Sometimes good intentions go awry, usually through the implementation of a very bad idea.
This seems to be the case with Indonesia's latest attempt to save the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, only about 400 of which are estimated to remain in the wild. In an effort to raise money for their conservation, Indonesian officials have crafted a proposal which would allow wealthy citizens to care for the tigers as pets for a fee of one billion rupiah (about $107,000 USD) per pair.
"There are many orders from rich people who want them, who feel if they own a tiger they are a big shot," MSNBC.com quoted Indonesia's Director General for Forest Protection and Nature Conservation as saying.
Despite Indonesia's assurances that the animals' welfare will be monitored — tiger renters would be required to provide an enclosure that meets specific criteria and must allow government officials to inspect the animals regularly — there are obviously grave concerns about the program.
"It shows the government is not serious about addressing the real issues threatening Sumatran tigers. They need to stop issuing forest concessions,” Bustar Maitar of Greenpeace said.
Already several environmental organizations have complained about the ill-conceived plan, and more are likely to follow suit as the leaders of thirteen nations with extant tiger populations meet this week in Hua Hin, Thailand, to discuss conservation efforts. The event, organized by the Global Tiger Initiative
, a partnership between the World Bank, the Smithsonian
and the International Tiger Coalition
, will encourage leaders to implement the conservation strategies
outlined by experts during an earlier meeting in Kathmandu, Nepal
. Unsurprisingly, tiger rental is not one of the strategies being endorsed.
With only a few thousand tigers (including all subspecies combined) remaining in the world, every animal must be offered specific protection: from habitat loss, from poaching and from governmental interference. Two other subspecies of Indonesian tiger have already been lost. The last Bali tiger was shot in 1937, and the rare Javan tiger, last officially sighted in the 1970s, is likely extinct as well.
While Americans may laugh at the idea of tiger rental as a conservation technique, this type of bureaucratic misstep is an outward sign of the attitudes that thwart many legitimate efforts. It should be a wake-up call for America and other developed nations to see that the issue of extinction is an issue of economics and of culture, as well as of biology. We cannot import Sumatran lumber, rubber or coffee and then pretend that we have no role in Indonesia's deforestation.
Similarly, we cannot laugh off tiger rental when it is being legitimately discussed by a national government. Instead, we need to open discourse about alternative ways for Sumatrans to preserve the remaining tiger habitat. We need to make it economically feasible for them to do so, and we need to educate people about the disservice done in using animals as status symbols or for entertainment.
Otherwise, a day may come when tigers are nothing more than a punch line.
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