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domingo, febrero 14, 2010

Happy Year Of The (Almost Extinct) Tiger

Tiger In Captivity

The Tiger is almost extinct. This situation is beyond disquieting. It's a very scary, dire one for our small planet. As Meteor Blades wrote yesterday

"Sometimes fury and despair are the only responses that one can come up with. It seems as if nothing anybody does - laws, scoldings, appeals to people's better nature - will stop this needless, heedless destruction.

Tigers are the top of the jungle food chain. They're "megafauna", the kind of big, well known animal that is an indicator of the jungle's health. When there are many, and they are healthy, the jungle, an interconnected web of life of many interdependent species of animals and plants, is healthy. And when there are few, in fact, so few that extinction of the largest animal in the ecosystem is a distinct possibility, it means the jungle is dying, if not the planet. It means that the first, large feline extinction since the sabre toothed tiger is around the corner. And that is not a cause, but a symptom of the dying of Earth.

Today, February 14, is the New Year of the Year of the Tiger. Time reports:
The Year of the Tiger begins on Feb. 14, which should mean good things for the world. In Chinese astrology, tigers are known as bold and independent, good luck against fire and thieves.

But if the Year of the Tiger ends up being anything like every other year over the past few decades, it won't be very good for tigers themselves. The princely animals are among the most endangered species on the planet. In the wild, they number fewer than 3,000; their habitat, which once stretched in Asia from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea, has shrunk by more than 90% over the past century, and it's shrinking still. "We once had more than 100,000 of these animals," says Sybille Klenzendorf, the director of the World Wildlife Fund's U.S. Species Conservation Program. "There's a real chance that we will lose this animal in our own lifetime."

There are many threats to the tiger's survival. They are easily categorized:

[Tigers] face a battle on many fronts: tigers are threatened by deforestation, hunting and the illegal trade of their bones and other parts, which are used in some forms of traditional Chinese medicine, mostly for consumers in Asia.

But one of the most unexpected threats to the tiger comes here in the U.S., where there are more tigers kept in private captivity then there are surviving wild animals left in the world. ...conservationists worry that captive tigers could too easily end up fueling the illegal global wildlife trade.

This is a very ugly picture. And the bottom line is extinction. And death.

I've been obsessed with the loss of the tigers. It has filled me with grief, despair, anger, and rage. Why? A brief review might help to explain my feelings, if you've not been following this:

More tigers are kept in captivity in the U.S. than are left in the wild -- and there are few regulations to keep these tigers from ending up on the black market. The largest numbers of captive tigers are in Texas (an estimated 3,000+), but they are also kept in other states.

With pelts selling for $20,000 and a single paw worth as much as $1,000, the value of a dead tiger has never been higher, say those who investigate the trade. Last month the Indian government announced a surge in killings of tigers by poachers, with 88 found dead in 2009, double the previous year. Because figures are based on carcasses found on reserves or tiger parts seized at border crossings, conservationists say the true number is far higher.

It's disgraceful. I am worried that tigers might be becoming extinct. I have written some essays about that (this is the third). The idea that tigers are becoming extinct is making me ill: it brings on feelings of anger, sadness, despair, grief, longing, anger, rage, frustration. I find myself thinking about it. Constantly. I don't understand why humans allow this sort of depredation of the planet, and why in general they remain oblivious to it. So I write my essays. I would scream and yell, but I doubt anyone would hear me.

I am painfully aware that I have no idea what to do to prevent the extinction of tigers. I have no plan. As small, interim steps, I suggest support for the following:

Big Cat Rescue

World Wildlife Fund

Wildlife Conservation Society

I also suggest spreading the story of this extinction far and wide. The situation merits serious attention. Yes, the tiger is not alone in facing extinction; there are several large cats across the world that also face extinction. These include the Iberian Lynx, the Florida Panther, and jaguars throughout Central America. But the tiger, because of the Chinese Zodiac, is right now the most visible animal humans are driving into extinction. That is a story that needs to be told. It needs to be reflected upon. And it merits serious discussion about just what can be done to save the tiger and spare the planet.

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