It’s International Tiger Day! The fifth annual, in fact – July 29th was designated as a day to bring attention to tiger conservation by the St. Petersburg Tiger Summit back in 2010. Tigers are in serious need of help: we’ve lost 97% or more of our wild tigers in the last century. There may be as few as 3,000 left in the wild. They’re in the worst shape of any of the big cats. Which is sad, because tigers are awesome!
I mean, just look at the beautiful Sumatran tigers at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium:
It would suck mightily if the only place they remained alive was in zoos. Unfortunately, there are a lot of threats to their survival. Habitat loss is, of course, one of the big ones, but “traditional” Chinese and Asian medicine is the absolute worst. A lot of people are under the mistaken impression that dead tiger bits will solve their medical issues. We skeptics know it’s all bullshit. The more people we can convince to give up on this woo altogether, or at the very least substitute more sustainable stuff for rare animal bits, the better off tigers and all the other animals endangered by a bogus medical practice will be.
Are wild tigers worth saving? You betcha! They’re an apex predator, and we’ve discovered that such predators are critical for healthy ecosystems. When you remove the top predators, bizarre and bad things can happen. I mean, just as an example, look at what happened when big cats and other predators vanished from these ecosystems:
In a Venezuelan valley flooded by construction of a dam in the 1980s, Duke University ecologist John Terborgh and his students documented the strange perturbations that afflicted the “islands” of Lago Guri. Top predators — jaguar, mountain lion, harpy eagle — fled rising waters. Multiplying out of control, howler monkeys went mad as their numbers soared and the plants they ate increased toxins in self-defense.
Who would’ve guessed, amirite?
Besides the role tigers could play in preventing monkey madness, saving tigers also means saving the ecosystems they depend on, so there’s a nice boost to conservation right there. Sexy animals like tigers allow us to protect habitats for the less-sexy but also important plants, animals, and insects that form the web of life with them.
There’s definitely hope for tigers, and you’ll find that hope, plus a lot more information, in this fascinating interview with biologist Alan Rabinowitz. The takeaway message is, we can save wild tigers. We can do it by supporting organizations and governments that are working to stop habitat loss, enforce poaching laws, and build corridors for tigers to travel between their protected islands, in order to allow essential genetic mixing. We can make room for everyone, if we’re sensible.
So check out organizations like Panthera, and consider contributing to the cause. Also, check out these adorable pictures and videos of tigers. And when you’re done with that, head on over to Rosetta Stones, where we investigate the awesomeness that is the gemstone tiger’s eye. You’ll get to see it in its unpolished glory, and see how we found out we’d been really wrong about it for over a century!
Tiger cub cuteness!
Tigers eating watermelons!
Tiger cubs kissing!
Tiger cubs playing with pumpkins!
Tiger cubs wrestling!
Adorable wild tiger family having an outing!
Yeah, tigers are awesome. I’m glad we still have some!