Monday, January 17, 2011
Tigers are the largest of the Asian big cats. There are currently 8 recognized subspecies of tiger (Panthera tigris):
1. Amur (Siberian) tigers (Panthera tigris altaica)
2. Bengal (Indian) tigers (Panthera tigris tigrisn)
3. Indochinese tigers (Panthera tigris corbetti)
4. South China tigers (Panthera tigris amoyensis)
5. Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae)
6. Bali tigers (Panthera tigris balica)
7. Javan tigers (Panthera tigris sondaica)
8. Caspian tigers (Panthera tigris virgata)
In the past tigers ranged across Asia, northern Iran, Afghanistan, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, parts of Pakistan, and the islands of Bali and Java. These days tigers are not so common and wide ranging. In fact, they are extinct in most of these areas with the Caspian, Bali, and Javan tigers completely gone. Some populations are more stable than others, but the remaining subspecies are in danger due to the illegal wildlife trade, poaching, and conflict with people.
Here, I'm going to focus on the Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) which are found mostly in India. Since 2008 the Bengal Tiger has been listed by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as Endangered. India has recently revamped its national tiger census methodology to include more updated and scientific methods. They are now using camera trap and sign surveys using GIS to extrapolate site-specific tiger densities. The results of this work (which includes some areas outside of India) has estimated the current tiger population of India at 1,411 adult/sub-adult tigers. Now, when it comes to conserving the genetic diversity of tigers, biologists like to quantify the breeding population (the number of animals raising offspring to reproductive adulthood). The breeding population of Bengal Tigers has been estimated at just 40% of the adult population. Why such a small number? Likely it is due to the small ranges which are not large enough to support an effective population, and those ranges are still shrinking.
There are all sorts of tiger conservation groups out there. They are all very interesting and most very worthy of donating to, but today I'm going to talk about some interesting programs at colleges and universities. There are a few American universities that have the tiger as their school mascot: The University of Missouri, Clemson University, and Auburn University. To save the animal that is also their mascot they have each created organizations to help educate themselves and others about this endangered animal. Recently, these schools have also joined forces with WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and its work in protecting the tiger. WWF has given these schools the challenge of raising $75,000 to help end the illegal tiger trade in China and the Eastern Himalayas. As of today $7,446 has been raised, with Auburn University in the lead.
Let's take a quick look at the goals of these individual groups, and I'll give you the links to their websites so you can learn more about them and possibly help them out.
University of Missouri:
In 1998 an Michael Baltz, a PhD student in biological sciences, wrote an editorial for the Columbia Daily Tribune where he suggested that students could take the lead in implementing a program that would support the conservation of their mascot. Soon after, in 1999, Mizzou Tigers for Tigers was organized. It was the nation's first tiger mascot conservation program. Here, faculty, staff, students, and alumni work together to conserve wild tigers. This organization works to raise awareness about the endangered status of tigers by working with local schools and educating students about conservation on a global scale. They bring in experts in the field to present public lectures on tigers and tiger conservation, and they also work to raise funds to aid in conservation efforts.
Goals: Raise awareness about the conservation status of wild tigers, fund projects benefiting wild tigers and people living near tigers, and enhancing educational and research opportunities for the university's students while contributing to tiger conservation.
University of Missouri Tigers for Tigers Homepage: http://tigers.missouri.edu/
This organization works closely with the Save the Tiger Fund: http://www.savethetigerfund.org/
A Clemson student returning from a trip to India decided to start a student organization to help wild tiger conservation efforts. This was the beginning for Clemson Tigers for Tigers. The organization struggled its first few years but grew to become a special topics class within the Biological Sciences department, bringing in experts to speak, volunteering at the Central Florida Animal Reserve, and even takes students to India to tour and learn about various tiger conservation initiatives. The club includes a "Cubs for Cubs" program that teaches local school-aged children about wild tigers, the "Adopt-a-Park" program which is leading towards sponsoring a tiger reserve in India, and, of course, fundraising.
Goals: Increase awareness and interest in tiger-range countries and enhance Clemson's reputation for social responsibility and public service.
Clemson Tigers for Tigers Homepage: http://people.clemson.edu/~t4t/
An article in Clemson's school paper The Tiger: http://www.thetigernews.com/news.php?aid=2654&sid=4
This organization works closely with the Tiger Trust: http://www.tigertrustindia.org/
Auburn also has a Tigers for Tigers organization. It is part of their chapter of The Society of Conservation Biology. Members of the organization work with local outreach programs and the Montgomery Zoo to provide activities for their various educational programs. They are trained by and work with Project WILD, one of the most widely-used conservation and environmental education programs among educators of students kindergarten through high school. They use the tiger to teach students about conservation on a global scale and use these themes to education students on conservation closer to home.
Goals: Raising funds for the conservation of wild tigers, becoming a partner in a nationwide Tigers for Tigers program, and educating on conservation in Auburn schools.
Auburn Tigers for Tigers Homepage: http://www.auburn.edu/student_info/societyconbio/tigersfortigers/index.html
You would like to help? Easy. You can visit WWF's page highlighting the Tigers for Tigers challenge and find links to donate to each school's fund here:
I also recommend visiting the Tiger Trust and the Save the Tiger Fund websites I linked to above. Additionally, you can donate $10 to WWF's tiger conservation fund by texting TIGERS to 20222.
(image from bioweb.uwlax.edu)