India and China must take colossal measures to bring back the tiger from the brink of extinction

Apart from championing the cause of the developing countries at the Copenhagen Summit, India and China share yet another ground of common concern, vital for their fragile ecology and natural environment. In the wake of China celebrating its current lunar year as the tiger year (Hunian), there has been a spate of increased criticism from conservationists and government about the increased threat of poaching that may seal the fate of the already endangered species. While China with its 50-odd population of the tiger is already in limelight, India's 1,000 or so tigers (there are grave doubts over the official statistics) are also on the verge of extinction thanks to the massive surge in demand, porous borders and rampant corruption on the two sides. While the market lies in China, Indian tigers are especially valued for their ‘wilderness' which is preferred over the illegal farm-bred tiger.

The irony lies in the fact that, on the one hand, the tiger is still the national animal of India, the Chinese too revere the tiger, culturally as Wang or prince. The yang animal is especially worshipped for its prowess and is considered as the protector against “three disasters — fire, thieves and ghosts.” Yet the money its skin and bones fetch in the international market is reason enough for poachers — in connivance with eager villagers and corrupt officials — to hack the poor animal to a ridiculously miserable death.

Historically, the tiger evolved in China and crossed Indonesia and the river systems of South West Asia to spread to India and elsewhere. During the course, it evolved into eight subspecies which existed as late as 1940. However, anthropogenic factors, the loss of natural habitat, the encroachment of forest land due to increased population and the arrival of large development projects exposed the solitary tiger to human savages. The outcome was the complete extinction of three subspecies and massive endangerment of the rest of the five in the last three decades.

While China is considering the passing of the controversial law of legalising tiger trade, India, after pumping crores of rupees in ‘Project Tiger' with depressed (the pun is intended) gains, is viewing the ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services' as a new conservation instrument designed to provide direct incentives to the local communities living on the fringes of the sanctuaries. Undoubtedly, the issue has been tackled intelligently; however, red-tapism and bureaucratic nepotism over effective and speedy implementation takes away the sheen from any hope for survival. A tiger's ecological importance lies in carbon sequestration and provision of rainfall to forest areas. Hence, the blame game should be stopped and colossal bilateral cooperative measures taken at both the micro and macro level to conserve and rehabilitate the tiger from the brink of extinction. Animal activists and concerned environmentalists have voiced enough opinion and reiterated sufficient facts for governments to shake off stupor. Stringency and dedication are the need of the day to preserve the quintessential ‘ROAR' from drowning in the slime of antiquity.

The third animal in the Chinese 12-year animal zodiac, the tiger represents the greatest earthy power as well as protection over human life. People born in the tiger years (1902, 1914, 1926, 1938, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010) are thought to be brave, strong, stubborn and sympathetic. Human civilisation has always been the existential and vital link between the wild and the tame. Today, the tiger needs protection for its own as well as our future's existence.

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