Conservationist Guide for “Tiger King”: Keep Wildlife

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By Zak Smith

It is quite amazing that at this time when the COVID-19 epidemic has a large part of the country buried in their homes, binging Netflix, America’s most watched show in recent weeks is focused on the trade of wildlife – what scientists believe to be the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. Make no mistake: Tiger King: murder, chaos and madness concerns the wildlife trade and other aspects of wildlife exploitation, just as surely as the occurrence of Ebola, SARS, MERS, avian influenza and possibly COVID-19 in humans is the result of the exploitation of wildlife. As an environmentalist, this is one of the things I thought about while looking Tiger king. Here are five more:


1. We are in a biodiversity crisis.

One million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, several in a few decades, including tigers. The main drivers of species decline and impending ecosystem collapse are changes in the oceans and land use (such as the conversion of wild land to other uses, usually agricultural) and the direct exploitation of species (such as removing animals from the wild to eat them for “medicinal” purposes). , or reasons for status). It is for these exact reasons that there are more tigers in cages in the United States than in the wild. Developers continue to destroy tiger habitat, and in the not-too-distant past, hunters have slaughtered and killed tigers for sport or the tiger trade (and some still do so illegally).

2. We must fundamentally change our relationship with nature.

Transformative change is necessary to limit species extinctions and ensure human well-being (functional ecosystems provide clean air, clean water, carbon sequestration, flood control, healthy soils, pollination of plants and healthy coastal waters that humans need to survive). Transformative change in this context means “fundamental system-wide reorganization through technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values”. We are not going to stop the loss of species and strengthen ecosystems if we continue to treat wild plants and animals as renewable and renewable resources that we can use as we want. Tigers and other animals Tiger king are used for profit and personal gain. No matter how they can be respected, coveted or cared for, they are always treated as exploitable objects, which reinforces other destructive attitudes towards nature. A little tiger is something to hold and photograph, a wetland is something to fill in and build, a rhino is something to kill so that we can use its horn for fake medicine. It is a vision of nature as serving human needs, an attitude that is destroying our planet and that must change.

3. Most trade in wildlife should be banned and we should protect more wild places.

As noted above, changes in ocean and land use and the direct exploitation of species are causing an extinction crisis and threatening the ecosystems on which we depend for human well-being. Consistent with our operating mentality, we have been stuck for centuries with economic and social models that allow unhindered use of wilderness and wildlife until there is a problem. We need to overturn this model on its head and use only wild places and wildlife if we can positively demonstrate that such use will not contribute to biodiversity and the climate crisis. Tigers and other animals appearing in Tiger king would not be in danger today and would not require “sanctuaries” if we had not destroyed their habitat and taken them from the wild for food, pets, “medicine” and trophies.

To make it right, we need to ban most wildlife trade and protect the natural world more. I say that “most” of the wildlife trade allows for the exception of well-managed fisheries. NRDC has long sought to limit irresponsible wildlife trade (fighting for species at risk internationally, supporting state efforts to limit trade, providing recommendations to China on wildlife law revisions ), and now we have to go further by banning most exchanges. In addition, we must support efforts to set aside large areas of ocean, land and land water to rebalance the functioning of our natural world. This is why NRDC and others support an initial call to protect 30% of the world’s oceans, lands and aquatic areas by 2030. In China, we are protecting areas in a way that helps tigers by supporting the government’s development of a national park system, with targeted efforts in one of its pilot parks, the northeastern tiger and leopard national park, which provides important habitat for Chinese populations in difficulty Amur tigers and leopards.

4. Not all shrines are shrines.

Many of the so-called shrines are dumpster fires; they are used for nothing but the exploitation of animals for profit, and the animals suffer needlessly. It doesn’t look like the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park – the park that once belonged to Joe Exotic – is a sanctuary, although it presents itself as such, so the public may be confused. According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, legitimate sanctuaries “do not reproduce, do not allow the public to contact, sell or otherwise exploit the animals they capture”. Legitimate sanctuaries can play an important role in saving species at risk, promoting animal welfare and educating the public. But those who do not meet strict standards are part of the problem, not the solution. The World Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) grants accreditation to animal sanctuaries that adhere to a set of policies, including the maintenance of a non-profit / non-commercial status. Big Cat Rescue, which is featured in the Tiger king series, “has held GFAS accreditation status since 2009.”

5. Changing our relationship to nature must include a just transition.

Millions of people around the world and the United States use nature destructively for their livelihood. I do not say that with judgment; often people do only what we have always done – business as usual – which unfortunately destroys the planet. Workers in the fossil fuel industry, fishermen in unsustainable fisheries, clearcutters in the tropics and boreal forests, and even people working in fake sanctuaries depend on the current system of exploitation of nature to support themselves. their needs and those of their families. Unfortunately, it is to the detriment of other people who depend on healthy and prosperous ecosystems for their livelihood and to the detriment of human well-being in general. If we are to successfully chart a new course for our planet, we must be committed to making people and communities whole. The rampant exploitation appearing on the screen in Tiger king it’s not just wildlife – it’s also many desperate people brutalized by a political and economic system with few options. We will not succeed in realigning our relationship with nature if we do not provide the support necessary for people and communities to move to more sustainable and ethical ways to support themselves and their families.

So look Tiger king and see if for you, like me, it informs the horror of the current moment, so maybe think of building a different world when we get out of it – a dynamic and natural world full of fauna and wonder, where we will orient ourselves around preserving nature, without exploiting it, and embarking on a new human journey.

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