Tiger prey

Bishops College
St. John's, Newfoundland

By Molly M. (Grade 12 )

Ask a child to name the wildest, most powerful beast known to man, and the response is likely to be: "the tiger". From king of the jungle, to the snowy mountain forests, the tiger may weigh up to 500 pounds and travel up to 20 miles a day. He remains the most ferocious and indisputably, the largest animal in the cat family.

Measuring seven to ten feet long, nose to tail, and standing three feet tall at the shoulder, it's no surprise that he rules the dark side of the jungle in many children's stories. While his cold-blooded qualities have been exaggerated for such entertainment, it is certainly no myth that in some instances the tiger may become a man-eater.

In North America, the closest most of us can come to a real tiger is while visiting a zoo, or by watching the poor beast parade around his circus master, tame as a kitten. While momentarily enchanted, his grand physique assures us that in his proper habit, at those claws are not for prancing, nor those great muscles for hopping through hoops. The tiger is a legendary wild beast and for some of us, his presence is a daily reality. Whichever the case, his existence plays a vital role in his natural environment, and just as the lost boys depend on Captain Hook, we must ask what the world be like without the tiger? Unfortunately, "Never Never Land" is too far away to matter in the real world. And it is in this world today that such a tragic question is being posed. The tiger has become one of many endangered species. In fact, three tiger sub-species: the Bali, Javan and Caspian, have already been brought to extinction over the last 100 years. Only five sub-species remain and they are now rapidly disappearing at the rate of one a day.

The remaining wild tigers are dispersed throughout thirteen Asian countries, including India and China, and are also found in parts of Russia. Nearly 70% of the tiger population resides in India. The Indian Government is facing a serious poaching problem, and last year alone they seized contraband tiger bones and skins estimated to account for 73 tigers. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) guesses that 300-400 tigers may have actually been lost out of a possible 3,000. Due to the tiger's solitary nature and remarkably secretive lifestyle, keeping track of tiger numbers is a difficult task. Sometimes, the only thing they have to go by are scratch marks left on a tree. For this reason, the statistics on the global tiger population is inexact and remains an estimation. WWF claims that it may be as low as 4,600. But it is not the number itself that creates worry. The fear lies in the trend that the population has followed a dramatic decline in recent years. The number of Sumatran tigers alive today, for example, is between 300 and 400. However, in 1975, their population was around 1500. The tigers closest to extinction are the South China tigers, with an estimated population of 40.

Where have all the tigers gone? Various organizations as well as governments from many countries have been cracking down on poachers. Tiger parts seem to be in high demand, particularly in China, Taiwan, and South Korea. Chinese apothecaries recommend the beast's body parts for usage in various medicines. From tiger bristles and musk glands to the prized tiger skin, everything appears to have its useful properties. The bones are thought to help with rheumatism when prepared a certain way, while tiger penis soup apparently works wonders for the sex drive and the consumers are willing to pay up to $350 a bowl! Some say that such potions are ridiculous, arguing that because the tiger only engages in sex for a mere seven seconds, how could his genitalia improve man's sex drive? Whichever your belief, the importance is to put an end to the unnecessary tiger slaughtering before they become legendary creatures to every living being.

The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) says that at the turn of the century there were about 50,000 wild tigers in India and by 1960, only 2,000 remained. A project was launched in 1973 providing sanctuaries under which the tigers were protected. As a result, the population had doubled by 1989. Despite government efforts, poaching continues today at an alarming rate. Smugglers in India often go by boat to designated outposts, where nomads carry the parts over the border to China. In India, where the tiger symbolizes a sort of "vehicle" for the Goddess, it is a very worrisome thing to watch their sacred animal carried across to neighbouring countries.

Clearly, the tiger situation does not have a simple solution. Poaching is not the only factor that threatens their survival. Many tiger populations reside in small areas. These populations, such as that of the Sumatran tiger in Indonesia, may be as low as 100. Such a small population has little chance of survival because there is no genetic transfer between generations. Efforts to preserve them are not always successful either. In a Siberian Tiger park in China, where 63 Siberian tigers can be found, crowds gather behind protective bars to watch the tiger devour birds at feeding time. The tourists are expected to pay for the bird to be eaten- 12$ for a pheasant and 5$ for a chicken. The tiger cannot, however, maintain its instinctive predator lifestyle under those circumstances. As a result, they lose their skills and are no longer fit for the free competition found in the wild. Feeding the wildcats is also very expensive and funding is scarce.

Often, villagers fear their 450 pound neighbours and random butchering is common in attempts to save farm animals and occasionally humans, from the tigers. Titles such as "Handler Loses Leg To Tiger" and "Tourists Watch Tiger Kill" are clear indications that the tigers would be best left alone in their own habitat. It is not always man that meddles in their lives however, which only further complicates the tiger issue. The title "Tiger Kills 35 Children in Nepal," for example, is more sobering.

The article tells about a tiger who recently terrorized villagers in western Nepal's Baitadi district. After the man-eating tiger attacked and killed 35 children over a short period of time, villagers were afraid to leave their homes. Because it is illegal to shoot a tiger in Nepal, the people had to appeal to local administration for permission to kill the beast.

While such horror stories are difficult to believe, they are fairly rare and remain quite irrelevant to the need for preventing tiger extinction as a whole. Human beings are their predators and we are certainly unnecessary ones. Organizations across the globe are coming together to protect the global tiger population and this growing awareness is a first step in the fight for their survival. You can even foster a tiger for about thirty dollars! Education is also a vital component of tiger conservation. The villagers must understand the importance of anti-poaching laws and in other nations, such as Canada, people must be informed not to buy products that use tiger parts. There are no guarantees that the tiger will recover high enough populations to overcome the risk of extinction. But the possibilities are favourable enough to fight for its survival. At the very least it will hopefully bring to light an awareness of the many animal species today on the brink of extinction and the importance of protecting them and their natural environments.

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