​More global work needs to be done to protect wild tigers

By Manisha Chakraborty
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, August 21, 2018
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William Blake's classic poem, titled "Tyger Tyger, burning bright," beautifully delineated a splendid image about the majestic and muscular appearance of the largest of the world's cat family that captivated everyone's minds with its robust body, glistening orange fur with black stripes, radiant eyes and steadfast gaze.

Siberian tigers play during wild training at the Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Jan. 28, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

But unfortunately, wild tigers are now fighting with the imminent threat of extinction throughout the world. According to the latest World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimate (2016), there are only 3,890 tigers left in the wild across 12 Asian countries and in Russia, while at the beginning of the 20th century their number exceeded 100,000.

It's a matter of great concern that over 95 percent of the world's wild tiger population has disappeared due to poaching and habitat loss from excessive logging and industrial development. As such, the dwindling population of wild tigers is a wake-up call for all tiger range governments including India and China to save this beautiful creature, a real heritage of the entire world, before it becomes merely a symbol of a bygone era.

Tigers have been part of the rich texture of both Indian and Chinese culture for centuries. The tiger is one of the 12 animal signs of the Chinese zodiac. The White Tiger is one of the four symbols of the Chinese constellation. For the Chinese, the tiger represents the masculine and rules over all the world's creatures. The Hung Ga style of Chinese martial arts imitates the tiger's movements.

Indian folklores, tales and myths are also filled with tigers. According to Hindu culture, the village people in West Bengal and Bangladesh worship the Bengal Tiger as the animal vessel of powerful goddess Durga, who protects virtue and destroys evil. The royal Bengal tiger is the iconic symbol and national animal of India, as of Bangladesh.

It should be noted here that every year, July 29 is celebrated as the Global Tiger Day to help promote the protection of wild tigers with numerous initiatives. In November 2010 in Saint Petersburg, the governments of the 13 countries home to the wild tigers, namely India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Bhutan, Nepal and Russia came together with an ambitious conservation goal named TX2, to double wild tigers by 2022 – the next "Year of the Tiger" on the Chinese lunar calendar.

Although China has been paying attention to environmental and ecosystem sustainability for decades, the number of wild tigers left in China is very depressing. According to the China Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) as reported by Xinhua, there are at most 50 tigers left in the country.

About 15 Bengal tigers live in Tibet, 10 Indochinese tigers are in southwestern Yunnan Province, and around 20 Siberian tigers are in the northeast. China's Jilin Province is known as the "hometown of Siberian tigers,"also known as Amur tiger – the biggest cat species in the world. The South China tiger has been listed as "critically endangered" on the IUCN Red List since 1996 and was last seen in Guizhou's Xishui nature reserve in the 1990s.

However, China has done a huge part in rescuing the endangered Siberian tiger in recent years. Since the 2010 Chinese Year of the Tiger, China initiated a multimillion-dollar scheme under the name of China's Tiger Recovery Program (CTRP) with the World Bank and NGOs to protect the Amur tiger. The program is not only a milestone for China, but also a significant act for the world. The South China Tiger Reintroduction project run by Save China'sTigersFoundation has achieved encouraging results.

Last year China established the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park, showing the government's determination to protect endangered wild cats. There are about 1,000 Siberian tigers at the world's largest Siberian tiger breeding center in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province. It can be hoped that this captive breeding program will multiply China's current wild Siberian tiger population of 20.

According to China's amended wild animal protection law and criminal law which came into force in the beginning of 2017, hunting and killing national protected animals can lead to imprisonment of up to 10 years, besides confiscation of property and huge fines. Currently, 420 species of wild animals including the Siberian tiger are considered rare or endangered by the Chinese government. China banned the international trade in tiger bones and use of tiger products in 1993.

But citing a 2014 court case of the Siberian tiger trafficking in Zhejiang province, the Global Times reported, poachers continue selling Siberian tigers' bodies for use in traditional Chinese medicine, meat, wine, rugs, and coats in "orange and black markets" in China. CCTV reported in August 2013 that a large tiger farm in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, was found to have been selling medicinal alcohol that contained tiger bones.

On the other hand, India is home to the largest population of wild tigers in the world. As per the assessment of the Status of Tigers, Co-predators and Prey (2014), the number of tigers in India is estimated at 2,226 as compared to the 2010 estimate of 1,706.

Although the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India has done a lot to protect tiger habitat in India, the country needs to put more conservation efforts to increase the habitats of wild tigers, toimprove reserve protection as well as to reduce infrastructure projects in the forest area. In spite of spreading public-awareness, in 2017, 115 tigers died in India and in 2016, the number of deaths was 122, according to official data.

The number of big cat deaths indicates that on an average nine tigers have died every month for the past two years. India may be doing well in terms of numbers of tigers but the poaching problem is getting worse. It is time for the government to look into altering the law for implementing more stringent punishments for poachers.

While most countries in the world have little or no wildlife left, both India and China can boast of their wildlife as their greatest asset which can create a healthy green economy through sustainable wildlife tourism.

The author is the cultural secretary of New Horizon Radio Listeners' Club, based in West Bengal, India. 

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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