The Chinese, in all their ecological ignorance, have reason to be proud. After systematically decimating all things living from their once-bountiful land, they now expect to be felicitated for their ‘conservation’ efforts.
China announced on May 22 that it expects the birth of 100 Siberian Tigers at the Manchurian Tiger Park in the city of Harbin. The cats, bred entirely in captivity, are likely to have limited or no hunting or survival skills (a publicity shot shows a young tiger relishing a chicken). But even if some of them survive, where is the habitat available for their successful reintroduction?
Wildlife biologist and noted tiger researcher Dr. Ullas Karanth showed, in his documentary ‘Tigers: Fighting Back’ that though the tiger is adaptive enough to change its millennia-old habits — such as the need for large territories — it still needs undisturbed habitat and plentiful prey in order to survive and successfully reestablish itself at the apex of the food chain. There are, at present, about 400 wild Siberian tigers in the wild, and nearly all are at risk from poachers who hunt them for their hide and for their bones and sexual organs, which Chinese quacks covet for supposed aphrodisiac properties.
Captive breeding and reintroduction may work in the case of smaller mammals, which are less territorial. But in the case of the tiger, this is a dubious achievement. Case in point: at a lecture following the screening of ‘Tigers: Fighting Back’ in Bangalore last year, Dr. Karanth was interrupted by a middle-aged man who claimed to be a senior veterinarian. He earnestly offered to set up ‘farms’ where he could help breed the tigers. He imagined that tigresses, like heifers, would be injected with fertility hormones to breed faster and more prolifically. He was confident that he could solve the crisis within a few years.
Dr. Karanth heard him out and responded that merely bloating the tiger’s population would not solve the problem. It is more important to preserve its habitat, allow it to return to its winning ways and settle itself once more at the top of the food chain.
Are the Chinese ‘conservationists’ listening?