Saturday, October 30, 2010
Year of the Tiger
2010 is the Chinese Year of the Tiger, and also the United Nation's International Year of Biodiversity. While the polar bear is a most arresting poster species of climate change, probably no other animal can fit the same role as well as the tiger when it comes to looming mass extinction and our ongoing loss of the Earth's biodiversity. Despite years of conservation funding, all sorts of legal protections and masses of blood, sweat and tears from dedicated human champions, tigers are still worse off in 2010 than they have ever been.
The animal most widely regarded by humans as the most beautiful of all, endlessly evocative to poets and artists, and the epitome of wildness to many nature-lovers, remains precariously confined, in the smallest of numbers, to pitiful, isolated slivers of land; as vulnerable as ever to death by poaching humans, mostly for consumption for completely superstitious or egocentric reasons.
How can this be?
In the days before I gave birth to my child, a friend came by with a pile of books she had cleared out. Amongst them was Ruth Padel's Tigers in Red Weather. I pounced on it. Here was a celebrated British poet and great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin writing of her travels through tigerlands in 2005. It was irresistible, and after my daughter was born I ignored the wisdom 'to sleep when baby sleeps', and instead lay with sleeping child in my arms as I consumed the book. While I relished the quality of the writing so much, the dismal plight of tigers hit home very hard; extra cutting when you have just brought a new life into the world.
What is happening to this world?
190 countries have just reached agreement in Nagoya, Japan on 20 goals to minimise mass extinction in the next 10 years. This includes increasing the amount of protected land from 12.5% to 17%. The area of protected ocean will increase from 1% to 10%. This is being heralded as a landmark agreement. Every gain, no matter how paltry is a gain. Yes.
Of course, what justifies the decimation of wildlands and the extinction of species is always "human interest". We've got to look after business first; then people, then tigers, then habitats, then eco-systems, then the Planet. We're still way short of the acknowledgement that all human interest is irrevocably embedded in Nature. There is no business on Earth without the eco-system services that sustain life. We need biology because we are biology. How much do we need to lose before we understand this? When do we look to our precious children and say it is not okay to bequeath this world of loss to them?
There are probably no more than 3000 wild tigers alive today.
At the top of their particular food chain, tigers are a measure of the health of our eco-systems. As their viable populations collapse, so millions of other species are vulnerable to collapse too.
Read more: Convention on Biological Diversity http://www.cbd.int/2010/welcome/