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.
Bi-monthly updates from the Wild Tiger team with occasional guest blog posts and personal field updates from Sarika Khanwilkar.