Academic journal article Geography

Challenging Assumptions: Under the Feet of the Tiger

Academic journal article Geography

Challenging Assumptions: Under the Feet of the Tiger

Article excerpt

Most of us, as compassionate and sentimental beings, are drawn to the plight of many of the world's species. We watch documentaries and/or read about worldwide efforts to conserve species that are often focused on the conservation of high-profile animals such as the tiger, the orang-utan, the rhinoceros, the panda and the whale. It seems natural to be concerned about the future of these animals. We fix our attention on and empathise with the charismatic, the majestic and the powerful (Curtin, 2006; Lorimer, 2006). As we become ever more knowledgeable about the plight of these species, our reasons for saving them become more complex. We know, for example, that these animals act as standard bearers for the conservation movement as a whole, can provide income potential for local people from tourism, and, some feel, the species simply have a right to survive (McNeely et al., 1990).

But, what if I claimed that in comparison to thousands (potentially millions) of other species, the tiger and other such flagship species are, in the great scheme of things, not really that important? Tigers are visually appealing, of course, but the drama of conserving them has distracted us from the more important story that is being played out under their (and our) feet. In a world where the human population will reach more than 9 billion in about 30 years (UN, 2012), it is my contention that we need to refocus our conservation resources far more towards education so that we can ascribe meaning to the real 'superstars' in the species world: the species that can feed us (and our descendants), protect us and sustain us.

We must re-learn the value of the multitude of species that surround us. Many are afforded little notice, protection or value and yet it is these species who are the latent 'superstars'. In essence, the multitude of species under and around the very feet of the tiger need protection, rather than focus being placed on the tiger and Its habitat. Before I explain further, one could immediately ask: 'Surely by saving the tiger we save the forest, so aren't we achieving the same end anyway?' In part, yes, but when the focus is on a specific species, what happens when, for example, the last tiger is gone from the reserve or the last rhino is shot? The perceived importance of that reserve would critically diminish - the key rationale for the reserve in the first place, to protect the (highly visible) animals and to safeguard any value to local communities, would be gone. The point is that we must expand our focus away from species-specific conservation - the tiger reserve, the mountain gorilla sanctuary, the otter lake, and so on. The reason for doing so is largely pragmatic: our continuing ability to supply enough clean water, control our harmful emissions, treat our waste, fight bacterial infections and feed ourselves is looking increasingly doubtful. In essence, this comes down to one underlying issue: population pressure.

Population pressure has very serious implications 'for all aspects of human life' (UN, 2014). We will need much more food, medicine and a range of resources on a scale barely imaginable to us. Thus, it is my contention that it is only by recognising the potential of conserving and enhancing our natural resources - in this instance our biodiversity - that we will help ourselves to survive the next century or so. I believe that we will get over the population 'hump' and this article is not intended as a rant on how we are headed for Armageddon. Paradoxically, perhaps, the worldwide population is showing signs of decline, but it is how to get through an 80- to 120-year period of intense human pressure on our planet that will require considerable attention. Pivotal to this is the need to start recognising (learning) that it is the often small and/or hard to see species that will prove the real 'superstars'.

The human value of species diversity

It is time we humans recognised the multitude of species on this earth as being of absolute value to us, to see them as having significant hidden potential, to view biodiversity as our collective pension scheme - not just our emotional pension, but also our medical one. …

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