For years, the Big Cat Public Safety Act (Big Cat Act) waited for action in the US Congress while the number of captive tigers in the US continued to proliferate, their exact numbers and whereabouts unknown. The Big Cat Act is important because it would end the practice of cub petting and begin the process of overseeing captive tiger ownership and breeding. On December 3rd, the Big Cat Act (H.R. 1380 of the 116th Congress) passed the House, and we are now hoping that the Senate will vote on this issue before the end of the year.
Until Wild Tiger’s advocacy work on the Big Cat Act, people from places where tigers are wild were absent from discussions about the need to address the US tiger crisis. However, regulating captive tigers in an international issue. Wild tigers from Tiger Range Countries are threatened with poaching, done to supply parts to the illegal wildlife market. Poaching of wild tigers is stimulated by the demand market for tiger parts, that is sustained by parts from captive born tigers. Wild Tiger obtained almost 2,000 signatures of people from India in a letter to Congress which asked the US to adopt the Big Cat Act as a law. We presented the petition, Indians against illegitimate tiger breeding and ownership in the US, to members of Congress.
If the Big Cat Act becomes a federal law, the US will be a leader in captive tiger regulation. Next, Tiger Range Countries will need to continue to apply pressure to other countries where captive tigers require further regulation.
Exactly one year ago, at the 2019 Student Conference on Conservation Science-New York at the American Museum of Natural History, Sarika and current research collaborator Monique Sosnowski met. This year, Sarika shared their work at the same conference.
Monique is an environmental criminologist, and it was her presentation on this topic that interested Sarika and sparked conversations about wildlife trafficking between the two. They each shared interest in the trafficking of tiger parts, and the role that the United States (US) plays in this global issue. While habitat loss has played a major role in reducing tiger populations since the 1970's, poaching has and continues to be a primary threat to the tiger's future. Demand for tiger parts drives tiger poaching, and identifying patterns of trade and trade routes is an important area of research to inform science-driven anti-trafficking interventions. Most research on tiger trafficking has focused on Asia and little is known about tiger parts entering the US, which is a major market for wildlife products. Sarika and Monique decided to join forces, combining their expertise in wildlife trafficking and tiger conservation, in their project 'A decade of illegal and legal tiger parts entering the US.' This conference was an opportunity to share their findings and the co-authors aim to get this research published in a peer-review journal soon. We look forward to sharing more details.
Graphic by Pooja Gupta, https://www.poojaslaboratory.com/
September 26th was National Public Lands Day. To celebrate, Sarika joined the Student Conservation Association (SCA) as an alumni mentor during a virtual day of service. The SCA said in a Facebook post "some of the top themes from our alumni mentorship lunch focused on opportunities and the environment. Thank you to our experts for providing helpful feedback and career building tips for our attendees!"
Sarika focused on her experience in educating people in the US and India on issues related to tiger conservation in central India with Wild Tiger.
On July 31st, Sarika presented "species conservation: tigers in India and the US" as apart of a series of events hosted by the Student Conservation Association (SCA). Sarika is an alumni of the organization, completing a year-long Americorp internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015, and has stayed active in many SCA events.
In the presentation, Sarika clarified what species conservation is, and explained why the tiger is the focus of many conservation efforts. She debunked myths and gave examples of what tiger conservation is and is not. For example, organizations working on securing habitat with local communities in areas where tigers live is legitimate tiger conservation. On the other hand, the private and commercial breeding of tigers in captivity in the US is not tiger conservation.
Here are some of the questions (with Sarika's answers) we got at the end of the presentation.
Do you think Joe Exotic was good or bad for this movement (conserving tigers)?
Joe Exotic was bad for tiger conservation. He killed tigers in his possession and trafficked tigers all over the United States, actions that he was federally charged for and put him in prison. In addition, he misled people by making them believe that breeding tigers in his roadside zoo was equivalent to saving tigers. I am unsure whether or not his fame from Tiger King is good or bad from tiger conservation. On one hand, the show did not reveal the dark truth behind his actions and made him into a kind of hero. The series was not based on fact. On the other hand, the popularity of the show might bring the issues of captive tigers into the spotlight and help us pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
What is one question that you would like to ask Joe Exotic about his “work” with tigers?
There are two things I would like to learn from Joe Exotic: 1) For tigers that you killed or died in your possession, where did the remains go, and did you ever sell the tiger parts to somebody? 2) Have you ever seen a tiger in the wild and heard what tiger conservation is from somebody who is from a tiger range country?
Do you think the US government should rescind the permit for tiger cubs in order to support conservation efforts? Is that addressed in the Big Cat legislation?
The Big Cat Public Safety Act would federally ban cub petting. This is absolutely necessary to support tiger conservation efforts. If a federal ban cannot be passed, we must work state by state to ban cub petting and end the cycle of illegitimate tigers in America.
What has been the most challenging case that you have encountered in regards towards protecting tigers.
Some of the most challenging things about protecting tigers is that many people who work for tiger conservation are trained in biology and wildlife yet, we need people from a large variety of more social-oriented backgrounds such as healthcare, policy, and economics. For example, when people, largely women, are collecting firewood in the forest, they are at a high risk of getting attacked by tigers and other wildlife. Firewood collection is necessary because it is the fuel used to heat and cook food. People are also at a high risk of wildlife attacks when they are defecating outside, which occurs in households that do not have toilets. The access to alternative cooking fuel and toilets greatly impacts the relationship that local people have with tigers and other wildlife. Protecting tigers is more than counting tigers and securing their habitat.
Does the UN do any work to support wild tiger conservation efforts?
Absolutely. The UN ensures that tiger conservation remains a priority at high levels of governance. Although the UN does not directly work on-the-ground, they ensure international funding mechanisms that make grassroots work possible and create policy incentives for various countries.
Happy Global Tiger Day! Below are three things you can do right now to save wild tigers:
1. Support grassroots organizations working in tiger habitat. I have spent the last 5 years working with and getting to know the local organizations doing the most impactful work in central India. Tiger Research and Conservation Trust, the Last Wilderness Foundation, and the Satpuda Foundation all employ and empower local people, work 24/7, on-the-ground in and around Tiger Reserves, and work with India’s government. Donations to these organizations do not go towards marketing schemes and other overhead expenses that many international organizations have. If you are based in the US and are interested in supporting these organizations, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Support US legislation such as the Big Cat Public Safety Act and other bills that provide funds to international wildlife conservation. The Big Cat Public Safety Act is likely to be voted on later this year. If you are in the US, contact your national government representatives to tell them to adopt the Act as a law to address the US captive tiger crisis. If you are in India, sign this petition: https://change.org/indiansforthebigcatpublicsafetyact.
3. Have an active voice in environmental legislation in India. Until August 11, 2020, the public can comment on the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020. There are several reasons that the draft EIA 2020 is bad for tigers and their habitat, and the environment and democracy in general. For example, development projects such as mining can start construction before obtaining environmental clearance. In addition, public input on several types of development projects would be made impossible. For the past couple of weeks, the government has attempted to censor Indian citizens and organizations from campaigning against the draft EIA 2020. We need to show international solidarity on this issue. You can watch this video on Mongabay India for more information: india.mongabay.com/2020/06/video-how-does-the-new-draft-eia-affect-the-environment-and-me/. Email email@example.com with the subject line “Withdraw draft EIA 2020” and tell them that a stronger environmental law is needed to protect tigers and to safeguard our own health.
In Wild Tiger’s first effort to work with Tiger Range Countries (nations where wild tigers are found) on issues related to captive tigers, we partnered with Sanctuary Asia an online campaign. First, Sanctuary Asia published Sarika’s article, Roadside Tigers in the United States, which highlighted the tiger crisis in the United States (US) and publicized the article and campaign on Sanctuary Asia's Instagram. This ensured that our message reached a broad target audience. Second, we created shareable resources online. These include images to use on social media sites in hopes that people will share the story of #tigersinamerica.
The campaign's primary aim is to gather signatures on a petition to the US Congress, which urges the US to adopt the Big Cat Public Safety Act as a federal law. The secondary goal of the campaign is to create momentum for a sustained effort of people from India and other Tiger Range Countries to influence policies related to captive tigers around the world.
My mom and I have made over 100 animal-themed face masks over the past couple of months! Inside my house, an entire room transformed into a face mask factory. I have spent many hours cutting and ironing fabric while my mom sits behind the sewing machine. It has been great bonding time, and we continue to make them (available to order online here).
Stay positive and test negative. A big thank you to everyone who has supported Wild Tiger through the purchase of a face mask.
On-the-ground support for central Indian communities
Communities living around Tiger Reserves who depend on tourism revenue for income face numerous challenges during our global pandemic because of the inability to travel and the absence of tourism. We provided basic needs to communities living around Panna, Bandhavgarh, and Kanha Tiger Reserves through financial support to the Last Wilderness Foundation, one of our Indian-based non-profit partners.
For the last 5 years, Wild Tiger has been working in central India, which in addition to being a global priority tiger conservation landscape, is home to a high population of indigenous and traditionally marginalized people. These communities largely live at the edge of forests, and depend on these forests for their livelihoods and subsistence. Households also engage in seasonal migrant labor and amidst the COVID-19 lockdown, these migrants are traveling home from urban centers where the virus is present. Sarika is a co-author on a paper accepted in the journal Current Science titled Post-lockdown Spread of COVID-19 from Cities to Vulnerable Forest-Fringe Villages in Central India, which identifies potential methods to ease the spread of the virus if it reaches these rural, forest-dependent communities.
Click on the file below to download the press release.
Tigerland is a documentary on tiger conservation which won Best of Festival at the International Wildlife Film Festival (IWFF) in April 2020. In partnership with IWFF, Wild Tiger created the Tigerland activity guide and Sarika created a video taking a deeper dive into the issues raised by the film and discussing how COVID-19 is impacting communities and wildlife in India. Our guide has supplementary information and activities for high school students to further engage with tiger conservation issues and critically think about sustainable development.
The activity guide and Sarika's video can be found by clicking here.
Bi-monthly updates from the Wild Tiger team with occasional guest blog posts and personal field updates from Sarika Khanwilkar.