World Tiger Day proudly sits on Monday 29 July, a day to raise awareness of the plight of the tiger - in fact, 3,200 tigers, which is the grand total of those remaining in the wild. (An often stated fact is that there are more tigers in captivity in the USA than there are in the wild globally). But, what does World Tiger Day mean and how can it really help save the Tigers? And what is the 'I' of the Tiger?
Okay: which of these words should describe World Tiger Day: useful, pointless, or neutral? Who knows?
Certainly WTD can't hurt, but preaching to the converted is not the way. We need to reduce consumer demand for tiger 'parts', increase enforcement systems to protect them in the wild, manage habitats to avoid 'human-wildlife conflict', and just stop being so damn 'human' in our approach. Not everything has to have a price or has to come second to our needs. So, for World Tiger Day, let's quickly debunk some myths:
Fact: Drinking tiger wine does not make you more virulent. It makes you barbaric and senseless.
Fact: Having a tiger skin rug or trophy on your wall does not make you look or feel rich. It makes you look arrogant, ill-informed and uneducated.
Fact: Going to an attraction like Tiger Temple for a Facebook photo isn't a rite of passage, and any tiger that needs to be chained for hours on end for the appeasement of hundreds of tourists per day probably isn't living the dream.
Let's expand on that last point for a moment. Many of us would claim to love tigers and never want to see them harmed, but sometimes tigers are a victim of their own success and it's for that very reason that tiger loving tourists can so often inadvertently add to the issue.
Some years ago Care for the Wild went undercover at the Tiger Temple - tourist attraction and backpacker's favourite - in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. In the report we unveiled a variety of welfare issues and illegal activity. Yet, despite all the publicity at the time, tourists still flocked to see (and more importantly have their photo taken with/near/sat on) the 'tame tigers', those tigers that according to the website and the Thai Government 'live in harmony and at peace with the monks, rescued from poachers'. Hmm.
But as the tourists were still going, we went too, to see if anything had changed. The truth was nothing had, and we produced a new report earlier this year showing clear and tangible issues with animal welfare, health and safety and false marketing (blatant lies in fact). This time there were over 100 tigers, in cramped unsuitable conditions, bred on site and made to be manhandled by hoodwinked tourists, day in day out. One thing is for sure, they weren't living in harmony with the monks - this was definitely a one-way relationship!
But back to World Tiger Day. Tigers are dying and they will become extinct if we don't do something now. So what's the 'I' of the Tiger? It means everyone, in every country, every one of you, can do something to help, something right now.
Speak out, chastise those that consume tiger products, donate to tiger protection, pledge to not go to any tiger photo attractions, get involved. There are lots of days in the calendar like World Tiger Day, but they mean nothing unless we all come together and take action.