Welcome to 2010, the Year of the Tiger! It can’t be a coincidence that this roar-inspiring New Year begins on Valentine’s Day. When viewing a tiger, our hearts cannot help but race. What better time to save the tigers than 2010. The hunt for solutions is on.
When I first heard the calling to dedicate my life to the environment in 2004, I started with one of my great passions -- tigers. I called WildAid and asked what I could do to help. They needed an event in San Francisco, and the rest is history. I then shifted my attention to forests, eco-fashion, global warming, greening, and so forth. When you choose the planet as your cause, there is no shortage of areas to focus on!
So in honor of this auspicious Year of the Tiger, I am returning to the tigers as one of my top priorities. Recent reports say that only an estimated 3,200 tigers remain. This is down from 7,000 in 1988. Overall, the tiger population has decreased 95 percent since 1900. Its range has decreased by 93 percent. Where in the world are tigers left? Here are the last-remaining bastions of hope: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Sumatra in Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
To save the tigers, we must address both supply and demand. Supply in the sense of creating tiger habitat and stopping poaching. Demand in the sense of quelling the insatiable appetite for tiger parts. Which organizations are making a difference for the tigers? I begin 2010 on a journey to find out.
World Wildlife Fund and TED Tigers
Tigers are a top conservation priority for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). As a first-time attendee of the TED conference this year, I was thrilled to be able to select in the gift bag of all places a fair trade ornament indicating my interest in saving the tigers. You can read more about TED Tigers here. Four of WWF's priority regions are essential for tiger conservation: Amur-Heilong in Russia (the Amur tiger), Sumatra in Indonesia (the Sumatran tiger), the Eastern Himalayas (the Bengal tiger), and the Mekong forests in Cambodia. In Mekong, tiger populations have dropped 70% since 1998, the last Year of the Tiger. Now is the time to turn this around.
Global Summits & Global Tiger Initiative
There was great news last week from the first Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation held in Thailand with ministers from 13 countries. The meeting was organized by the Global Tiger Initiative, a coalition formed by the World Bank, the Smithsonian Institute, and 40 conservation groups. It aims to double tiger numbers by 2020.
The president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, made an impassioned plea for tiger conservation. "I am extremely concerned about the rapid fall in tiger numbers around the world. This is the Year of the Tiger. We can make it truly a year for tigers. We need to point the way towards restoring and then growing tiger numbers throughout their ranges."
Let’s send good thoughts to the global tiger summit being held in late 2010 in Vladivostok, Russia. Hosted by the World Bank and Russia, the gathering will be a platform to make meaningful commitments to tigers.
WildAid and Wildlife Alliance
WildAid does outstanding work partnering with celebrities to publicize the saving of tigers, elephants and other endangered species. See their public ads with Jackie Chan, Olympic athletes, Kate Hudson, and other stars. As WildAid says, when the buying stops, the killing does too.
The Wildlife Alliance is a sister organization that operates on the ground. They go out into the field, create protected areas, and stop poachers and illegal dealers in their tracks. They are partnering with the Association of Southeast Asian Nation's Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) to build a regional law enforcement network to break up smuggling rings of wildlife traders. Now that is bad ass.
Save Forests, Save Tigers
It is eye-opening to learn about the connection between saving tropical forests and saving tigers. The Tesso Nilo rainforest in Indonesia is one of the last lowland tropical forests for the Sumatran tiger. It is home to 192 tigers (a 70% decline in the past quarter century) and 210 elephants (an 84% decline). The rainforest is disappearing rapidly because of clear-cutting. Two of the world's largest pulp and paper mills operate there, one owned by Asia Pulp & Paper.
One of the ways we can help to save the tigers is to avoid virgin paper from Indonesia and buy recycled paper instead. See the Rainforest Action Network’s recent excellent work shining a light on high-fashion buyers of Asia Pulp & Paper for their shopping bags.
The burning of rainforests for palm oil plantations is a second real threat to tigers. To help, we can avoid processed foods with palm oil. We will feel better and be helping our furry friends in the forest.
Traffic is an international wildlife trade monitoring network and a joint program of WWF and IUCN along with Wildaid. Their mission is to ensure that trade in wild animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. Traffic specializes in helping tigers and other iconic species like elephants (illegal ivory trade), snow leopards, and baby seals. Let's cut down on all types of trafficking in 2010 -- wildlife and human. Let's bring dignity back.
How We Can Help The Tigers
- Buy recycled paper
- Avoid products made with unsustainable palm oil
- Do not buy any Chinese medicine containing real tiger parts
- Promote the organizations featured above who are working daily for tiger survival. Let me know if you are fans of any others!
- Support sanctuaries that foster awareness, education and caring for big cats such as Tippi Hedren’s Shambala and Leopards Etc, the latter which hosts educational seminars with wild cat ambassadors
Losing the tigers would be like losing the Mona Lisa. When we save charismatic members of our animal kingdom like the tigers, we help to save countless other species and ourselves. We preserve the world’s magic and wonder that make life worth living. It is make or break time for the tigers. Let 2010 truly be their year, and ours!
Update September 2010: See Andrew Revkin's article in The New York Times entitled Saving Wild Tigers, with Apple's Help? He writes, "I have yet to receive an answer to a query I posed to press people at Apple after the launch of the Snow Leopard operating system last year — about whether they feel any obligation to help conserve the cats whose names they adopt for products."