Tiger Mascot Schools Unite To Save Wild Tigers
The Clemson University student group Tigers for Tigers unleashed their passion to save wild tigers when they united with students from 12 other tiger mascot schools to create a new “National Tigers for Tigers Coalition.” This is the first time a school’s mascot has been used by students to kick-off a national campaign for an endangered species. The Coalition held their first Summit at Clemson University in South Carolina, from April 19-21, where 37 students from around the country gathered with their hearts and minds united.
During the Summit, the students heard from a variety of experts on the threats facing tigers today, especially on areas where student activism can help. The students decided on a structure for the National Coalition, and selected their first tiger campaigns. Their main interests are in ensuring that tigers in the US are only held by institutions that can provide for their safety and welfare, and that tigers in the wild are well protected from poaching and other threats.
Sean Carnell, president of Tigers for Tigers at Clemson said, "If we can develop a way for students across the country to collaborate in support of tiger conservation, we can truly make a difference. As students, we have access to a plethora of resources that can amplify our efforts. We wish to provide opportunities for students of all majors to get involved in tiger conservation by gaining real-world experience and becoming inspired to save our beloved mascot.”
The 13 Universities and Colleges (and state) involved in the coalition are: Auburn University (AL), Brenau University (GA) , Clemson University (SC), Colorado College (CO), Doane College (NE), Hampden-Sydney College(VA), Louisiana State University (LA), University of Missouri (MO), Princeton University (NJ), Rochester Institute of Technology (NY), SUNY-Cobleskill (NY), Towson University (MD), and Trinity University (TX). In total 57 schools were invited to join the coalition so more support is anticipated in the coming months.
The keynote speakers at the Summit were Ms. Anjana Gosain, Honorary Secretary of Tiger Trust India, who spoke about the conservation challenges in her country, and Dr. Ron Tilson of the Minnesota Zoo Foundation, who described the lessons he has learned from a career studying tigers in the wild. Other invited experts came from the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Big Cat Rescue, and National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA). They spoke about the status of captive tigers in the US, and anti-poaching efforts abroad, and showed how students could help with both. Takako Sato, the founding Alumna of Clemson’s Tigers for Tigers, came all the way from Japan to talk about her work for Tiger Trust India, and opportunities for alumni involvement.
The students were welcomed to the Summit by Sean Carnell, President of the Clemson T4T club, who described the vision for this new Coalition. Dr. David Tonkyn, founding faculty advisor to T4T, also welcomed the students, pointing out that when their children ask what they did in college, they can proudly answer that they founded a National Coalition to save tigers!
In her keynote speech, Ms. Gosain described the 25 years of work by Tiger Trust India, and addressed the many challenges that wild tigers face there – habitat destruction, poaching and increasingly revenge killing of tigers by farmers who have lost livestock to them. She also showed a film “The Truth About Tigers” by Shekar Dattatri which motivates it’s viewers to become a voice for the animals who have no voice of their own. She also introduced the internationally famous wild Tigress of Ranthambhore National Park, Machli to make the stark comparison between wild tigers to captive tigers. Machli had 9 surviving cubs who themselves have produced 11 more, showing the power of saving just one tiger. Throughout the conference, Mrs. Gosain encouraged the students to make the most of their youthful energy as she has been waging this battle for so many years and it’s so encouraging to see them so engaged on the subject.
The USA has more captive tigers then there are wild tigers in the entire world. There is no clear number on how big the population of big cats is in the US, but it’s estimated to be nearly 10,000 privately owned Tigers. In the wild, there are estimates of only 4,000 cats scattered in different Asian countries. Other speakers at the conference focused more on issues in America, such as the lack of laws controlling private ownership and breeding while in captivity. Tracy Coppola and Cynthia Carson from IFAW described the lack of policies controlling big cat ownership. They highlighted the USDA’s lack of enforcement when trying to register owners and the movement of the cats across state lines. Carol Baskin of Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue and representative of the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition emphasized the need to change federal laws to prevent inappropriate private ownership of big cats. She discussed the use of commercial tiger cub-petting and “swimming with tigers” where people could easily be harmed and how the tigers are forced into stressful situations. These situations can easily escalate as the young tigers could get agitated and aggressive towards the public. Throughout Mrs. Baskin’s history of taking in unwanted or abused animals, she realized that it was the basic lack of laws and enforcement of laws that made her rescue center a necessity.
David Houghton (NWRA) asked the students to support the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s “Wildlife Without Borders” Program. Projects like the US Postal Service’s “Save Vanishing Species” series with tiger stamps has helped raise over $7 million dollars. His main emphasis was getting the students to be empowered with information so they can write and visit their congressional representatives by “going to the Hill!” Another speaker, John Fitzgerald (SCB) also encouraged the students to speak out about the basic laws protecting tigers. He shared some of the origins of the conservation movement in America and this information armed the students with the know-how to be able to speak with lawmakers and representatives confidently.
Takako Sato, who now lives in Japan, was one of the founding members of the Tigers for Tigers movement at Clemson University in 1997. She described how the group started small but years later, that same spirit is being carried on by other students and Universities. Her experience with a Bengal tiger in the wild inspired her to take action for the tigers, and that commitment carries on 7 years later. She is still active in conservation efforts by working as a consultant for Tiger Trust as a grant writer and speaker about Tigers in Japan.
Carmony Adler, Vice President of Clemson T4T concluded the Summit with a personal perspective on how the commitment to saving tigers has changed her career goals. She said that the energy and enthusiasm by all the students only made her more committed to this cause.
Tiger Trust feels compelled to create awareness to leave Tigers in the wild, rather than being confined in a cage or abused for entertainment. It holds the stance that taking tigers as pets is a self-centered and egotistical way for the owner to feel powerful to have such animals under their control. Actually, it is way more powerful for people to have appreciation of all wild animals in their natural ecosystem, and this is the long term goal that Tiger Trust is working diligently towards.
The next step for the coalition is to be able to secure funding so they can hire a national coordinator in order to grow, and organize national campaigns to continue to rally the students behind their cause. Most urgently, the students are in support of the “Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act” bill number is HR 1998. Introduced in the House of Representatives in May 2013, the bill aims to protect the safety of the public from mismanaged privately owned Big Cats.
Anyone can get involved with conservation, so empower yourself with knowledge and take action!
For more information about Tiger conservation efforts in India, please visit the Tiger Trust Website & join our network of schools learning about Tigers : http://tigertrustindia.org/
Help us promote the National Tigers for Tigers Coalition website: www.t4tcoalition.org
And “Like” our facebook page and help us grow by networking with other Tiger Students!
Educate Yourself and Take Action!
Big Cat and Public Safety Protection Act information
Cub-petting issue (8 Facts about how Tigers are abused in the US) http://bigcatrescue.org/abuse-issues/issues/pet-cubs/
Support the US Fish and Wildlife Service by letting your representative know that funding International Anti-Poaching Programs is an important for the future of wildlife all over the world!
Help us promote the “Vanishing Species Stamp” sold by the USPS which raises money for wildlife conservation projects around the world http://www.fws.gov/international/save-vanishing-species-stamp.html
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