Wednesday, March 12, 2008

3,500 tigers left — at a crossroads

Bengal tiger crossing road

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright

In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Of Panthera tigris, let not William Blake's immortal poem, or prayer if you like, be the only thing bequeathed to our descendants. Let them not read his words, and wonder what was this marvel of creation... that now is their disinheritance.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that there are 3,500 tigers in the world, all at the corners of Extinction Expressway and Survival Drive.

"In many ways the tiger stands at a crossroads between extinction and survival, and which path it takes is totally dependent on us," said Sujoy Banerjee, director of WWF India's species program.

The WWF's tiger coordinator based in Nepal, Bivash Pandav, said he believed there were 3,500 tigers left in the world. That compared with rough estimates of about 5,000-7,500 in 1982.

Pandav said in Sumatra, Indonesia, the number of tigers had dwindled to about 400 and the situation was now critical as forest areas have been decimated.

The demand for traditional Chinese medicines, and habitat destruction are the main culprits, with flow-on encroachment into human livestock areas also being a major cause. Out of the jungle, the tiger soon comes off second-best.

There is good news, though; tigers will turn the corner.

But additional pressure on governments to stop poaching, in particular from China, and other conservationist measures such as habitat protection could make a huge difference, he said.

"We can easily have 10,000 tigers, if everything goes as per our wish," said Pandav, adding that could be achieved in as little as 10 years.

"I firmly believe that tigers will continue to survive in certain pockets. They're not going to become extinct," he said.

Sarah Christie, a program manager for the Zoological Society of London, highlighted work being done by zoos to protect tigers, saying nearly a 10th of the money spent on tiger protection came from zoos. She said in the case of Sumatra, the total was 60 per cent.

Christie said the world's focus on climate change offered a chance to help the tiger.

"Tigers are indicators of eco-system health, they are indicators of forest health. Saving the tiger is a test. If we pass, we get to keep the planet Earth."

The irony is that you, Homo sapiens, are at the crossroads too. You need those forests as much as Panthera tigris, your children need to appreciate William Blake. Fully. So the only choices are: do you take this road, to find out more — or do you first take a sixty second detour?

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare 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?
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?

- William Blake (1757-1827)

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

‘twas just the other day that Dodgey and moi were discussing this pome, it being a fine pome. The main thing I was talking about was the cheeky fourth/third line rhyme, and how it had inspired the Sex Pistols ‘I am the anti-Christ, I am an anarchist’ which is actually my favourite example of the genre
(if you are going to save the tigers, you should also save the penguins)