Mrs. Green is a retired teacher who cares deeply about wildlife conservation. Upon learning that there are as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild, Mrs. Green decided to gift approximately $50,000 to conserving tigers.
She knows that one of the greatest threats to tiger survival at the moment is tiger poaching, driven by the demand for tiger parts used in traditional Chinese medicine and as status objects. She would like to direct her gift to an organisation or organisations which are pursuing effective strategies for ending tiger poaching.
Note: not to scale
A century ago, there were 100,000 tigers living in the wild. Today, there are fewer than 3,500. There are several reasons why tiger populations have been hit so profoundly over the past 100 years. Habitat loss is certainly a major factor in the tiger’s decline, as is the conflict between humans and the tigers which threaten their livestock.
But according to a range of environmental groups, the number one threat to tigers today is poaching by individuals motivated by the astronomically high prices charged for traditional medicine, tonics and decorative skins made from tiger parts.
A poached tiger can fetch between $25,000 and $50,000, and there is a market for nearly all parts of the tiger, including its bones, blood, genitals and hide. Several top tiger experts have said that if the Chinese demand for tiger parts from all sources is not stopped, wild tigers will not survive.
The tiger is such an iconic and environmentally important animal that there seems to be international agreement that the tiger is worth saving.
In 2010, President Putin and World Bank president Robert Zoellick hosted the International Tiger Summit, where major conservation NGOs as well as the 13 tiger-range countries committed to The St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation a 12-year program to double to population of tigers in the wild by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.
While some progress is being made and it looks as if tiger populations are growing in some parks in India and Russia, tremendous challenges remain. The law enforcement necessary to capture and prosecute poachers is weak in many of the tiger-habitat countries.
Fully legal tiger farming in China and several other Asian countries is on the rise.
1. Investing in effective law enforcement
A clear tactic in addressing tiger poaching is to enforce the international laws which outlaw it. Several NGOs and international bodies are trying to do this by supplying rangers with tools and training, so they can catch poachers in the act and prosecute them effectively.
Another approach is to go after the criminal networks that traffic tigers and their parts around the world. The organization behind CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) as well as INTERPOL have projects to infiltrate tiger trafficking gangs, and these projects are supported by several of the major wildlife NGOs.
2. Educating consumers
This is a trickier tactic because the primary buyers of tiger products–elite Chinese–aren’t easily swayed by popular opinion. However, several organizations have invested in media campaigns which have tried to stigmatize tiger consumption, particularly in China. Jackie Chen, in conjunction with WildAid, filmed PSAs on stopping the trade in tiger parts, and the International Federation for Animal Welfare recently ran a print ad in China that tried to appeal to a public sense of humanity to convince people to stop consuming tiger products.
3. Scientific monitoring
Several NGOs and governmental organizations are keeping close tabs on wild tigers by using sophisticated scientific tools to document their stripe patterns (as unique as a finger print), DNA and roaming patterns.
These groups have had success passing this information onto government officials to use in prosecuting poachers. Panthera, is an NGO bankrolled by American millionaire philanthropist Thomas S. Kaplan. Much of their work focuses on monitoring specific tiger populations in countries like India, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand.
4. Closing tiger farms
A particular worry is the rise of tiger farms in China and other Asian countries, where tigers are raised and then killed for their parts. China has by far the most tiger farms, although growth in international captive tigers has also been noted in Laos and Thailand.
While international agreements outlaw trade in tiger parts, China allows for the breeding of some captive-bred endangered species, including tigers, for use in consumer products. This has led to the rise of industrial-size tiger farms, which have grown from housing just 85 tigers in 1993, to more than 5,000 in China today.
The Chinese government allows the trade, claiming that tiger farms are an effective form of tiger conservation. However, the majority of international wildlife experts strongly disagree, arguing that tiger farms in fact increase demand for tiger parts, putting the wild tiger in greater danger.
As the Environmental Investigative Agency writes, it will always be cheaper to kill a tiger in the wild than raise one in captivity. In fact, tiger populations are increasing in India and Nepal, which do not have tiger farms, while wild tigers continue their decline in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and China, in which tiger farming is legal.
Because tiger farming is legal in a number of Tiger-habitat countries, one of the only things the international community can do is try to pressure countries like China to change—and enforce—its laws.
Several large NGOs as well as smaller civic society groups in China are pressing the Chinese government to come into compliance with international recommendations on destroying stockpiles of tiger parts and phasing out tiger farms. But clearly there is still a lot of work to do as China’s tiger farms continue to flourish.
Educating consumers; stigmatizing consumption of tiger products
WildAid has plans to film a documentary and several PSAs using Chinese celebrities in October. They have a China team in Beijing, which will be circulating the films to all major networks and their staff told me they are optimistic about pick-up based on previous similar projects. A gift to WildAid’s tiger program would go toward these educational films.
Shutting down tiger farms
The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is an established NGO that has quite a few active projects exposing illegal wildlife trade, and they are actively working to secure a global commitment to end tiger farming. The EIA also lobbies at the national and international level to pass laws that would support zero demand for tiger parts and products.