28 July 2015 | Five-Part Interview Series with Sharon Guynup by Craig Kasnoff
Sharon Guynup has written for the New York Times, Smithsonian, Scientific American, National Geographic.com, Popular Science, and many other significant publications. She is co-author of “Tigers Forever: Saving the World’s Most Endangered Big Cat”.
Part Five: Saving Tigers in the Wild
Q: How can tigers in the wild be saved?
Sharon Guynup: One of the world’s most iconic animals, a species that’s existed for two million years, is careening towards extinction in the wild. But there is hope. There is still enough habitat to support healthy tiger populations—and they thrive with just the basics: food, water and a place to live.
A tigress breeds at the age of three and can birth 15 cubs in her lifetime. It’s a very productive species. But it will take committed, targeted action and creative strategies to bring tigers back. When you add boots-on-the-ground protection of both tigers and their prey, strong laws, enforcement, and careful monitoring, they bounce back.
Saving them will also require the expertise of the best scientists and conservation organizations, and those experts must share their knowledge with governments and prod them to act. And the communities that live with tigers must benefit from living side by side with a dangerous predator with income from ecotourism or compensation for livestock killed by tigers.
Q: Why should tigers in the wild be saved?
Sharon Guynup: I believe we need to save tigers in the wild not only because of their sheer majesty, but because they have the right as living beings to walk the planet. But there is also a broader reason to stop the tiger’s slide towards extinction: Saving tigers will also help us save ourselves.
If we preserve the remaining big tracts of forest, wetlands and jungle that tigers need to survive, we’re giving them space to hunt, find a mate, and enough land to survive catastrophic events like floods or drought. But the positive impacts of conservation at that grand scale radiate outward with global implications. Those wild lands pull carbon from the atmosphere and slow climate change that is increasingly devastating our planet.
Those forests provide a buffer from flooding, protecting towns and cities. They prevent erosion of the rich soil that we need to grow crops. Forests purify the rivers and streams that run through them, the watersheds that provide drinking water for millions of people.
And by protecting tigers—and the top predators in any food chain—we also save the entire spectrum of life that shares their realm, preserving ecosystems that have been fine-tuned over millennia.
Q: What role do governments play in saving tigers in the wild? What government organizations are at the “forefront” of saving them?
Sharon Guynup: To save tigers, governments must protect remaining habitat and the few remaining wildlife corridors that link these parks and sanctuaries. And they must safeguard both tigers and their prey from poachers—with armed protection in the national parks where the cats still thrive. Up until recently, most governments have viewed wildlife crime as an environmental issue that’s been low on the list of priorities.
To save tigers, countries with weak laws governing wildlife trafficking must enact stringent regulations—and then prosecute offenders with maximum fines and jail sentences that truly act as a deterrent. While police and customs agents make some arrests and seizures, in most countries penalties are light. Few poachers or smugglers see jail time. For example, in India, which is home to half the world’s remaining wild tigers, historically there’s been a three percent conviction rate for wildlife crime.
Tiger range countries must also coordinate cross-border enforcement, teaming with Interpol and nonprofit organizations.
And most important of all: The world must convince China to phase out its tiger farms and stop its thriving domestic trade in tiger skins, tiger bone wine and other tiger products. If that does not happen, tigers very well could disappear within our lifetimes.
Q: What role do conservation organizations play in saving tigers in the wild? What organizations are at the “forefront” of saving them?
Sharon Guynup: Many of the larger conservation organizations do great natural history studies on tigers. But some smaller conservation organizations are doing amazing work investigating the black market trade in tiger products, the tiger farms, and trying to influence consumers of tiger products. They are:
* The Environmental Investigation Agency, based in London, does some of the best undercover work on the illegal wildlife trade.
* The Delhi-based Wildlife Protection Society of India has built India’s largest wildlife crime database and has established a huge informant network across the country; they work closely with police to fight poaching.
* The International Fund for Animal Welfare, based in Massachusetts, rescues and rehabilitates animals and works for long term protection of wildlife and habitats—and works to create stronger public policy protecting wildlife.
* TRAFFIC works globally on trade in wild animals, providing information and encouraging action from governments and studying—and trying to impact—consumers.
* WildAid, in San Francisco, uses Chinese social media, PSAs and other messaging to educate Chinese consumers about the impact of their purchases on wildlife. Their motto: “When the buying stops, the killing can, too.”
Q: What can individuals do to help save tigers in the wild? Can their efforts -regardless how small- truly have an impact?
Sharon Guynup: Saving tigers will also require a world that cares. In the words of renowned field biologist George Schaller, “I learned long ago that conservation has no victories. It’s a never-ending process that each of us must take part in.”
The organizations I mentioned really need financial support. Donations to any of them can make a huge difference.
Additionally, people can start petitions to the government of China asking that they honor the provisions of an international treaty—the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) by phasing out tiger farms and clamping down on trade in tigers.
Another important action would be writing letters or targeting petitions to US Secretary of State John Kerry asking that the US negotiate with China, urging them to shut down tiger farms and tiger trade—before tigers are gone forever.
For more information about endangered species go to Bagheera.com
Find organizations saving endangered species at Saving Endangered Species.com
For more information about endangered tigers go to Tigers In Crisis.com
Find organizations saving endangered tigers at Saving Endangered Tigers.com