Today, we went to see tigers. And they were more awe-inspiring, more impressive, more incredible than I ever could have imagined. Technically, this post is supposed to be about the plight of tigers in the country of Laos, but first I’m just going to treat you to a little introduction.
The front legs were wide, stocky and muscled, the perfect kind of limb to maul an antelope or knock a head clean off, or provide the stamina and speed needed to chase after their prey, or run from a threat. Their paws were a work of art and mechanics, their toes with a hole straight down the middle of them, which fur closed up over when they weren’t using their claws. Yes, the reason for this engineering was so the claws could come rushing out at will, as soon as they tensed the muscles of their foot. Their coats were beautiful, ranging from orange to a tawny brown, fading to white on their stomachs and the inside of their legs. Black stripes streaked down their sides and back, providing perfect camouflage.
And their faces! Deep, dangerous amber or dark green eyes set in such majestic symmetry, tawny at the top, white around the bottom, slender stripes cascading down from their crown. Rounded ears, huge, allowing such amazing hearing, rose out of the head. I tell you, once you look at a tiger’s face while it’s looking right at you, you will feel so many emotions… awe, fear, excitement.
…Okay. Back to business.
The Greater Mekong region in Laos is the largest wild tiger habitat in the world. And yet its population is few. In Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia combined, the tiger population only numbers around 350. That number is down from 1,200 in 1998.
You see what we have done?
There could be as few as thirty wild tigers in Laos. Thirty. And if you were paying any sort of attention to my introduction, you know what the world is losing.
The main cause? It’s poaching. There is an increasing demand for tiger body parts around the world, for traditional medicines, for décor, even for wild meat in restaurants.
And don’t everyone reading this blame it on the Chinese. It’s true China supplies tiger products around the world (as well as Thailand and Vietnam) but it’s everyone. It’s all of us, not liking it, but not doing anything about it either. It’s all of our fault. And it’s us that are going to have to deal with the guilt when we are the single surviving species on this earth.
We are passive. What are our excuses? Not having enough time, forgetting, not bothering. Well, when we don’t bother, a tiger is caught in a trap and brutally slaughtered.
And not only that: Also tiger farms. Places where these huge animals, animals that should be prowling through a green, leafy jungle, are crammed in cages and bred for their pelts and bones. The bones are ground up and steeped in alcohol to make tiger-bone wine. Their flesh is sold to restaurants. Their dead bodies are skinned and sent to make rugs for Asia’s wealthiest population.
And ask yourself: What kind of sick species are we?
We say that we are superior. We may have more developed brains, but that doesn’t make us better. In fact, from my point of view, just the fact that these animals don’t cage each other, breed them like cattle for their body parts to make a profit, don’t kill each other for things they don’t even need, make them far superior to us. Far superior.
The tiger population is at an all-time low, only 3,200 left in the wild worldwide. And it’s not just poaching; when habitats are cleared away, the prey cannot survive. And when the prey cannot survive, the predator cannot either.
The place where we went is called Tiger Kingdom. How ironic. It is not the tiger’s kingdom at all, but the human’s. Just another Human Kingdom, where homo sapiens is monarch, and panthera tigris is a slave.
A tiger could kill us on a whim. It is one of the most revered and most feared species on this earth for a good reason. But in the face of the human’s toys, guns, drugs, electric sticks, the tiger can only watch while its life dies behind it. Imagine being a tiger. Stuck in a cage, with nothing to do but pace, sleep, pace again, while all the while humans hang around like annoying mosquitos you cannot swat. They giggle and screech playfully, despite the warning sign outside, and you know if you do not let them stroke your brilliant fur, and hold those paws that could kill them with a blow, you shall face the consequences.
That is what I saw. It may not have really been there, it may have just been imagined, but that is what I saw.
Most tiger organizations are not for the benefit of the tiger. They are not to help the tiger populations bounce back. They are for one of the most powerful human motivations known.
Yes, that is what I saw.