Saturday, 17 August 2019

Tiger A True Story of Vengeance & Survival:

AS OF 2008, THERE WERE AN ESTIMATED FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY tigers living in Primorye, southern Khabarovsk Territory, and their adjacent border regions—down from a postwar high of roughly five hundred in the late 1980s. (By comparison, the state of Texas, a place that has no natural history of tigers, has more than two thousand of them living in various forms of captivity.) This may sound like a lot of tigers, but it is nothing compared to what the wild population was a hundred years ago. At the beginning of the last century, it is estimated that there were more than 75,000 tigers living in Asia. Today, you would never know; within the fragile envelope of a single human memory 95 percent of those animals have been killed—for sport, for beauty, for medicine, for money, for territory, and for revenge. Looking at distribution maps of tigers then and now is like looking at maps of European Jewry before and after World War II: you simply cannot believe your eyes. It is hard to imagine such a thing is possible, especially when you consider that tigers have accompanied our species throughout its entire history on the Asian continent and have been embraced for their physical, aesthetic, and iconic power. Because of its beauty, charisma, and mythic resonance, the tiger has been adopted as a kind of totem animal worldwide. There is no other creature that functions simultaneously as a poster child for the conservation movement and as shorthand for power, sex, and danger. Like a fist, or a cross, the tiger is a symbol we all understand. Of the eight commonly recognized tiger subspecies, three of them—the Balinese, the Javan, and the Caspian—have become extinct in the past two generations, and a fourth, the South China tiger, has not been seen in the wild since 1990. No reliable tiger sightings have been reported from the Koreas since 1991. Today, the tiger has been reduced to isolated pockets of relic populations scattered across the vast territory over which it once roamed freely. Current estimates indicate a total wild population of around 3,200 and falling. Making this situation more upsetting, especially for conservationists, is the fact that this cascading trend could be reversed tomorrow. Left alone, with enough cover and prey, there are two things tigers do exceptionally well: adapt and breed. In nature, versatility equals viability, and in this, tigers rival human beings. Until around 1940, tigers could be found almost anywhere on the Asian continent from Hong Kong to Iran and from Bali to Sakhalin Island—and at any habitable altitude: tigers have been sighted in Nepal at 13,000 feet, and they are still somewhat common in the semi-amphibious mangrove swamps of the Sundarbans. Nor are they terribly choosy: as long as quantities are sufficient, tigers take their protein where and how they find it. And this is often exactly wherever the strain lies: Panthera tigris and human are literally abundantly alike, and we are drawn to many of the same things, if for slightly different reasons. Both people demand massive territories; each people have prodigious appetites for meat; each people need management over our elbow room and area unit ready to defend it, and each North American country|folks|people} have a huge sense of claim to the resources around us. If a tiger will poach on another’s territory, it probably will, and so, of course, will we. A key difference, however, is that tigers take only what they need. This is why, given the choice, many Russian hunters and farmers would rather have tigers around than wolves. The former are much less prone to surplus killing. What is happening to tigers now is analogous to what happened to the Neanderthals twenty-five thousand years ago, when that durable, proven species found itself unable to withstand the competitive force and expansion of Homo sapiens and was backed into a corner of southwestern Europe. There would have been a point when their numbers, too, began to visibly shrink, and falter, and finally disappear. There would have been a last one. Many human tribes have met the same fate since then, and many more are meeting it now. Today, it occurs not so much by death as by dilution: through resettlement, religious and economic conversion, and intermarriage, gradually the skills, stories, and languages fade away. Needless to say, once sheltered by a roof, carried in a car, and fed from a can, very few humans willingly return to sleeping on the ground, walking cross-country, and foraging with hand tools. The same is true of tigers: once they have been habituated to zoo conditions, there is no going back. To date, there has been no case of a captive tiger being successfully introduced, or reintroduced, to the wild. Captivity is a one-way trip. There is a poignant irony in this because, at one time or another, all of us have been in the tiger’s situation. The majority of us live how and where we do because, at some point in the recent past, we were forced out of our former habitats and ways of living by additional aggressive, if not better adapted, humans. Worth asking here is: wherever will this trend ultimately lead? Is there a better way to honor the fact that we survived?
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