By STEPHEN GORDON
The world’s tigers are in danger, and countries are joining together to save these wild cats from extinction. Given that the Chinese Year of the Tiger is upon us, it is only fitting that world wide efforts are concentrated on preserving this feral species.
After all, the global tiger population has decreased by almost 95 percent over the last 100 years, most of it from poaching. Just 100 years ago, over 100,000 tigers roamed jungle regions in Southeast Asia, India, China, Korea and other neighboring countries.
Now, according to new estimates, fewer than 7,500 tigers remain to claim their ancestral territory. This has tiger conservationists concerned, to say the least, about what fate may have in store for those tigers still thriving in their natural habitat. Because their freedom to stalk the wild may not last for long.
In just 50 years, three of the eight tiger sub-species — the Bali, Caspian and Javan tigers — have already become extinct. The Bali, which once flourished on that island nation, were wiped out during the 1940s; the Caspian, which were once found in nations ranging from Turkey to Mongolia, fell prey to extermination in the 1970s; and the Javan, which once lived on the Indonesian island of Java, were last seen in 1972 and were believed to have been completely eradicated in the 1980s.
This imposing threat of extinction has attracted interest from Exxon Corporation, which has pledged $6 million over the next five years toward saving the tigers of the world.
In conjunction with Exxon, the World Wildlife Fund has created the Emergency Fund for Tiger Conservation, and has already received $1 million in funding, which will go towards diminishing incidences of poaching and tackling legal issues which threaten to destroy the tiger’s natural habitat.
Surprisingly, negligence on the part of the U.S. has contributed greatly to the many risks that tigers face. Wildlife investigators found that more than 50 percent of retail stores surveyed in North American Chinatowns carried tiger products — despite a 20-year-old international ban. In 1996, 37 Oriental supermarkets and herb stores in the U.S. sold 17 products — including pills, plasters, wines and bones — containing tiger parts, which are considered exotic and rare delicacies, and are used in traditional Chinese medicine practices.
But the trading of tiger products is not confined solely to Chinese markets in the U.S. WWF considers the problem to be a global one, and held an international symposium in Hong Kong to raise awareness among traditional medicine practitioners about the tiger’s endangered status. It also encouraged these practitioners to consider alternatives to using tiger bones in East Asian medicine.
How these traditional practitioners respond, we shall see. However, they constitute only a small part of the problem. The real crisis is the depleted state of the tigers themselves, and their potential extinction. Unless urgent and immediate action is taken to preserve them, there may be no tigers left to commemorate the next Year of the Tiger in 2010. That will mean no more black and orange stripes, no more fascinating footage from National Geographic and no more Panthera tigris, period.
All that will remain is the tiger on the Kellogg’s cereal box.