Saving the Sumatran Tiger

Tyger, tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
(William Blake)





Today, I’d like to suggest a thought experiment:

Suppose that those of you reading this article – let’s say there are four hundred of you (you see, I’m an optimist) – are the only other members of the species homo sapiens sapiens left alive on the planet.  Wars, pestilence and natural disasters have killed off all the others, regardless of gender, race, religion or political philosophy. However, let us assume the proportion of male to female is about the same as it was before Armageddon struck. Let us further assume that all our existing infrastructure remains intact. You can still travel by aeroplane; you can still use the internet, send emails and make phone calls by satellite. Try to imagine your response to this apocalyptic scenario.

I would like to bet that within a few moments cyberspace would be buzzing with messages, giving names, addresses and phone numbers. Within a few more, the satellite links would be buzzing too, as the survivors contact one another with offers to meet and procreate in a desperate attempt to save the species.

Suppose now that a new species, homo sapiens technovorus, has evolved and is systematically destroying all cellphone networks, uploading deadly viruses and immobilising all forms of propulsive power. Moreover, step out of doors and you are at risk of capture and imprisonment or, on a whim, execution. What would then be your response?

Allow this nightmare scenario to occupy your consciousness for a moment, then consider an analogy from the real world – the plight of the tiger.

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Whether we share William Blake’s visions of divine creative power, or instead put our trust in complex cosmic laws, surely there can be little doubt that the tiger is one of the most beautiful creatures ever to walk the Earth.


Five subspecies of pantherus tigris still survive in the wild. Numbers have declined to critical levels. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the wild tiger population of Asia may now be no more than 3,200. 500 or fewer of each of four of the subspecies, altaica, corbetti, jacksoni and sumatrae – the Siberian, Indochinese, Malayan and Sumatran tigers, survive. Even the Bengal tiger, P. tigris tigris, the most numerous, is under grave threat. Of a sixth species, amoyensis – the South China tiger, the only known examples live in zoos.  And the tiger’s nightmare predator is humanity, the most savage and destructive species of all.

Consider the Sumatran tiger, one of three subspecies that once roamed in their thousands over the islands of Indonesia. In the 1930s, there were also the Java and Bali tigers. By 1940, the Java tiger was extinct, and in the 1970s the Bali tiger followed it into oblivion. The Sumatran is the only one that survives and that is now on the critically endangered list. Only 750 of these magnificent animals exist in the whole world and, of these, half are kept in zoos and parks, sumatran_tiger_3about 100 in Indonesia itself, the others scattered around the globe in North America, Europe and Australia. None of these will ever return to the wild. They would die.

The Indonesian authorities, other Asian governments and dedicated conservation groups are committed to protecting the tiger but they fight an uphill battle against “progress” and “development”, with resulting loss of habitat, as well as a constant war against poaching and illegal logging. Tiger “products” fetch huge sums of money on the black market.

Sumatran and other tigers have no technology. They cannot simply fly out of a war zone. Only the species responsible for their plight can rescue them from it.

That means US.





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