The tiger emerged as the most powerful, and mystifying cat on earth in southern China several million years ago.
One hundred years ago in India alone, 40,000 tigers prowled the forests, rarely bothering humans unless their prey base was menaced. Due to deforestation, palm oil plantations and poaching, the 200 or so Sumatran tigers left today could disappear within a few years and join the ranks of the extinct Caspian, Javanese and Balinese tiger.
Whether the tiger’s meager global population of about 3000 will endure until the next year of the tiger in 2022 is cause for concern. There are plans to try to double the present population, but the Chinese desire for tiger parts, is threatening one of the most sublime of nature’s creations. While many believe that tiger penises can make a man more virile, fertility is not China’s problem. Like the ingestion of rhino horn, the consumption of tiger parts as aphrodisiacs should be conferred to the dustbin of folklore and mere superstition.
A tiger never takes more than it needs to survive when it hunts, unlike the trophy hunters of the British Empire. While we continue today to hunt tigers for entertainment and for ‘sport,’ there is no justification for killing of an endangered species. Nature can easily manage without humans, humans cannot long survive without the other species of this planet.
Imagine a planet with 7 billion tigers and only 3000 humans. It is up to humanity’s conscience to find the will to salvage the tiger, as well as the other predators of the world. The first world summit for a single species in November 2010 was for the tiger. Leonardo di Caprio recently gave $3 million to Nepal to help in the conservation of its tigers.
For now the real Shere Khans of The Jungle Book and Tiggers of Winnie the Pooh still breathe, and their hearts still beat on earth as well as in our imaginations. Asking a temple priest in the village of Tala, in Madya Pradesh, what would become of us if we were to lose the tiger, he responded: it would not matter because there would be no humanity left. That is what is at stake, nothing less.
Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson have just released ‘In Predatory Light- Lions and Tigers and Polar Bears’ (Merrell, London 2013) and are working on a documentary homage to the African Elephant ‘Walking Thunder: The Last Stand of the African Elephant.’