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The world tiger population has declined from about 8,000 in the 1980s to fewer than 3,000 today. Global urbanization has diminished the tiger’s habitat to 5% – 7% of what it once was. Tigers roam 13 Asian countries looking for prey that in many cases is owned or poached by human neighbors. Demand for tiger skin and bone in Chinese black markets drives hunters to kill the big cats. Millions of dollars raised by conservation agencies worldwide hasn’t succeeded in stopping the tiger’s demise. Diane and her guests explore why tigers are disappearing and what can be done to save them.
- Alan Rabinowitz Zoologist, wildlife ecologist, chief executive officer of Panthera, a wild cat conservation group; author of “Life in the Valley of Death: The Fight to Save Tigers in a Land of Guns, Gold, and Greed”
- Caroline Alexander Author and contributing writer, National Geographic magazine
- Herb Raffaele Chief, division of international conservation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Tigers are disappearing from the earth at an alarming rate. Fewer than 3,000 remain in the wild. So far, conservation efforts have largely failed to save the big cat. New approaches focus more on scientific study of existing tiger populations, and working with governments to crack down on illegal hunting.
Only About 3,000 Tigers Left
Tigers are especially vulnerable to attack because they’re valuable, said Panthera’s Alan Rabinowitz. “Tigers dead are much more valuable to local people than alive, and it’s tied into the Asian medicinal trade. It’s tied into many other facts, primarily the medicinal trade,” Rabinowitz said. Some Chinese people believe that tiger parts provide a cure for many different illnesses, and that they can make a man more virile. And as tigers get even rarer in the wild, they become even more valuable.
“Tigers Are In The Emergency Room”
Tigers are bleeding out right now, Rabinowitz said. “We have to focus our resources on stopping the bleeding, and that means law enforcement, that means making sure that there’s abundant prey for tigers, people are not killing tigers, people are not killing tigers’ prey,” he said. Currently, people are destroying much of the tigers’ natural habitat, as well as tigers’ natural prey, which is crowding and starving them.
“Haunted By The Challenge” Of Writing About Extinction
“The challenge of trying to convey the potency of absence is unlike anything else I can think of,” Caroline Alexander said. Tigers are no longer just rare animals – they’ve been threatened for a long time, and now the threat is perilous, she said.
The Role Of The U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service
Though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is primarily a domestic agency, it does have international mandates. The Endangered Species Act refers to endangered species not just in the United States, but all over the world. “We can’t have too much law enforcement,” Herb Raffaele of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. “Every site that has tigers, if it is not properly controlled, they end up being poached practically everywhere,” Raffaele said.
You can read the full transcript here.
Images courtesy of National Geographic, from the December 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Tigers are disappearing from the earth at an alarming rate. Fewer than 3,000 remain in the wild. So far, conservation efforts have largely failed to save the big cat. New approaches focus more on scientific study of existing tiger populations, and working with governments to crack down on illegal hunting.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about what can be done to save tigers from extinction, Alan Rabinowitz of Panthera, Carolina Alexander, she's contributing writer for National Geographic magazine, and Herb Raffaele of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Please join us, 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning to all of you.
MS. DIANE REHMCaroline, I'll start with you. Going back to the 1900s, how many tigers were there then? How many tigers do we see in existence now that we are aware of?
MS. CAROLINE ALEXANDERThe -- every article one will read about the status of tigers always begins with this figure that there were 100,000 tigers estimated a hundred years ago. And I, frankly, have become very impatient with that figure because it serves absolutely no useful purpose. We're so far removed from ever being able to realize the landscape that existed at that time or the numbers that existed at that time that the number that survives now is just a kind of haunting relic of something that happened in a faraway place and time.
MS. CAROLINE ALEXANDERThe number of tigers in the wild today are estimated between, I'll quote the articles we ran in the National Geographic story, 3500 to 4300. However, even that figure, which our fact checkers at the magazine diligently searched, really errs tremendously on the side of -- on an optimistic side. That was taking at face value some figures that have been assembled by different governments and NGOs. I think most people working in field today would say that there are approximately 3,000 tigers in the wild today.
REHMAlan Rabinowitz, how did we get to this point from back there, however optimistic it was then or now?
MR. ALAN RABINOWITZWell, we got there by not having our eye on the ball, really. But there was -- back at a certain point, there wasn't really any reason to need our eye on the ball. There appeared to be tigers in all available habitat, seemed to be good numbers, but that's always a very dangerous thing because we always realized that there are too few when it's far, far too late.
MR. ALAN RABINOWITZWhat happened with tigers, which was a much greater threat than with the other large cats -- all the big cats are in danger to a certain point, but tigers by far are the most endangered with the fewest numbers. Lions are second, then come jaguars, but tigers are in horrific shape. The reason for this has to do with the economics. They're valuable. Tigers dead are much more valuable to local people than alive, and it's tied into the Asian medicinal trade. It's tied into many other facts, primarily the medicinal trade.
MR. ALAN RABINOWITZAnd the trade in tiger parts, tiger skin, is very, very great. So tigers have been -- in the last several hundred years -- tigers have been killed always, but the killing of them has accelerated. And as they get more rare, they're even more valuable and it's accelerated even more.
REHMAnd to you, Herb Raffaele, if you were put on the spot and had to explain why it is tigers are valuable, why do we need tigers?
MR. HERB RAFFAELEYes. Well, you know, being an ecologist, a lot of the conservation community, myself, we tend to argue that we need tigers because they're a flagship species. They play an essential role in an ecosystem that -- an ecosystem without tigers has all kinds of fallout effects. That said, I don't take that argument. I don't buy that argument, despite the fact that I'm an ecologist. I would argue we need tigers mainly because it's sort of like saying, well, why not fill the Grand Canyon with water and make it into a dam and create hydroelectricity.
MR. HERB RAFFAELEWe need tigers because tigers are one of the absolute most critical impact species as far as our own cultural values as people. You know, we get excited about extinct animals like Tyrannosaurus Rex. Well, today, animals like the tiger are modern-day Tyrannosaurus Rex, and they're a cultural value for the world, and that's why we should care about them.
REHMBut I gather, Alan Rabinowitz, you feel that our approach to dealing with this declining number of tigers has been off on the wrong tangent.
RABINOWITZWell, our approach, it's not that it's necessarily been off on the wrong tangent, but it's been a shotgun type of approach. It's been doing a lot of different things, all of which can be claimed as good. How could you say that educating children about tigers in a local school in China is not a good thing? It is a good thing, but it's not saving tigers.
RABINOWITZAt this particular point in time, tigers are in the emergency room. Tigers are bleeding out. There are less -- we know exactly where the last tigers remain, probably less than 50 sites around the world where there's breeding populations of tigers. When there's a patient in critical care, the last thing that you do is worry about extraneous things, is worry about that patient's home life, worry about what might be happening in other parts of his body. You focus on where that patient is bleeding out and stop the bleeding.
RABINOWITZMy strongest point today in the conservation field is that we have to focus our resources on stopping the bleeding, and that means law enforcement, that means making sure that there's abundant prey for tigers, people are not killing tigers, people are not killing tigers' prey, and people are not taking way the last of their habitats. That's the blood that flowing out.
REHMHerb, do you agree, disagree?
RAFFAELEWell, I can't disagree with Alan in terms of us stopping the bleeding. There's no question about that one. Somebody's in the emergency room, we need to do that. That being said, we have to look at why they're in the emergency room, and if there's only one person in the emergency room, that's a lot different than ambulances pulling up every day with more and more people, and we simply can't handle them.
RAFFAELEAnd I think that's my concern, and that is that yes, it's an emergency, and it's been an emergency for some time, but it's an emergency that as far as I can see, is only going to increase if we focus only on emergency room treatment, because we're not addressing why people are in the ambulances coming here.
REHMCaroline, how do you see it?
ALEXANDERWell, I think that part of the problem with conservation is that the timeline has speeded up so quickly, exponentially. So strategies that were begun under one set of conditions, a very different economic climate in China for example. Now there's a lot of money around for people to purchase valuable tiger parts and wares. This has happened relatively recently, and time is relentlessly seems to be speeding up.
ALEXANDERSo I believe that the luxury of this more multi-faceted approach, which is absolutely essentially to long-term survival of the animals, which are the -- Alan, might say the peripheral aspects of tiger conservation, are -- were devised at a time when time wasn't moving so quickly.
REHMAlan, what would you like to see happen?
RABINOWITZThe primary thing I would like to see happy is the people involved in tiger conservation, and the donors who give money to tiger conservation, get on the same page in how we have to focus our efforts properly. And while I agree with virtually everything Herb says, what I don't agree with is that when somebody comes into the emergency room, the doctor does not say, or should not say, how did this person get here.
RABINOWITZWho shot this person and why did they shoot this person? Why did this person grow up poor and end up in the emergency room. Those are absolutely factors you're gonna want to get at when you get that person out of danger, or cure that person or stop the bleeding.
REHMHow would you get the tigers out of danger now?
RABINOWITZOkay. Well, we do know how to do that. The good thing, the optimism I have is that we know how to say tigers. We absolutely know how to save tigers.
RABINOWITZAnd when you say they're -- there's primary factor. You have to have better law enforcement. There's yes, you're working against political will in certain countries, but I've never been to any country where the government has said, no, you can't help us save tigers. They've said, we don't have enough money, it's not a priority, but if you bring the funding, if you show us how to do it, we will do it.
RABINOWITZThe law enforcement is not adequate. We don't think our law enforcement in cities like New York or Washington is adequate, and there are tens of thousands of more law enforcement people per person than there are for the tigers. If we truly value tigers, we've got to step up to the plate in terms of what it really takes to be enforcing the law that people cannot kill tigers or hunting in these last tiger areas for the tigers' food.
RABINOWITZIf that's done, tigers come back very, very well. Tigers breed very well. Once we do that, once we lock up some of their key breeding areas, absolutely we should be looking at other things.
REHMAlan Rabinowitz, he's the author of "Life in the Valley of Death: The Fight to Save Tigers in a Land of Guns, Gold, and Greed." We'll take just a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk further and take your call.
REHMAnd that, of course, is the sound of the tiger recorded by National Geographic. We're talking in this hour about efforts to save the tiger, which the species of which has diminished now to about 3,000. Here in the studio Herb Raffaele. He's chief in the division of international conservation for U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Caroline Alexander, she's author and contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine. We do have her article on our website. So if you go to drshow.org you can get the link to that article.
REHMAnd Alan Rabinowitz. He's a zoologist, wildlife ecologist, chief executive officer of Panthera. That's a wildcat conservation group. And the author of "Life in the Valley of Death: The Fight to Save Tigers in a Land of Guns, Gold and Greed." That sound is just extraordinary. What does that sound say to you, Alan Rabinowitz?
RABINOWITZWhen I hear tigers vocalize it says a lot of -- it does right to my core. It's just a cry -- tigers want to survive. They will do anything to survive no matter how difficult we try to make the situation be for them. And when I hear them vocalize, as I did when I was a child standing at the Bronx Zoo watching them behind the cages of the great cathouse, it evokes the same incredible feeling of strength and sadness and captivity and just give me space. Give me freedom and I will do okay. Just leave me alone and I'll do okay. That's what that sound always brings out in my mind.
REHMAnd of course at the time as a young boy you were a stutterer and being at zoos somehow helped you a lot.
RABINOWITZWell, I'm still a stutterer. I just have learned how to control it a lot better. I was a severe stutterer as a child and my father knew that when times were hard for me in school he would take me to the great cathouse at the Bronx zoo. And I would stand in front of two enclosures, either the Tiger or the Jaguar. And these huge powerful beasts making those calls which you just heard in the -- and vocalizing in their concrete cages, this power trapped inside a cage just wanting to be free evoked in me the way I felt as a child inside of my own head.
RABINOWITZAnd I was able to talk to animals and not stutter very much, while I could not speak to people. So I grew up in my childhood feeling much closer to animals than I do to people, which is still true today.
REHMHow long did it take you -- as a young boy feeling closer to these animals dealing with the inability to speak to humans how long did it ultimately take you to get to open up to people as well?
RABINOWITZI'm not sure I've ever completely opened up to humans the way I've opened up to animals. I'm not sure I want to. But I didn't learn how to properly -- how to actually use tools to speak the way I'm speaking now until I was a senior in college.
RABINOWITZOnly then would I start trying to deal in the human world. And it was a dream come true for me because that allowed me to fulfill a promise, which I never knew if I could fulfill, which was I would try to be a voice for animals. Because I do realize and I think it's very true if people realize it, that part of how we mistreat animals has to do a lot with the fact that they don't have a human voice.
REHMAnd, Caroline, how did you first become interested in the tigers, the big cats?
ALEXANDERWell, the story specifically came -- the National Geographic Magazine had been pitched a story by Steve Winters, the photographer whose pictures appear in it and who's one of the elite big cat photographers in the world.
ALEXANDERGorgeous photos and very troubling also. And I believe I was asked to do this story by the magazine because I had written previously about tigers in the Indian Sunderbans for the New Yorker Magazine, that sort of swampy mangrove area with a very unusual tiger population.
ALEXANDERI was also haunted by the challenge as a communicator, if you will, of writing about extinction. I had some years previously been involved with a film about the ivory bill woodpecker, of all things, which was made in association with National Geographic feature films. And the challenge of trying to convey the potency of absence is unlike anything else I can think of.
REHMThe potency of absence, which we cannot feel.
ALEXANDERWhich we cannot feel. And so with the tigers, this problem I saw was that I can actually remember -- I'm old enough to be able to remember when the bell was first -- bell of alarm was first rung for them in the 1970s. And it seemed impossible. I was, like many people, had a kind of lazy passion, if you will, for cats. I loved them but I didn't think much about it or I took them for granted.
ALEXANDERAnd it seemed that tigers would always exist somewhere in forests safe across the seas. And you couldn't -- you might not see them, but they were there. And their cry was there and you imagined the forest resonating with that kind of call. And suddenly to be told it wasn't so was quite stunning. And I feel we've lived with that knowledge now for so long that the edge of urgency has been taken off. And so the question is how do you now convey to people that this is no longer just a rare animal, that they have been threatened for a very long time. The threat was real but now the threat is perilously real.
ALEXANDERAnd so the intent was to galvanize people to feel this urgency as opposed to just intellectually understand it.
REHMAnd before we get to what people can do, Herb Raffaele, I don't understand what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is doing being involved with tigers, since as far as I know there are no tigers here in the United States.
RAFFAELEYes, well, that's true except the Fish and Wildlife Service, though it's a domestic agency in a lot of ways, has international mandates. So, for example, the Endangered Species Act refers not just to endangered species in the United States, but endangered species around the world. And we regularly list species that are in other countries.
RAFFAELEThat said, there are a number of laws that congress has passed recognizing that the American public cares more and more about species outside the United States, that they have passed laws, one of which is the Rhino and Tiger Conservation Act specifically for the conservation of those animals in their native habitats.
REHMSo how do you react to Alan's criticism that indeed there needs to be more law enforcement to protect these animals from extinction?
RAFFAELEAbsolutely. Alan's absolutely right there. We can't have too much law enforcement. It is an emergency and we need to have people that -- every site that has tigers, if it is not properly controlled they end up being poached practically everywhere. So that's a reality and that's something we all have to help address.
REHMPractically everywhere, but the demand for tigers is greatest where, Alan?
RABINOWITZWell, the demand for tigers is greatest in China. That's where -- that's the country that's operating as kind of the vacuum cleaner, sucking up tigers from all throughout tiger range. Tigers are being bled from all the range countries. The country with the most tigers who's doing some of the best enforcement at the current time is in India at some places. Some places enforcement is not going well.
RABINOWITZBut many of the other range states are at perilously low numbers for tigers. And they're all feeding into this -- mostly a Chinese wildlife trade market, a medicinal market for tiger parts. And one of the misconceptions that many people in the west have is that most of the demand has something to do with sexual potency, and that isn't true. The medicinal -- the Chinese medicine is not a primitive thing. It's something that goes back over 5,000 years. Many of our modern western drugs are based on Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine is a very powerful form of medicine and it's used worldwide and there's a lot of efficacy in many of the products.
RABINOWITZTiger bone and tiger parts do not have any efficacy. It's been tested. It's been tested in Beijing (unintelligible) ...
REHMSo you're saying it's all mythology going back thousands of years.
RABINOWITZIt is mythological but that's just an -- that doesn't at all help with the tiger, because that's an important part of Chinese medicine. So even though it's partly folklore and mythology, that's a powerful part of that Chinese medicine component also.
REHMWell, you've got placebos in this country which continue to be efficacious in some areas. And if the belief is there in this tiger as medicinally effective, there you are. Caroline.
ALEXANDERIt's important to point out that Chinese traditional medicine has -- as it is sort of formally recognized by a board of practitioners has repudiated the use of tiger parts since 1994. So in official straight up Chinese traditional medical practitioners would not endorse the use of tiger parts. The market is fed by persistent traditional folk beliefs, but I think we should not be shy about saying that this is not about Chinese traditional medicine, which is respectable. This is about counteracting a lingering folk superstition.
REHMSo is there any way that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for example, can counteract this kind of continuing folklore and the demand for these tiger parts?
RAFFAELEYes, there is. And I think, you know, first starting with Alan's point which is you have to deal with the emergencies. And there's no question about that. We accept that entirely. It is these values and beliefs that are the crux of the problem and we should look at the values and beliefs from two sides. One is in China where you've got beliefs having a very negative effect on tigers. And then we also have to look, though, in the countries such as India where it is folklore and beliefs that make tigers and all living things part of a web of life.
RAFFAELEAnd so we're losing those values -- I'm more concerned about losing those values in India than I am about changing values in China. They both have to happen. But what's happening right now is values and beliefs that are either a great threat to tigers in China or where they have -- in fact, they are the main cause of the survival of tiger in countries like India and probably Myanmar and other countries. We have to keep those values alive.
REHMHerb Raffaele of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about keeping those values alive, Alan Rabinowitz?
RABINOWITZWell, I'm sympathetic with the idea but my overwhelming task in life is to keep tigers alive. If we lose -- if in the process of keeping tigers alive some of the cultural traditions have to be changed then they -- they've done that in the past. Nobody questions the fact that in Borneo tribal groups were forced no longer to be able to take heads, which was a very, very important part of cultural beliefs, head hunting. It was a rite of passage. It was a rite of manhood. We stopped that because that was not in the best interest of the people.
REHMHuman head hunting.
RABINOWITZYes, human heads. There are -- we are losing traditions and cultures in this world which shouldn't be, which we should fight to be keeping alive. But anything relating to the killing of tigers or the killing of tigers prey has to be stopped. That just has to be stopped. I cannot -- I will not buy into arguments that, well, people have to still be allowed to be hunting these animals which the tiger feeds on in the tiger's own protected area or in their last homes because that's been their traditional way of life. Well, I'm sorry. It's a different world and things have to change if we believe that tigers are still to survive.
REHMCaroline, what do tigers prey on?
ALEXANDERTigers prey on wild pig, Chital, which is a form of deer. If they're lucky, bigger things like muntjac and gaur, which are sort of the exotic big deer and oxen type animals. And they need a lot of meat. And part of the -- the main problem with tiger numbers declining is that, as Alan says, tigers are being killed. The other problem is that poaching of prey animals is also a problem. We speak of poachers and some of those are for the tiger trade market and some is for local hunting and meat.
ALEXANDERIf one's a local hunter -- I mean, there's several things that look dispassionately that might be what that particular person has always known how to do. But once those prey animals are also poached out, the hunter suffers as well as the prey. In other words, what happens when the hunter comes to the end of the line and has nothing else to hunt? So a change has to be made even if this were looked at in purely human terms, which is there isn't enough prey to go around for hunters to keep alive their long tradition of hunting.
REHMTo what extent are tigers hunted because they are attacking humans, Caroline?
ALEXANDERThat would be a very, very small percent. The numbers are always troubling because there are human casualties. I happen to have previously been in this area, the Sunderbans in India, where the man tiger interface is more dangerous than, I think, anywhere else in tiger range countries or reserves. But this happens usually when a tiger has strayed into a village. It's not a general problem.
REHMCaroline Alexander. She's an author and contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine. We'll take a short break and open the phones when we come back.
REHMAnd one of the questions I have, before we open the phones, how do we count tigers? How do we know how many are there, Herb?
RAFFAELEWell, the mechanisms for that have changed through the years but the real advance now is what they call camera traps. And so camera traps are set up in areas where tigers, like many other animals, follow paths and routes. And one of the good things, so to -- in some ways, is that they often follow roads through the forest rather then beat their way through. And so camera traps are set up strategically. And there's a whole science to it at this point and now there are some parks and protected areas that have a huge, basically, a covered bi-camera trap so we're able to photograph the animals at night without human disturbance.
REHMI would think all these areas are extraordinarily dark, Caroline.
ALEXANDEROne of the most remarkable places, I think, I've ever been was for this story and this was a place in Northern Myanmar or Burma known as the Hukawng Valley. And for people with knowledge of World War II would know that this was one of the arenas of one of the great air campaigns with U.S. cargo planes flying over the Himalayan hump, as it was called, and often crashing into this forest. And to give you a sense of the scale and density and darkness of the forest in this valley, I can tell you that there are still hundreds of cargo planes in that forest that have never been found.
REHMOh my. Oh my.
ALEXANDERSo this is extremely difficult -- this is a forest big enough to have swallowed planes. And somehow in this, these wildlife forestry officers have to go on foot, on lengthy foot patrols, and set up -- even setting up cameras, means somebody has to go into the ground to do it. And it's become a high art of -- lot of its to do with very sophisticated statistical models as to where you've set these traps best and how you survey and how you patrol. But, I think, the thing I carried away most vividly from this trip, apart from seeing an actual tiger, was the sense of the formidable task of just having to navigate this terrain.
REHMAnd Alan, how often are tigers collared with tracking devices?
RABINOWITZWe do radio collar tigers. It's become more difficult to do politically, frankly, in most tiger range countries because while many of the governments seem to not care as much that so many tigers are killed illegally, they care a lot more if a scientist ends up capturing one and putting something on it. But having said that, we do in certain countries capture them, drug them, put a radio collar on them. It's -- now the technology has changed from the early days when I was doing that on jaguars and tigers to where we use satellite collars or GPS collars, meaning that we can be getting data constantly from these collars.
RABINOWITZAnd they are breakaway collars, they will fall off...
REHMOh, I see.
RABINOWITZ...eventually, which is wonderful.
RABINOWITZSo it's not like that stays on for the life of the animal. And we get data from that of the animal's movements and most importantly, the data we want more than any is the dispersal. Where do these tigers move to because that, in many ways, helps tell us what to conserve, not only where these tigers are, but the young males as they're going and finding new areas, where do they need to go to, corridors? So that's very, very crucial data we're getting.
REHMAll right. We'll open the phones. First to Battle Creek, Mich. Good morning, Jason.
JASONGood morning. I was wondering if maybe putting a small hunt together for some of the tigers would help alleviate some of the pressure for the black market prices and maybe make it not as profitable for the poachers to hunt. And I'll take my answer off the air.
REHMWhat do you mean, a small hunt? I'm not sure I understand that, Jason.
JASONWell, maybe like one or two percent of the tiger population so that then it's -- you're not decimating the population, but you're taking some of them out to alleviate some of the pressure from the poachers.
ALEXANDERI think that's an extraordinarily perverse suggestion. The numbers are so small that, first of all, taking one percent, two percent, three percent is almost incredible. More to the point, there have been sort of these outlets that in theory are supposed to be taking the pressure off hunting the populations. For example, in China, there are 5,000 captive tigers being held in the quasi zoos, but which also serve or threaten to serve as kind of tiger parts farms.
ALEXANDERThe idea being that if you have, you can supply the market with farmed tiger parts that will take the pressure off the wild tigers. And putting aside all sort of squeamishness about that concept on its own terms, it isn't affective because as long as there is any market for the tiger parts, there -- to provide substitute tiger parts through hunting, through farming is still to feed the market.
ALEXANDERAnd the only way to kill the market is to make it absolutely -- so just take it off the books that you cannot use tiger parts, you cannot trade them. And this should be treated like the high crime it is, same way we treat drugs or arms trade which has -- shares many of the characteristics of illegal wildlife trade.
REHMAll right. To Ken in St. Louis, Mo., good morning, you're on the air.
KENHi, Diane, thanks for having me.
KENI am really concerned, I mean, this is a topic that I've actually witnessed firsthand. When I was in Thailand in the early '90s with the Navy and we took a tour of, you know, some different places of Bangkok and Temples and things and one of the things that I was just -- my jaw was just open the whole time I was there was these tigers being raised by pigs with golden retrievers there as well for whatever reason. And then, so as we went through this tour of this place, it was really sad because you knew, like, where are all of these animals going?
KENAnd I was just appalled to think that, you know, we were talking with the other people that were there, like, what are you doing with these animals? What's happening? And they wouldn't really answer it. And I just -- hearing this, you know, topic today really, you know, gets to my heart because it's like what's happening to these animals? Nobody would answer that, you know, when we were there in the tour.
REHMSo what -- how did you find out what was happening?
KENWell, you could tell that there were no older animals. There were no older golden retrievers. They were all puppies, all of a sudden, it's like we go through, you know, we see where they're born, where, you know, where they mate with the female pigs and then they're raised together. You know, the piglets, the cubs and the -- I don’t know if tigers are called cubs, but -- and then the puppies are raised together. And then all of a sudden, they're in different areas. The, you know, dogs are together with themselves and the tigers and so on. And then we go through the tour again and you go further and then they show...
REHMSo what you're saying is that you believe they were being raised for their meat?
KENAbsolutely, you know. I've been hearing the topics about what the tigers are used for, you know, in China and other countries, then it just makes sense to me. Why is there not a ban on this kind of thing because the tigers are being raised for that purpose?
RABINOWITZThat's a very good question. I was in Thailand in the 1990s also working in a place called Hoikaking (sp?) on the Thai-Burmese border. A place which fortunately now is one of the best tiger areas we've got throughout tiger range. At that time and up until the present day which is shocking to me, there were these tiger temples, I think that's one of the things that you're referring to, the most famous temple being in a place called Kanchanaburi, the famous tiger temple. And I believe that's the one which is shown in the National Geographic article.
RABINOWITZThese temples have gotten more popular instead of less. They bring in huge amounts of tourists who are allowed to play with the tigers, sit with the tigers. The tigers are defanged and declawed, usually. And you don't see old tigers there. And I've gone back numerous times purposefully, identifying the tigers by their stripes because the monks would claim these are the same tigers. And I put a lie to that statement, they were not the same tigers. There was a large turnover in those tigers because I could identify them in a way that the monks didn't realize we had the ability to do.
RABINOWITZMany of these temples, I can't say all of them, but they are feeding into a market trade, they're making money on tourists, they are doing nothing and these are monks and Buddhist temples. And, frankly, it's an abomination and why doesn't the government do anything about it, because it's a religious institution, the way we would view a religious institution.
REHMSo how do you reeducate people, Herb? You've had radio soap operas, for example, going. Tell us about those?
RAFFAELEWell, you know, I think that's one of the big challenges. The radio soap operas are a perfect example. We don’t use radio nearly as that much in this country anymore but in many parts of the developing world it's -- well, we do, I know we're on radio now, absolutely.
REHMI hope so.
RAFFAELEThat's right, it's just that -- it's funny, I was just watching a show recently and they were talking about putting four 55-inch television sets over people's barbeque pits. So that was what's on my mind, but, yes, that said, it's much more popular in the developing world. And so the question is, how do you reach out to people to get them to change their attitudes and their behaviors about these things? And radio soap operas is one of the tools that we found incredibly powerful.
REHMGive me an example. How does that work?
RAFFAELEWell, it's just like a television soap opera here except it has an environmental theme. And the environmental -- it's integrated into the soap opera, not just as an entertaining, you know, love triangle type thing. But rather has elements specifically related to conservation. And that could be the conservation of tigers, it could be this issue of using them, you know, their medicinal use and is that real or is not real?
RAFFAELEAnd if the soap operas are done in such a way that people really identify with the primary characters, they take home messages about how they treat one another, how they treat nature, how they treat tigers, how they treat other wildlife and...
REHMHow do you -- how effective...
RAFFAELE...how it's tremendous...
REHM...do you think that is, Alan?
RABINOWITZI think it is effective. The radio, in many, many tiger range countries is the primary medium, the way we would immediately say TV in this country, in many other countries where they don't have it in the rural areas, it is radio. I think these radio shows, what the Fish and Wildlife and Herb have funded are really good programs.
RABINOWITZBut you will always find me -- and I don't think those should be stopped but I have to keep on coming back to the fact that we have to -- we have to focus our efforts on stopping the bleeding of what is killing tigers right now, immediately. I'm not saying we shouldn't be doing anything else but we're so short of funding for doing what the most critical threats are that we need most of the effort and the funds to be going on mitigating those critical threats to stopping the bleeding.
REHMHow many countries have outlawed the killing of tigers, Caroline?
ALEXANDERIt's illegal, it's illegal everywhere.
REHMAnywhere in the world?
ALEXANDERAnd it's illegal anywhere...
REHMSo it is...
ALEXANDER...and everywhere in the world, in China...
REHMSo it's the poachers...
ALEXANDER...it's a legal crime and this is why the term law enforcement is appropriate. These countries and their own laws, own terms have outlawed the killing of one of their natural assets.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's go to Houston, Texas, Matesh (sp?) , good morning to you.
MATESHGood morning, Diane. I just wanted to say that it's an honor to be on the show. I've been listening for a long time..
MATESH...and this is the first time I'm actually calling in. I hale from Nairobi, Kenya, that's where I was born and raised and this is an issue that's animal conservationism despite, you know, being tigers, rhinos, lions, leopards, cheetahs, birds. It's something that's near and dear to my heart. I'm not an expert by any means but what I have to say, what basically I wanted to draw a parallel between something that I experienced when I was growing up home in Kenya with the rhino project and the elephants.
MATESHAs you know, elephants, at some point and rhinos and rhinos, even now, are on that endangered list. Obviously not as close as -- obviously not as bad as the tigers are but there was a significant impact in the early to -- early -- late '80s to the early '90s on the ban on ivory where the Kenyan government got involved with a public burning of almost three tons of ivory and there was a -- wasn't soon after that was a ban on ivory and countries followed suit. I know a caller, I mean, the person right before I got on the line that they was -- there is -- it is illegal to sell tiger products but I wanted to draw a parallel in the government involvement of, you know, these -- through conservation efforts...
REHMSure, to the black rhinos. Is there a parallel there, Herb?
RAFFAELEOh, absolutely. No question about it. And all of these whether it's rhinos, whether horn, whether it's elephant tusks, whether it's tiger parts, it all has to do with this tremendous demand. And the demand's going up. Where those demands are from, they're not from necessarily the same places for each but they're going up so how do you drive it down?
REHMAll right. And finally to Massillon, Ohio. Veronica, you're on the air.
VERONICAYes, hello everyone. I just wanted to have your guests, Diane, respond to an unusual circumstance that happens in Massillon, Ohio where I live. I'll paraphrase it by first saying that I don’t think the people of Massillon are bad people but I don't think they are understand what they're doing is necessarily appropriate, the best thing that they're doing for tigers. What it is, the Massillon football team gets a new tiger -- about one to two, sometimes, three tiger cubs a year because they want to have a team tiger cub at each of their football games because they name it Obie and Obie is their mascot.
REHMAnd what happens...
REHM...what happens at the end of the season? What happens when the cub grows?
VERONICAYes. And that's a big, big issue. (unintelligible) ...
REHMBut what happens? Tell us.
VERONICAYeah, I'm going to tell you. Locally, they buy -- they purchase the tigers and the past 20 years, they've purchased 42 tiger cubs and from the Stump Hill Farm, which is a place that sells and breeds exotic animals for profit.
REHMVeronica, we're almost out of time.
VERONICAAnd that place -- oh, and that place actually, I believe, many of the tigers wind up spending their life in a cage at Stump Hill Farm...
REHMAll right. Alan, can you talk about this very briefly?
RABINOWITZWell, those are tigers which come from captivity and they go back into captivity. It -- that, overall from a very hard point -- point of view, that does not affect what's happening in the wild world. What bothers me more is that these people who use tigers give nothing to try to be saving the wild animal which they're using for their own purposes.
REHMPlease go to drshow.org. You will see photographs. You will see Caroline's article. drshow.org, if you want to help save the tiger. Thanks for being here, thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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