One of the world’s largest populations of tigers exists not in the wild—but in captivity in the United States. With an estimated 5,000 tigers, the U.S. captive tiger population exceeds the approximately 3,200 tigers in the wild.
Is this the future of our beloved wild animals? If animals aren’t being poached or crowded out of natural habitat, too many are being hunted for trophies or to keep as “pets,” with often disastrous consequences.
Many people may love animals, but as a species, humans are doing a terrible job protecting them. The New York Times recently ran an op-ed that noted that an elephant is killed every 14 minutes.
As for tigers, with July 29 noted as International Tiger Day, their outlook is becoming bleaker and bleaker. At the turn of the 20th century, there were 100,000 tigers roaming the wilds. Today, there are at best 3,200, most of them in India, which will soon be the most populous nation in the world. And it is intent, understandably so, on developing its economy, which means less habitat for tigers and other animals.
The United Nations just reported that the current global population of 7.3 billion is forecast to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, slightly above the last set of U.N. projections. Most growth will happen in developing regions, particularly Africa, where many species are at great risk.
Global society should be doing everything possible to protect tigers. If this majestic animal cannot withstand the human onslaught, what species can? Certainly elephants, rhinos, giraffes, chimpanzees, and gorillas are losing the battle in Africa, as are orangutans in Indonesia, pandas in China and lemurs in Madagascar.
It makes one shudder to think of Earth without these creatures in the wild, yet we continue with business as usual, plundering the planet for the last remaining bits of coal and drops of oil, searching for rare earth metals to power our lives, oblivious to the true cost of the way we live.
There are efforts that can be taken to change course. At the top is stabilizing human population growth – which can be done voluntarily with investments in maternal and newborn health, providing health care for families – especially contraception, supporting girl’s education, ending child marriage, and promoting women’s empowerment. This is the “low-hanging fruit” – things that should be done and can be, at a relatively low cost.
Protecting tigers and other species also calls for changing a global economic system dependent upon constant and unsustainable growth. This is definitely a more difficult task, but there are numerous organizations, academics, and other experts working on alternatives. And now we have Pope Francis calling for an economic system that supports the poor and protects the environment.
Of course there is much to be done. It really boils down to a paradigm shift – recognizing that nature has rights and that it isn’t here for humans to use and abuse and to provide us entertainment. There are consequences to our actions, and if we as a global society allow species that are an important part of the web of life to disappear in the wild, we might be changing it to our detriment.
We need to rethink/re-envision our relationship with Nature.