Photo from Hazboy’s photostream
One of the many benefits of being in China at the moment is that occurrence of the word “tiger” in our media generally has nothing to do with the fallen golfer. A quick perusal of China Daily turns up a playful laundry list of tiger-striped merchandise on which children of all ages can blow the contents of their red envelopes. In between its shout out to Beijing furniture mega-stores and mention of “tiger head shoes,” the article brings up an interesting point for discussion:
The tiger is crucial in Chinese culture. It has been used as a symbol of power, strength and awe. Tiger ranks third in the Chinese Zodiac and the beast is regarded as the ruler of all animals.
According to legend, the heroic feline took third place in the Jade Emperor’s race several millennia ago, “clawing his way to the riverbank to claim” his ranking. These days, however, the tiger’s challenge is a little more complex than swimming across a torrid river, and of greater duration – potentially permanent. As Bill Schiller of the Toronto Star writes:
Unless China and a dozen other countries act urgently, wild tigers will vanish from the planet by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.
A century ago, more than 100,000 big cats roamed the Earth, but stocks have plummeted: scientists say there are now just 3,200.
Schiller goes on to break down just how serious the situation is here in China, and the numbers are harrowing, at best: it’s been calculated that between 40 and 50 wild tigers remain throughout the country, concentrated mainly in the northeast (about 20, mostly Siberian) and in Tibet (a combination of ten each Bengali and Indo-Chinese). While it’s believed that our neighbor India may be home over 1,000 of the endangered cats, Xie Yan of the Wildlife Conservation Society reveals that “the South China tiger – in the wild – may already be extinct.” Schiller’s research backs this up – there have been no sightings of the South China sub-species since the 1970s.
What’s troubling is that the Chinese tiger dilemma may be, in part, caused by the culture that underlies traditional China and its Zodiac. Though hunting the beast has been officially outlawed since 1993, poachers are abound, eager to profit from the mysticism that still defines many peoples’ beliefs. Some, notes conservationist Priscilla Jiao, believe that tiger parts can be used as a “tonic” of sorts. “There are still people who believe tiger bones have a “magic” function,” she notes, whether to “help rheumatism” or to be “used as an aphrodisiac.” Worse yet are tiger “farms”:
In 2007, there were just five such farms in all of China, says a report by the International Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Today there are reportedly 14. The farms have bred nearly 6,000 tigers in captivity.
The foundation’s report revealed that despite laws, firms were marketing tiger meat, tiger wine – wine made from tiger bones and tiger penis – and even offering sales online.
To top it all off, fortune tellers are predicting that turmoil faced by actual tigers may spill over into the human world this years, using none other than one Tiger Woods as a jumping off point. Peering into his crystal ball, the mystic explains:
People will try to take on the strong and help the weak. They will try to help their fellow brothers. They will help friends who are being bullied. This year will be more violent. Hong Kong feng shui adviser Raymond Lo said, noting that the previous Year of the Tiger associated with metal was 1950 — the year the Korean War broke out.
Fellow Hong Kong soothsayer Chow Hon-ming expects more terrorist attacks.
Fires and explosions are more likely in the coming year, Lo said, also warning that Iran and North Korea may step up their nuclear ambitions. Kuala Lumpur-based Yap Boh Chu said beware of earthquakes, volcanoes and “metal-related accidents” like car crashes, armed robbery and industrial accidents.
Excellent! In other words, we’d better all stock up on tiger toys and trinkets before they die. That way, we can keep warm when the North Koreans blow us up.