or connection to the wild and the forgotten.
The wild tiger’s tale is not a happy one. At the hands of humans we have systematically destroyed this magnificent species. In India alone we’ve been responsible for the death of c.97,000 tigers. At the beginning of the last century there were an estimated 100,000 tigers in India, today optimists suggest it’s c.2,226. In Russia a 10,000 strong population was massacred to as few as 100 in the 1990s. Concerted conservation efforts by international coalitions have pushed the numbers up to a still vulnerable 540 and elsewhere tigers exist in fragmented and fragile habitats. The Balinese and the Javan tigers are both extinct.
But where is this story in our mainstream press? Where is the horror of the poacher’s trap, the tiger that bit off its own foot to escape and died of starvation, the millions being made from the death and trade of wild tigers? Trapped, skinned, stolen, consumed, persecuted, annihilated.
I wondered whether it was because horror and loss doesn’t sell newspapers. But that is plainly not true as is evidenced by the coverage of terrorist attacks; 9/11, Paris, Manchester, London. Yet, every day conservationists, governments and rangers wage a war against the horrors of wildlife crime, the continuing attack on our planet’s natural resources, wildlife and wild spaces - attacks that are as planned, as calculated and as cruel - if not crueller because they are based not on ideology but principally on greed.
Terrorist attacks in our cities are high profile - designed to shock - designed to disrupt - designed to kill - designed to hi-jack the world media who are forced to highlight the horror and by association the cause pushing terrorism to the top of the international agenda.
Wildlife crime is no less horrific, it is speciocide in plain sight. Yet the threat to wildlife, to entire species and ecosystems, the very systems that help us all survive on this planet, does not attract much media attention. It is only through the championing of the cause by high level supporters like the Duke of Cambridge that the media turns its eye to the issues. But, with the Duke focussed on elephants and rhino, the wild tiger and its diminishing hold on existence is rarely mentioned.
In 2015, when an American journalist asked then US President Barack Obama, who had recently negotiated landmark ivory bans with China’s President Xi Jinping, why tigers were not on his agenda he replied ‘because they are not on yours’.
It's time to change the agenda. It’s time to tell the tiger’s tale, to look at how each of us can contribute to raising the profile of this much-loved but deeply beleaguered big cat. We need to remind the world that this is a precious creature, an umbrella species under which thousands of organisms thrive; a creature thats very existence means that the forests it inhabits, that support us all, are healthy. We can’t sit around waiting for a Duke to raise the issue of wildlife crime and hope that wild tigers get a mention. We have to face the unbearable truth that each time this king of the jungle is silently slaughtered to make a criminal richer that the world we live in becomes infinitely poorer.
To mark World Tiger Day on July 29 we want to celebrate the tiger – we want you to help us tell the tiger’s tale.
Whether, like me, tigers (real and imagined) have walked beside you since your mum read you The Tiger That Came to Tea or you’ve photographed them in the wild, had a close encounter, heard stories around the camp fire, or you work to protect them we’d love to hear from you.
Let’s kill the complacency and start talking tigers before it’s too late.
Written by: Vicky Flynn - TigerTime Manager
Photos by James Warwick
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