Friday, January 1, 2010

Slowly vanishing tigers

Human welfare and economic development in Asia depends on the same clean water, clean air, natural flood controls and other forest resources that tigers need. Because tigers are poised at the top of the food chain, if we can maintain healthy tiger populations in Asia’s wild lands, we can ensure that there are healthy habitats and prey populations present to support them. Tigers need extensive, intact landscapes and act as an umbrella species — by saving tigers you save other plants and animals that share their range. Renowned ecologist E.O. Wilson eloquently captures the flip side of this coin: “Tigers…are predestined by their perch at the top of the food web to be big in size and sparse in numbers. They live on such a small portion of life’s available energy as always to skirt the edge of extinction, and they are the first to suffer when the ecosystem around them starts to erode.”

Tigers are also majestic symbols for many ancient and modern cultures. Tiger images emblazon temples throughout Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Thailand and Tibet; every twelfth year of the Chinese calendar is dedicated to the tiger; and India’s national animal is also the namesake of Bangladesh’s national cricket team, The Bengal Tigers. Given the tremendous historical and cultural significance of these animals, it is tragically ironic that Asia’s “tiger economies” are now prospering at the expense of wild tigers.

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