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Lions Aren’t The Only Big Cats Disappearing From The World

CREDIT: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
CREDIT: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Lions, tigers, and … just lions and tigers. It’s been a big week for both. While lions captivated the public eye with the unsavory killing of Zimbabwe’s beloved Cecil the lion, this week was actually supposed to be about tigers. In fact, Wednesday was International Tiger Day. And while lion lovers don’t have much to feel good about, tiger admirers feel on the verge of desperation.

First, early in the week a census was released that revealed that there were only around 100 tigers left in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans forest, the world’s largest mangrove forest. This is far fewer than experts originally thought, with the previous census a decade ago recording some 440 tigers. The Sundbarans is a World Heritage Site and one of the last remaining strongholds for the majestic cats. They are called Bengal tigers after all, and this is Bangladesh.

As Agence France-Presse reports, the reason for the low numbers has to do as much with the methodology used for the count as it does with the tigers’ suffering population. While in the past pugmarks, or footprints, were analyzed, this time hidden cameras documented the cats’ movements. Tapan Kumar Dey, Bangladesh’s wildlife conservator, told Agence France-Presse that the year-long survey that concluded in April found a population ranging between 83 and 130, giving an average of 106 tigers.

Camera trap image of wild Sumatran tiger, 2006. CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons
Camera trap image of wild Sumatran tiger, 2006. CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

Across the border in India, some 74 tigers were recently counted in the Sundarbans on that side of the border. There are believed to be some 2,226 tigers living in India with smaller populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar. In a rare instance of positive news, the tiger population in India has actually rebounded by more than 30 percent since 2010, when it was determined to be 1,706. It reached an all-time nadir of 1,411 in 2006. Indian environmental officials have attributed this success to the creation of government-staffed tiger reserves.

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According to the Guardian, tigers’ natural Indian habitat, “tropical evergreen forests, deciduous forests, mangrove swamps, thorn forests and grass jungles,” have almost disappeared outside of these reserves, of which there are 48.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, wild tiger populations are at an all-time low, having fallen some 97 percent in a little over a century. A few as 3,200 live in the wild today.

To add human-caused insult to human-induced injury, it turns out that sea level rise could wipe out a large portion of remaining tiger habitat in the Sundarbans. A post by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in honor of International Tiger Day states that “without mitigation efforts, projected sea level rise — nearly a foot by 2070 — could destroy nearly the entire Sundarbans tiger habitat.”

“This area harbors Bengal tigers and protects coastal regions from storm surges and wind damage,” IUCN said in a post. “However, rising sea levels that were caused by climate change threaten to wipe out these forests and the last remaining habitat of this tiger population.”

In a statement, IUCN Director General Inger Andersen said the impacts of this devastating loss range far beyond tigers and their habitat.

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“The fate of the tiger is intrinsically linked to the fate of the forests and grasslands it inhabits and in turn, the fate of the people who rely on these resources for their food and livelihood,” he said. “Resolving this human-tiger conflict epitomizes the challenge of modern-day conservation — how to allow people and wildlife to live side by side, to benefit from each other.”

This has been a rough week for animal lovers, especially those fond of big cats. Perhaps it is appropriate to end on a poem.

The Tyger By William Blake1794

Tiger, tiger, burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thine eyes? On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art Could twist the sinews of thy heart? And when thy heart began to beat, What dread hand and what dread feet?

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What the hammer? what the chain? In what furnace was thy brain? What the anvil? What dread grasp Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears, And water’d heaven with their tears, Did He smile His work to see? Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?