Seventeen! That’s how old Akash Negi was when he received the prestigious Children’s Global Tiger Conservation Award in 2018. Growing up in a village near Rajaji Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand gave Akash an understanding of the conflict between humans and wildlife and a glimpse of the impact of the loss of precious biodiversity. This young man, then a student at Gangabhogpur Inter-college in Uttarakhand, was determined to make a difference. Through school, village, and national events, he advocated for protecting tiger habitats for wildlife and local communities who reside in these environments, demonstrating that anyone — age regardless — can take concrete action for the cause of conservation.
The youth of today have extraordinary superpowers. They are equipped with information, endowed with sharp and creative minds, and empowered to innovate. They can mobilise people to support conservation and climate action, harness technology to spread their message, and are not afraid to take bold action to save our planet.
With more than 15% of the world population consisting of youth between 15 and 24 years of age, imagine the positive force young people could be — around 1.2 billion voices raised for a common cause and pushing for ambitious action to save the tiger. And when these youth grow into determined change-makers of the future — think of the things they could achieve! Save the world? Yes, they can.
We need more youth like Akash to step up, particularly in 2022, the Year of the Tiger, when the second Global Tiger Summit is scheduled. This landmark event is a unique once-in-twelve-year opportunity to decide on an action plan to secure the future of tigers.
The first Global Tiger Summit was held in 2010 — the last ‘Year of the Tiger’ — to plan urgent action to rescue tigers from the brink of extinction. There were only around 3,200 wild tigers left across the globe. Leaders from thirteen tiger range countries gathered with conservation experts and organisations and committed to doubling the wild tiger population by 2022. At the second Summit later this year, we will discover how close we are to achieving this goal and countries will further decide on the second phase of the Global Tiger Recovery Plan.
Any decisions taken at the summit could have implications that will affect today’s youth in the future, making it vital that young people are given a seat at the table On the eve of Global Tiger Day this year, youth from the 13 tiger-range countries will take the stage at the International Tiger Youth Summit. This will be a perfect platform for them to offer their recommendations and participate in the decision-making process for tiger conservation in their respective countries determining the future of the striped big cat.
Tigers may seem far removed from our concrete jungles. But, did you know that our fates are intricately intertwined with theirs? Tigers are the top predators in their ecosystems and maintain the ecological balance. Their habitats overlap with watersheds that supply water to our cities. Tiger habitats include forests that capture carbon dioxide from the air and help fight climate change, and some, such as mangrove forests, protect coastal communities from the fury of storms. Tiger reserves are often treasure troves of medicinal plants and natural resources that sustain local communities and provide them with means of livelihood. So, securing the future for tigers is about so much more than just one species; it’s for the well-being of millions of people and the health of our planet.
Tigers have long been people and planet protectors. This is our chance to return the favour. Let’s let our youth lead the way.
A monthly column from WWF-India
The writer is the Director-Environment Education, WWF India