Thursday, March 29, 2012


Tigers aren’t on Facebook. It’s a pity though, for then they would’ve known how much we care. After all, there’s a new ‘save the tiger’ campaign in town. Television channels and matinee idols can’t stop gushing about it and the social network is simmering with hope and consternation. But the problem is, bloggers aren’t loggers and the guys busy hacking down forests and tigers just don’t have the mood or the means to ‘roar for the tiger’ on Facebook, or the patience for conservation documentaries and signature campaigns. If the tigers, our forests, our conscience and our future are to be saved, it would require concrete, consistent and sustainable steps from you and me and everybody who cares. We would need to change lives and perspectives for a whole lot of people before we can even begin to make a difference to a tiger’s today and tomorrow... The idea of conserving a species or an eco-system is dysfunctional and is doomed because it hopes to stop time, and time would have none of it. Instead of seeking to preserve tigers in reserves, like pickled residues of the past, we need to assertively reclaim lost ground for our forests, its denizens and us, and carve out a progressive and dynamic future for our world, one that we share with the tiger... But more of that later. Th is issue, while the campaign picks up steam on our screens at home and work, allow me to set the tone for future discussions with a reaction to the previous ‘save the tiger campaign’. In the next few issues I will try and focus on each aspect of tiger conservation - protection from poaching and habitat destruction, conservation incentives for stakeholders and reduction of man-animal conflicts, and lay out concrete steps for both state and non-state actors as well as for us key-pad pushers. Until then, tigers and us, let’s all hang in there...

So you want to save the tiger? You’ve seen the Save Our Tigers campaign and that cute little tiger cub, all scared and lonely in the big bad world, waiting for a mother who’ll never return. Your heart goes out to that cub… you want to cradle it in your arms, and protect it from all the evil in the world. So what do you do? You go on Facebook and post a comment. Something inane like “We must save tigers… little cub’s cho chweet. Spread the message….” or something shockingly stupid like “I’d do anything for the tiger and this is the best way”.

Other well meaning fools, nearly 100,000 strong and counting, have gone on to Aircel’s campaign website and ‘joined the roar’. Forgive me folks, I know you are well-intentioned people but what good is your name on a tiger’s picture that says ‘you’re roaring for the tiger’ for a tigress roaring in agony in the forest. Her bleeding paw is caught in a steel-jawed trap. Footsteps hurry towards her. They don’t bode well. She tries to shake her paw free but the steel-jaws bite deeper. She struggles some more. In desperation, she gnaws through her trapped front paw… her anguished roars seem to draw blood from the hills that surround her. But alas, it’s too late... the poachers, bedraggled men with a hungry look in their eyes surround her and spear her with crude lances… she turns around to fight, snarling and swiping with her free paw, but in vain. Her strength ebbs… the roaring shudders to a muffled groan and a once magnificent beast is reduced to a lacerated lifeless body. Her beautiful skin is cut open by the men, its organs and bones removed with an efficiency that tells you that these men have done this earlier… and will do it again.

What will stop them? Your Facebook posts? And what good is your post for that starving cub, pining for the tigress’ return until it is too weak to breathe. Far too emaciated now to look ‘chweet’, its dull skin clings to the bones. Th ose baby eyes no longer look upon the world with wonder for the light’s gone out of them.

Soon, it too will be food for worms, yet another statistic that should tell you that mere words don’t matter. They can’t feed nor protect tigers. Somewhere right now, as you read this, a tiger lies dying. The pen might have been mightier than the sword, but what good is it against hunger and greed, against poverty and stupidity, against corruption and insecurity?

Let me break the problem down for you…

One post said “We must stop buying tiger products and the killing would stop too”. Now, who do you know who buys tiger products? No one! The market for tiger parts is China, where limp egos hope to find a peg to hang their insecurities on by borrowing a tiger’s virility. So they drink tiger-penis soup and use its bones for its perceived medicinal properties, though there isn’t a shred of scientific evidence to support it. But sexual insecurity is perhaps the world’s greatest motivator (Hitler, it’s rumoured, had only one testicle) and many Chinese are willing to pay huge sums for a piece of the tiger. Th is demand triggers the network which, through vile middlemen, reaches the poor tribal whose desperate poverty makes a poacher out of him.

Here’s what to we can do…

1. Reach out to the Chinese. Share our perspective and help them understand that tiger parts won’t ‘give them a lift ’. There’s a growing movement amongst Chinese TCM practitioners who’re offering vegetarian alternatives while wildlife activists are spreading awareness about tiger conservation. Partner them in their mission and spread the message across China, without irresponsible jingoism, and appeal to a neighbour’s better judgement, pledging help and seeking empathy. And Aircel, your charming campaign’s tugging at the wrong hearts, but the right customers. Question is, what will you do about it?

2. Lobby and urge the government to recruit forest guards from local communities and fill up vacancies. Positions have remained vacant for nearly two decades. These units are understaffed, under paid, untrained and too old to be any good in the field. Start a fund to pay and train them or donate to an NGO that does.

3. Lastly, urge companies that benefit from eco-tourism, and receive your business (hotels, travel companies etc) to employ people from local forest communities and start welfare initiatives within the community. It’s in their best interests to share the spoils for it is an investment, for when the tiger disappears, so would their businesses. Also, through employment etc, the communities will realise that the tiger is worth more alive than dead, and therefore involve themselves in the conservation process, becoming informants, guardians and willing partners in arms against poaching.

If you want to save the tiger, only this will help and little else would… You can make a difference, but whether you want to make a difference and roar for the tiger or for a mobile service company is up to you.


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