Animals: They were here first
If There Were No Tigers
Sometimes I wonder about the astounding abundance of life that inhabits our planet. So much diversity. What’s the value of all this variety? Surely we can get by with a few hundred types of flowers instead of the thousands upon thousands that can be found in every crack and corner on earth. And what about wild animals? My granddaughter asked me if we could get along without tigers. She had heard that their populations have dwindled considerably and wondered how we would all fare without these magnificent and mysterious cats. I did a little research so I could give Zofia a proper response. The Global Tiger Initiative had the information I needed. Here is an excerpt:
Tigers are a symbol of all that is splendid, mystical and powerful about nature. The loss of tigers would inevitably mean the loss of cultural and spiritual values that connect humans to the wild world. There is a wealth of legend and lore connected with the tiger in Asian cultures. As David Quammen says:
‘For as long as Homo sapiens have been sapient, alpha predators have kept us acutely aware of our membership within the human world. They have done it by reminding us that to them we’re just another flavor of meat’.
Ecologically speaking, loss of large cats such as tigers from their natural habitat has been seen to result in irreversible changes in natural ecosystems. Being at the top of the food web, the decline of large predators may lead to over-abundance of herbivores such as deer, which in turn has repercussions on tree regeneration and seed dispersal. Such effects reverberate through the food-web, causing long-term changes in natural flora and fauna, eventually leading to species losses. For instance, the absence of carnivores has led to over-population of white-tailed deer in Eastern United States, of blue bull in the Gangetic plains of northern India and agoutis in Barro Colorado Island, Panama.
Habitats where wild tigers live are high-value ecosystems that provide vital services to humans, such as carbon sequestration, hydrological balance, pollination services, protection from natural disasters and soil erosion, medicinal plant genetic diversity, and bio-prospecting. For instance, tourism values from tiger habitats run into billions of dollars today and contribute to the livelihoods of millions of people worldwide. Further, wildlife tourism is still highly under-valued and people are willing to pay many times more than they currently are, exhibiting the revenue-generating potential of natural habitats. It has also been demonstrated that lasting benefits from nature depend upon the maintenance of essential ecological processes and upon the diversity of life forms. By allowing tigers to go extinct, therefore, we would be depriving future generations of the benefits from natural diversity that have been the bedrock of human progress.
Many of the tiger landscapes exist in regions of high biodiversity. Thus actions to protect tigers in their natural habitats will automatically lead to global benefits for biological diversity. About 71% of the tiger landscapes lie in one of the designated 25 biodiversity hotspots of the world.
Finally, the tiger is an indicator of how human society is doing on the larger question of sustaining environmental quality in the face of ever-increasing demands on finite resources.
Tiger presence will be a barometer of the critical question:
Are we making the right choices to sustain the planet?
Want to help save the tigers? Here is a link to the Global Tiger Initiative: http://globaltigerinitiative.org/