International Tiger Day 2019

Photo credit: BBC America

Tigers have always been my favourite creatures on this earth. It is for this reason I am angry with myself for not having posted a word about them since 2015; and it is because, by some estimates, nearly ninety-seven percent of their species has been lost in the last century, including entire subspecies, that I am ashamed. The unconscionable horrors of tiger farms persist, in China in particular, to this very day, and their intentionally starved populations, along with those in zoos and other forms of captivity (including American households), has brought us to a tragic juncture whereupon more tigers worldwide live as prisoners than as the wild animals, and keystone species upon which whole ecosystems depend, that they are.

In celebration of International Tiger Day, India prime minister Narendra Modi has released the All India Tiger Estimation report, which has been made accessible online to all. Modi has announced a 33% increase in Indian tiger numbers and a doubling of the overall population in the last twelve years, four years in advance of the 2022 deadline. While this is certainly a milestone worth celebrating in theory, it is not without its complications. As others have pointed out, more tigers doesn’t equal more habitat, and an over-saturation of tigers coexisting in unnaturally small zones of protected forest (individual tigers require territories of up to 100 square kilometers) could prove catastrophic both for their ability to find enough prey and for the prey populations themselves.

This, of course, is also to say nothing of tigers outside India which do not enjoy the same protections. It is a testament to just how harrowing their situation is that seventy percent of tigers left worldwide belong to this Bengal subspecies of India, which is just one of six globally. As late as 2010, there were still nine subspecies left from the original twelve. We can celebrate the doubling of one species but the trajectory for tigers at large is accelerating downward at a rapid clip.

Increasing tiger populations alone, meanwhile, is not a long term or sustainable solution. Protected habitat for all subspecies must exponentially expand, and fast, or at least reach some approximate scope of territory natural to these animals and the ecosystems on which they rely (and which, again, rely on them). With this in mind, please donate whatever is in your means to initiatives such as the World Wildlife Fund’s global Save Tigers Now campaign. In addition, please do your own research and educate others. Together we can save this most majestic and rare of apex predators. For they are, as all inhabitants of our planet, part of us. One with us. Their rescue, in the end, our own.

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