"Only 3,000 tigers are left in the world"

Jan 11, 2014, 14:27 IST | Kanika Sharma

Steve Winter has been working with National Geographic Magazine for 22 years, and teamed up with Sharon Guynup, an environmental journalist to release the book, Tigers Forever in December 2013. Kanika Sharma got the duo to pander about the big cat, Kaziranga and the p-word

On the book:
Steve: The world’s most popular animal is also, the world’s most endangered big cat. Sharon interviewed 68 people, including many tiger experts in India like Belinda Wright, Valmik Thapar and Ulhas Karanth. The books covers my work in Myanmar, Thailand, Sumatra and India (Kaziranga, Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh and Sunderbans).

Tigers Forever
Tiger scratching tree at Kaziranga: Tigers zealously protect their territory against intruders. They scratch, spray, rub, and roar to mark boundaries or advertise their presence. These messages help tigers find a mate — or avoid surprise encounters. Pic courtesy/Steve Winter

Sighting the tiger for the first time
Steve: We came around the corner, and boom. One of the biggest tigers in the eastern side of Kaziranga was sleeping on the road and he wasn’t very happy to see us. And, it took our breath away. Luckily, I got off a shot but I also set up remote cameras where I got incredible images — intimate and in the elephant grass. So, Kaziranga was a big step because tigers live around other animals there as they have in India for centuries. In Kaziranga, they live with four species of deer, the largest population of Asian wild water buffalo, the largest population of elephants left in Asia, and the reserve has the highest density of tigers — so Kaziranga is very unique.

Tigers Forever
Steve Winter and Sharon Guynup Pic/Datta Kumbhar

On saving the tiger:
Steve: We become very removed from our natural world, living in the cities. But the fact remains that if you save the tiger, you save everything underneath it. We need to take a moment where everybody holds their nose and can’t breathe at all. If you don’t have any forests, you won’t have any air. But humans never react to anything unless there’s a disaster.
Sharon: When I was researching last year, biologists said 3,200 were left. Now, a year later, people are saying 3,000. India has about half of them but they are in small pockets. It’s hard for them to even breathe free. People don’t realise how dire the situation is.

On poaching:
Steve: In India, only 3% of poachers are jailed. Even when poachers are apprehended, it takes years to get them convicted. Poaching is worse now than it’s ever been.
Sharon: That’s untrue, Steve. It was bad in the 1980s. Maneka Gandhi’s Save the Tiger programme was the largest and most successful tiger conservation programme that has happened anywhere in the world. But in the 80s, with China’s growing industrialisation, people had larger disposable incomes. Also, traditional Chinese medicine demands tiger parts. Thus, all of a sudden, tigers started disappearing in front of our eyes. There’s a spike in poaching again and not only with tigers but rhinos and elephants as well.

Right now, the biggest products are tiger bone and tiger bone wine and there’s a huge growing market for luxury furniture items made from tiger skin in China. With a population of 1.5 billion people (in China), there aren’t enough animals on the planet to meet that demand anymore.
Steve: As an immediate plan, there has to be a police in forests to ensure their survival.

Tigers Forever
Tigers Forever: Saving the World’s Most Endangered Big Cat by Steve Winter with Sharon Guynup, National Geographic, Rs 2,100. Available at leading bookstores.

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