It is considered the king of the jungle in cultures across Asia. It is the world's favorite animal. It beat the dog, narrowly though, in an Animal Planet poll. But if proper conservation efforts are not taken immediately it will become extinct in China's wild (and the rest of the world, that is, Asia) in a matter of just three decades.
This is definitely not good news less than a month before the Year of the Tiger.
We have already lost three subspecies: Bali, Javan and Caspian (though many experts consider the latter and Siberian tigers to be the same subspecies). And if some experts are to be believed, the South China tiger is already extinct in the wild. After all, it has not been seen in the wild in the past 25 years.
Much has been written about the tiger and how and why we should save it from extinction. "The tiger is the top predator in the food chain. If you protect the tiger, you protect all the other species in the system" Zhu Chunquan, WWF China Program Office's conservation director of biodiversity, said last week. We know it is an umbrella species because it controls the herbivore population and preserves the balance of grasslands and forests. The question is: Is the world eager to protect the grasslands, forests, and the environment as a whole?
If the rich world really wanted to protect the environment, instead of just paying lip service, a constructive agreement would have come out of the Copenhagen climate change conference. The fact is environmental protection is not a game of profit. There's no money (at least immediately) to be made by protecting anything but production of goods and services. On the contrary, the businesspeople stand to lose a lot if they (even superficially) try to protect the environment.
We have theories to readily counter environmentalists' arguments that mankind is facing its worst crisis. There are so-called experts who claim that the only way to fight climate change is to let technology prosper and help produce more goods. The more technology prospers, the more ways we will have to deal with climate change. Quite convincing. There are demographic experts who claim that the world's booming population is good for the market, because it will supply new and more skilled workforce. No arguments.
But what will be the immediate and long-term impact of this production and reproduction boom on the Earth's resources? Our levels of production and communications are already advanced enough to feed, provide shelter and educate the entire population of the world. Yet more than 1 billion people across vast swathes of Africa and Asia and even Central and Latin America are victims of hunger. That's almost one-fifth of humanity.
The road of economic development the rich countries have chosen and the developing ones are following will sooner than later turn this planet into a desert inhabited only by human beings. The world has learned to cool our homes in summer and warm them in winter. It has learned to clone animals and, will sooner than later, reproduce them for meat. It is already using genetically modified (GM) seeds to grow more and more food in increasingly smaller plots of land. It can seed clouds to make rain. In short, it has learned to play around with nature, and is proud of it.
It is a different matter that scientists and experts do not know what harms GM seeds and cloned animals could cause to the human species. The fact is it will be too late to save mankind by the time they know that. Till then, of course, it can be business as usual.
All this makes the tiger a non-entity. What importance does a poor beast have in the market where only money speaks? Maybe we should stop calling it the king of the jungle. And that could soon become a reality, because there will neither be a jungle nor its king.
Xie Yan, director of Wildlife Conservation Society, China Program, was right when she said: "We should let nature take its course." Only that since the Industrial Revolution the pursuit of profit has made nature take its course.
(China Daily 01/25/2010 page9)