(#1) Let’s Talk About…What would you give up for a tiger?

Would you give up your house? Because some people would.

This is the first of my weekly ‘Let’s Talk About…’ posts in which we shall be discussing the topics that matter in conservation and environmental biology. First up: what would you give up to save a species from extinction? And which species are the most important to save?

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In light of the announcement last week that three new Sumatran tiger cubs have been born in London zoo (so adorable!), I came across this article by ScienceDaily which really got me thinking. The article sums up research carried out by the University of Kent in which scientists have found communities in India that are willing to give up their homes and be relocated to new areas to help protect the wild tiger populations that live in the local area. Each household in these communities were asked to fill out a survey and the researchers found that there was an overwhelmingly positive response to being relocated to protect the tigers.

In order to thrive tigers, as large, solitary animals, require a lot of space to have access to enough food and breeding refuges. However tigers are found in South Asia where the human populations of these countries are increasing at an extraordinary rate. This means that the forests in which these tigers reside are increasingly being converted into housing and farmland for human use. When this occurs the land becomes fragmented (a process known as habitat fragmentation) isolating populations of tigers in smaller and smaller regions of forest.

As the fragments of habitat shrink, the number of tigers the habitat can support decreases and so sadly, population numbers decrease. Scientists have shown that by relocating these human populations in India, we can decrease the fragmentation of the forest we are causing and reduce our impact on the tiger populations.

Here is a diagram I created to explain habitat fragmentation (I apologise for my dodgy diagram drawing skills here but I think it will get the point across). In picture A, the area inhabited by tigers (the bits in colour) are very fragmented across the whole area of white space representing the land that was once forest. In the study discussed above, by relocating communities the land becomes less fragmented and there are less small, isolated tiger habitat that are likely to lead to extinctions.

Here is a diagram I created to so you can see the effect of habitat fragmentation. In picture A, the area inhabited by tigers (the bits in colour) are very fragmented across the area of white space (the area now inhabited by humans). In the study discussed above, by relocating communities in picture B, the land becomes less fragmented and there are less small, isolated habitat fragments that are likely to lead to tiger extinctions.

So the discussion today is would you relocate your home to protect these endangered creatures? Now to be fair to everyone, I must explain that the Indian communities studied here would benefit somewhat from relocation with better access to education and health facilities, but nonetheless I think this is a fascinating discussion to be had. And leading on from that, would your answer change if instead of protecting tigers, we we’re discussing wild deer or rabbits?

Moving home is a rather large sacrifice so let’s look at something a bit smaller. I read in the news this week about Richmond Road in London being shut off to motorists for the fourth year in a row. The reason? To conserve the local toad populations.

By closing off the road for two weeks, the toads can safely cross over the road to a popular breeding pond in which they can all get jiggy with it and reproduce, ensuring that the local populations stay at a stable level. However this sacrifice has not gone down well with the some of the local residents, and I can’t say that I blame them. If I lived near that road I would probably find a bit of a pain too. But again, what if we weren’t talking about toads? What if we we’re talking about wild rabbits or deer? I’d predict that people would take more lightly to the road being shut off.

And so we come to one of the challenges of conservation projects globally; which species are more important to conserve? The adorable tigers and pandas of the world that we enjoy looking at? Or is how we perceive certain species based on aesthetics jading our judgement? Are there in fact more important species out there that carry out functions that human communities or whole ecosystems rely on, that we should really be focusing our efforts on?

Let’s get a discussion going in the comments below. I’d love to know what you think of this topic. There are no right or wrong answers!
Also vote below!

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2 Responses to (#1) Let’s Talk About…What would you give up for a tiger?

  1. LM1991 says:

    I would definitely give up my house now but that’s because its a dump. Ask me again in a few years when I’m rich and have a beautiful house in South Ken.

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