So powerful yet so threatened, the tiger symbolizes our environment’s majesty and fragility, as it continues to be a victim of poaching, of drought, of habitat loss and game destruction... On July 29th, International Tiger Day aims to spread awareness about the disappearance of wild tigers. The number of tigers out in the wild is dwindling...while those in captivity in people’s homes is only growing!
We are proud to be part of 1% FOR THE PLANET; 1% of our annual sales goes to protecting wild tigers in Asia. Véronique Audibert, founder of Poh Kao, Tigers and Men, shares with us about the Sariska National Park conservation project supported by ALL TIGERS and you through your purchases.
A tigress and its young in Sariska, India
Where was the project before the Covid crisis hit?
The project has made phenomenal progress, which allowed us to secure a habitat for tigers and provide them with access to game and water. The project first aims to reinforce cooperation between village communities and national parkrangers du parc national who cannot always be everywhere. Local guards play an important role in involving the entire community in the protection of the land and wildlife.
The 50,000 trees planted as part of the project also nourish the soil of this region, which last year reached record temperatures worldwide. They also create natural resources for the local wildlife upon which the tiger depends. Finally, reservoirs to collect rainwater from the wet season have been dug by hand, while others have been enlarged ; they provide a vital access to water for tigers and wildlife as well as the villager’s herds of buffalo, camel, and goat.
The donations from ALL TIGERS have significantly helped these projects evolve and have provided a great deal of financial assistance (though the needs are still very much there!). ALL TIGERS also completely financed a drinking trough, which services more than 500 cattle—without counting the wildlife that has been able to take advantage of it, since the trough was constructed outside of the village in a completely biodiversified habitat.
Since collaboration between Krapavis, Poh Kao, and ALL TIGERS began with the first donation two years ago, the park has seen its tiger population grow to include 20 individuals. A tigress has now given birth to triplets twice! 2020 has been a wonderful year; 5 tigers have become adults and 4 cubs have been born. One of our cameras had also filmed something we’ve never seen in this species before: a male tiger taking care of its young and teaching them how to hunt after their mother died.
A tiger quenches its thirst from a trough built by the association
What impact has the Covid-19 crisis and lock-down had on the project and, in your opinion, tigers and their ecosystem?
The impact of Covid-19 is felt by all. But it truly is a major challenge for populations all across this country. The region of Rajasthan, where the park is located, was also hit during lock-down by a cricket invasion, drought, and record temperatures. These phenomena are direct impacts of climate change, which is caused by human activity.
Lock-down is still underway for the village communities, which means that the local pastoralists who live off of the sales of their animal’s milk cannot sell it outside the park, so their sole source of revenue has completely dried up. They use this money to purchase flour—they cannot harvest, it is prohibited in the national park—and make their own bread. So, no bread since March. And, since they are vegetarian, they only subsist on milk and leaves.
Cattle, the only source of revenue for the local population, also benefit from the water reservoirs
Some of the population will therefore risk looking for other sources of revenue. There’s been an increase in poaching worldwide, and deforestation has been happening at a greater rate. Fortunately, our local contact and the guards from the village committees have kept in touch, and there has not yet been any illegal activity in the park. The local organization will temporarily focus on providing food and health security to the local population by distributing flour and medical care (masks, hand sanitizer, etc.). We cannot forget that tigers can also be infected by Covid, so we need to do everything we possibly can to prevent this from happening. The tiger population in India would simply not survive if it does.
But there’s also been a positive impact of Covid, which everyone can attest to. Nature has been able to take a break from human disturbance. In Sariska, rivers have become clear and free from plastic and pollutants. The number of forest fires has also drastically reduced. We also know that the absence of human activity has helped reduce the level of glucocorticoids, the stress hormone, in tigers, which otherwise influences their reproduction rate. Two tigresses actually just gave birth to four cubs, and it’s likely that new births are going on right now.
The Covid-19 crisis didn't come as a surprise to those who have been sounding the alarm about how human activity destroys biodiversity. Poh Kao is also active in Cambodia, which you are quite familiar with. Could you explain it more in depth so that those who don’t understand the link between defending biodiversity and the pandemic can have a better idea of it?
For 20 years, the Pasteur Institute has been leveraging its strengths across Southeast Asia, aware that the greatest pandemics originate from this part of the world. We had the Avian Influenza, SARS, and now Covid-19.
Most of the viruses that are spread to humans come from primary rainforests. These viruses have been around since forever, species have just adapted to them. For example, the bat carries Ebola and AIDS without it having any effect on its health. But the virus is taken out of its natural habitat by the human activity that penetrates further and further into the rainforests’ most guarded and vulnerable areas. Deforestation in the past 40 years has been happening at a dizzying rate—particularly in Asia—and humans are always going deeper and deeper into these zones and exposing unknown viruses. They’ve also poached and consumed the fauna, to the point that it has reached critical levels of extinction, to respond to the ever-growing market for wild animals.
We wouldn’t be where are now if humans hadn't entered these areas to cut down trees or hunt out the flora and fauna demanded by the meat and pharmaceutical industry.
China’s Wuhan market, wild species that have never been in contact before are found crammed into cages, piled up on top of each other, defecating on everything—the wolf on the pangolin, the pangolin on the leopard, etc.—which puts them in a state of intense stress that lowers their immune system and promotes the spread of illnesses. The chosen animal is then slaughtered in front of the customer, since the tradition of taking an animal's last breath for oneself has become very popular, as it’s a new way for people to show off their wealth in China. And this is where Covid-19 was born. However, epidemiologists still do not know the chain of this spread.
Have large international organizations used this crisis to advance the discussion on the subject?
Strangely enough, it hasn’t been talked about much in the media. But in the past 4 months, major international institutions have implemented large-scale emergency initiatives to ban illegal international sales of wild animals. The Secretary-General of the UN called for a definitive closing of all wildlife markets worldwide, and China committed to it...though we know some have already reopened.
So, it begs the question about our place in our ecosystem: are we, like the tiger, an endangered species?
With the Coronavirus, humans have, for the first time in our very short history, seen how our ivory tower can crumble quickly and at any moment.
We’ve convinced ourselves that we, as humans, living on this planet, hold this position over the millions of other species that have been around since 4 billion years. But we cannot forget that human civilization has only been in existence for 10,000 years...
Scientists have acknowledged that this supremacist point of view, which gives us the illusion that we are completely independent from nature, will be the reason for our downfall if we don't admit that we belong to nature, if we don't free ourselves from this cultural block. Claude Levi-Strauss once said, «
Man is respectable by being a living creature, not master of creation ».
The belief that there is infinite growth in a world that is finite has not yet subsided. Living creatures and the environment have not yet gained our respect. Is it our arrogance which makes us ignore the laws of nature that nevertheless also apply to our species? With our collective intelligence, how have we not yet figured out how to prevent overpopulation and the depletion of natural resources, while animals have been able to regulate themselves since forever? It makes me think of the quote by CNRS’ Pierre Jouventin, “Has man become nature’s misfit, its failed animal?”
What do you hope for those fighting for biodiversity once this crisis is over?
We’ve already seen that this crisis has made more people aware of the dire need to save the ecosystems. But we do need to stop this idea that organizations committed to diversity must compete for financial help; winning a bid proposal has become practically impossible. The money goes to the largest organizations, and those on the ground only benefit from the leftovers.
Today, it’s generous donors that are supporting the protection of biodiversity. States and companies must invest in conservation efforts for living creatures and ecosystems, since we cannot even measure all that they provide. Today, their services are calculated by scientists against the losses caused by human activity and greed.
In order to overcome this crisis, the entire world needs to become active participants in an authentic revolution where science is listened to and the environment is respected. Victor Hugo once said,« How sad to think that nature speaks and mankind doesn't listen »
Thank you, Véronique, and thanks to everyone that supports us.
Read also: the Poh Kao project presentation in 2019
If you'd like to directly support Poh Kao, please contact Veronique via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or please visit the Poh Kao website. Individuals can give a direct donation and receive a tax receipt.
Poh Kao is also a part of Prizle, where you can make purchases from partner companies (such as Gap, Cdiscount, Trainline, etc.) through the website and choose a specific commission allocated to Poh Kao.
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