(TIGERS) In the past ten years, the number of tigers living in the wild has decreased from 10,000 to an estimated 3,000. Duke University student Blake Bohlig warns that tigers are quickly approaching extinction despite conservation efforts and urges humans to “step it up.” With deforestation and poaching being the two main causes of the decline, Bohlig offers a seemingly simple solution to pay individuals to protect tigers rather than poach them in a means of supporting their families. Read on to learn more about her suggested solution and offer your thoughts in our comments section below. — Global Animal
Creating the new dam will push tigers out of their habitats. Photo Credit: National Fish and Wildlife Fund
There are more tigers living in American’s backyards than there are left in the wild. Photo Credit: National Fish and Wildlife Fund

“This Starts Now,” Blake Bohlig

Earlier this month, Rolex announced and honored the winners of the 2012 Rolex Awards for Enterprise in New Delhi, India. One of the winners and his team of six people work endlessly to preserve the endangered Siberian tiger. Although the work of the team is making significant progress, we need an answer for the tigers now—and I believe there is one.

In the last decade alone, tiger numbers have decreased from 10,000 to an estimated 3,000. The main causes of the decline in tiger populations are deforestation and poaching, yielding big bucks for tigers on the black market for uses in traditional Chinese Medicines.

Society is making a difference. China has placed a ban on poaching tigers, installed more severe punishments for poaching and installed tiger zoos. People like the winner of the Rolex award are working for the preservation of these creatures, but the consequences of the extinction of the tigers are alarming. We must do more to protect these creatures for the tigers’ sake, and ours.

CITES secretary-general, Willem Wijnstekers said, “If we use tiger numbers as a performance indicator, then we must admit that we have failed miserably, and we are continuing to fail.” In other words, we need to step it up.

These efforts have lead to fewer tiger deaths in 2011 than in previous years, yet tigers are still approaching extinction, just at a slower rate—this is not enough.

This masks the real problem, though—a problem that will respond if we give it the attention that it so readily deserves.

The majority of tigers are not killed by habitat destruction or human over-population, but rather by poachers attempting to support their families via the black market for traditional Chinese medicines. A tiger is worth up to $200,000  (almost four times the average annual income of a Chinese family) on the black market.

What we have here is a moral dilemma. If you found yourself in a dilemma between killing a tiger and supporting your family for four years, which would you choose? Now, imagine if killing a tiger meant feeding, clothing, and educating your children. What would you do? Killing only one tiger every few years to support one’s family does not seem downright unreasonable if we were in another’s shoes.

However, this means that, by 2030, all tigers will be extinct. This will cause an enormous disruption in our delicate ecosystem and ultimately have negative effects on us. The animals that tigers hunt would experience a population surge and would begin to exhaust their food sources. As they look for additional food sources, they could wander into farming fields and destroy our crops. The subsequent negative effects will continue and create a snowball effect, ultimately wreaking havoc on us.

There is a solution, though: If tigers are being poached—we protect them; if they are being poached for economic reasons—we pay people to protect them.

This requires investment. First we need private investment to create ecosystems in which the tigers can flourish. Then, we need public investment in the form of training and education to facilitate the program.

Additionally, I’d like to point out that although the growing human population may seem like an obstacle, we can use it to our advantage. The growing population means that our educational efforts can be exponentially spread in the future as each generation shares the importance of protecting tigers with its youth.

We are late to address this pressing problem, but that is not to say that it is impossible to solve. Humans have a deep, intuitive drive for a better standard of living and innovation. If we can become invested in part of the tigers’ journey back from extinction, we will become successful. There is still hope for the tiger, and it starts with you.