May 25, 2023
Tigers: Reverence to Recovery
- as seen by -Lena Chen
When it comes to animals significant in Chinese culture, there are not many that hold a flame to the tiger – an animal that represents power, protection, and vitality. Because my father was a self-taught artist who admired traditional art, I grew up seeing on hanging scrolls the South China tiger prowling in its native habitat of forested hills and mountains – including those within Guangdong, the province where my family comes from.
Unfortunately, to witness a scene such as the one illustrated in these artworks today would be impossible. Of the six remaining extant tiger subspecies, the South China tiger is believed to be functionally extinct in the wild. Although the animals are admired for what they represent, widespread habitat degradation, decades of demand for their parts, and other human pressures contributed to their decline in population.
When I joined the Wildlife Conservation Society, it was due in part to my interest in animal ambassador programs that educate visitors on the importance of zoo-led conservation. I wanted to see and know for myself that zoos can play a vital role in saving wildlife and that we can connect people with nature in responsible ways. I am pleased WCS contributed to the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act in December 2022, so that big cats such as tigers are protected from exploitative use in the US. It is my hope that we see strong action taken globally.
And there is hope for tigers in China. The establishment of the Northeast Tiger Leopard National Park – the largest protected area for tigers in the world – creates a solid foundation for population recovery. With diligent management and strong collaboration, tigers such as the Amur tiger (above) can have a future much different than that of the South China tiger.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Lena Chen is co-leader of ASIA (Asian Society for Inclusion and Action), an employee resource group in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion at WCS. Wild View is featuring her post to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and commemorate their contributions that continue to enrich science and conservation.