Tuesday, March 3, 1998

Virtual, not real, tiger may ring in its next new year

By Jason L. Ables

In case you did not know, 1998 is the Year of the Tiger on the Chinese lunar calendar. People are celebrating the new year's possibilities because the tiger represents the admirable characteristics of strength, vitality and fortune.

You should take note of the year 1998 because it will not be until the year 2010 that we see another Year of the Tiger. You should also note 1998 because according to the World Wildlife Fund, by the time 2010 gets here, the South Chinese Tiger will probably be extinct.

You should also take a minute to realize what that means.

It means that at some point in the very near future, down from the today's minuscule population of 30 or 40, there will be only one South Chinese tiger left - maybe in a reserve or zoo. The people looking at it may have as much money as Bill Gates or they may be as smart as Einstein. They may be as dedicated as Mother Teresa, and yet, none of that will mean bunk.

There will be nothing the entire talent pool of the Earth will be able to do to save the species once there is only one. And there will be only one very soon. Then there will be none.

All my life tigers, especially the Siberian Tiger, have fascinated me with their beauty and majesty. (Did you know that unlike most cats, especially domestic cats, Siberian Tigers love the water? They also love to swim). I was born in 1962, also the Year of the Tiger. When that last animal dies, you can be sure, part of my soul will die with it.

According to WWF , in the last 100 years, 95 percent of the world's tigers have perished and three of the eight sub-species of tigers have become extinct.

Dr. Jean-Pierre d'Huart, manager of WWF's species conservation unit, said, "their populations are reaching such low levels in some parts of their range that the death of every tiger is another nail in the coffin of the species as a whole."

To try and stem the tide of extinction faced by the tiger, the WWF has chosen the tiger as one of three species to represent its Living Planet Campaign. One of the primary goals of the campaign is to educate the public about the plight of the animals.

It would be so convenient, so appealing to my simpler nature, to pick out some sort of "boogie man," like the poachers, and point a finger. "Hey buddy, you are the problem."

But the problems facing the tigers in the wild are anything but convenient and simple.

Certainly poachers are a problem, but the more pressing problem is the intense pressure being put on the land, i.e. tiger habitat, by the encroachment of civilization. Farmers need land and they are carving their farms out of the jungle. People need homes and they are building their homes with the trees.

Every year there is more human development, and every year there is less jungle. Every year there are fewer tigers.

To my mind the most insidious threat to the tiger is the practice of traditional Chinese medicine. Tiger parts are used as ingredients in medicinal concoctions used to treat everything from arthritis to impotency. Maybe 500 years ago, before Payless Drugstore and overpopulation were upon us, tiger medicine was the way to go, but the world changes and doctors should too. It is unforgivable for a species to be hunted down into extinction just so that some guy can keep a hard-on.

Bravo then to the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco. In an interview with the San Francisco Examiner in February, the school's president, Lixin Huang, said the school has come out for the tiger and against the traditional prescriptions using tiger parts. Other prescriptions can be used instead Huang said.

The willingness of the school to change traditional practices points to the positive results education about the problem can have, and you do not have to be a Chinese doctor to get educated.

The National Geographic Society has put up on their website, a space dedicated to raising awareness of tigers among children.(http://www.nationalgeographic.com/features/97/tigers/maina.html) By navigating through the site, kids learn about tigers by building a tiger exhibit at a fictional zoo. They learn what tigers eat, what kinds of environments they can survive in and what stimulus they need to stay healthy. It is a fun and rewarding site.

But I cannot help but wonder, will Geographic's electronic web tiger be the only tiger left for today's children to show their children? God, I hope not. British singer/songwriter Billy Bragg once opined that one should "join the struggle while you may, the revolution is just a T-shirt away." His populist (and inexpensive) revolutionary philosophy is simple, and it may seem quaint, but his words ring true. Some people can dedicate their lives to a cause; some people can barely afford a stamp and a dollar for the WWF.

But see, it does not matter what you can do, as long as you go ahead and do what you can do. And, in this age of the Internet, you do not even have to leave your living room.

So I am asking you, do something in the next 12 years to save the tiger. That way, there will be some left to ring in the next Year of the Tiger.

Need a place to start? Here are some:

- The World Wildlife Fund can be found at http://www.panda.org/ - The Tiger Information Center has information from around the world on tigers and their plight; http://www.5tigers.org - Save the Tiger home page, a personal page dedicated to tiger websites; and http://www.feist.com/~tstorm/tiger.html - Exxon and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's joint Save the Tiger Project. http://www.exxon.com/exxoncorp/tiger/tiger.html.