To focus on the negative side of any issue is the specialty of journalists.
In a “Tiger Summit” at St. Petersburg, Russia, from November 22-24, concerned leaders met to discuss how to prevent the extinction of the big cats known for their fierce beauty and mythical powers.
But if you are to read the reports filed by journalists, the battle is already lost. Tigers are on their way out and we will be left only with stories by Rudyard Kipling and others about how these animals lived, loved and died.
The statistics is certainly grim. Only about 3,200 tigers remain in the wild. Compare that to the more than 100,000 that roamed the jungles a century ago. At this rate, tigers could be extinct by 2022.
The enemies are poachers and humanity’s relentless usurping of tiger habitats. Poachers can command anywhere from $11,000-$21,000 dollars for tiger skins. Bones can be sold for $1,000. These are prized particularly by the Chinese for their supposedly medicinal values and as aphrodisiacs.
The situation in India is particularly grim. The tiger population there has fallen to 1,411, from about 3,700 estimated to be alive in 2002 and the 40,000 estimated to be roaming across India at the time of independence in 1947. Poachers use the porous border with Nepal to continue their trade with rich clients.
The government has cracked down hard on these thugs but industrial expansion and dams near protected reserves are also taking a heavy toll on the cats. A comprehensive plan to protect the habitats has recently gone into effect.
Bangladesh is home to about 400 Royal Bengal tigers in the Sunderban (beautiful forest), a unique mangrove ecosystem in the southern part of the country. The government is determined to protect and increase their numbers, a move supported by Bangladeshis. Other countries with tiger population include Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Malaysia, Myanmar, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Nepal, and Indonesia.
While there are serious obstacles to protecting tigers from poaching and encroachments, a concerted effort by leaders of the “tiger countries” can overcome them. The “Tiger Summit” is a step in the right direction. The summit has approved a wide-ranging program to double the world's tiger population in the wild by 2022. It has also produced a declaration of commitment from government leaders of the 13 countries where these magnificent creatures dwell.
In 1794, the poet William Blake wrote:
“Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
It is easy to be discouraged in these cynical times but when it comes to preserving species threatened with extinction, we often heed our better angels. Tigers will continue to burn bright in the forests of the night. We will rise to the challenge of ensuring that these light are never dimmed.