How would we explain it? What would we say to future generations? How would we defend ourselves? That we had the knowledge and the means to do something about it but did not? That we allowed one of the most majestic creatures ever to have graced this planet to become extinct in the wild?
Recent estimates put the number of tigers in India at under 1400 and declining. The largest cat on Earth, the Siberian or Amur Tiger numbers less than 400 in the wild. These are only estimates, which means there are large margins of error. The government in India is not known internationally for its honesty in these matters, and would conceivably inflate the figures. It is something of a shameful indictment on us that there are more privately owned tigers in the United States alone than there are in the wild in the rest of the world.
I am not ordinarily given to the blame game, but in this case knowing the cause of the decline is important.
Poaching. Particularly by the Chinese for use in medicine. I completely fail to see the logic of the Chinese who seem to be utterly indifferent about wiping out entire species on this planet in order to make soup, or some other ridiculous concoction for what they claim to be medicinal. Tigers, rhino, elephants and sharks are all on their radar. Let’s also not forget the role of the British historically, who, during the time of their Empire, made a sport out of killing hundreds of thousands of tigers in India. Destruction of habitat has also led to a loss of several tiger species already, including the Javan and Bali tigers, and of course, the burgeoning human population in India is encroaching on the habitats of tigers there.
Hunting an animal to extinction is just utterly stupid, even for economic reasons. Not only is a magnificent organism removed from the wild forever, but also entire ecosystems can collapse due to disruptions in the food chain. A forest in India, for example, can be judged to be healthy if a tiger is present in it. The loss of a tiger to its native environment may not be apparent straight away but will become evident after many years. Unfortunately, most of the governments on Earth, and especially in India, have never been especially far-sighted.
The problem of such small numbers remaining in the wild is that there needs to be enough genetic diversity within a population in order for a species to survive. With such few numbers, there is less diversity in the gene pool to maintain a healthy population that is resistant to disease and genetic defects. An effort to reintroduce pumas in Florida, for example, had so few numbers to start with that a lot of inbreeding took place and subsequently many of the resulting generations exhibited genetic defects.
My point is that it may already be too late to preserve this (and many other endangered) species. And even if we stopped all hunting and habitat destruction now, we would still have to wait for many, many generations over many decades for the species to gain enough diversity to recover and be self-sufficient in the wild. I certainly would not be alive to see that happen, and I am still young!
So, you can understand my anger and frustration that not enough is being done to prevent the extermination of an enchanting animal that has no vanity or concept of its own elegance, but one that still enthrals everyone that sees it.
I have yet to see a tiger in the wild, and I dare say that time is running out if I ever intend to do so. All the photos you see here were taken of tigers in captivity. I have always been more enamoured with the photogenic appeal of the tiger rather than its place in its environment, and so where I have photographed them has never really bothered me. But I would gladly give up the opportunity to photograph them at all if I knew that they had a secure and abundant future in their native environment.
Well, there's my rant. Now enjoy the photos!
This magnificent portrait was shot by my awesome friend Lisa and she has kindly allowed me to use it here. Thanks Lise!
There's me about to become lunch!