Save Wild Tigers recently continued its collaboration with Belmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express luxury train to raise awareness of tiger poaching. The charity’s founder Simon Clinton talks with Nick Walton about the plight of tigers in Asia, and the role we all need to play to ensure these great cats are not lost forever.
If you happen to be travelling through Thailand or Malaysia in the coming months, keep an eye out for the Tiger Express, an innovative new chapter in luxury travel company Belmond’s Art in Motion series. With carriages painted in bold tiger-themed murals by artist Jacky Tsai, the insightful collaboration between train operator and conservation charity Save Wild Tigers hopes to raise awareness of the plight of tiger populations around the world, with the train travelling through threatened tiger habitats as it plays the rails between Bangkok and Singapore.
What first inspired your passion for tiger conservation?
Having been brought up as a child in Malaysia for 15 years, I was very aware of Malaysia’s national symbol, the Malayan Tiger. I have always had a keen interest in conservation issues and was shocked a few years ago when I discovered how critical the wild tiger population had become, so I decided to set up Save Wild Tigers with a strong marketing and creative orientation.
The corporate and branding world (including myself) “borrowed” the values and symbolism of tigers for decades – think Maybank, Tiger Beer, Tiger Fashion, Tiger airlines, Esso/Exon’s “tiger in your tank” – and it is now time to give back.
The global population of tigers recently rose for the first time in a century but there are still more tigers in captivity than in the wild. How severe is the threat tigers are facing and are some tiger populations more at threat than others?
Yes, in the latest census surveys we have seen an increase in wild tiger numbers in India. It may seem great on face value, but they still endure significant pressure in India from poaching and habitat fragmentation. However, the issue facing Vietnam, Laos, and China is far more severe, with tigers recently becoming extinct in Cambodia. On current trends, without government support, we could see wild tigers becoming extinct in Laos, Vietnam, and China in the next five to ten years.
In Southeast Asia and Indonesia, the status of tigers is also critical, although not quite as dramatic as in the Indo-China region. Nevertheless, within the wider context of the poaching crisis globally (the worst we have seen in the conservation world for 50 years), urgent action is needed and only with strong political will can we hope to see the situation improve.
At the same time, we cannot underestimate the dual-threat of habitat destruction and fragmentation due to ongoing development projects and palm oil plantations. By saving the Malayan Tiger, we can save its habitat, which is the oldest rainforest in the world!
What are the major threats to the species?
The two main threats are illegal wildlife crime and poaching as well as habitat destruction and fragmentation.
Your recent short film brought to light the threat from poaching and the production of tiger bone wine. How serious is this issue and what is being done to halt the trade in tiger body parts?
Illegal wildlife crime is our overriding immediate issue and of course this often also has a knock-on effect to other endangered species. The [perpetrators]are often highly organized criminal networks trading in ivory, rhino horn, and tigers.
To ultimately stop this multi-billion dollar trade will involve a multi-tier strategy including government support in countries in which tigers habitat; more globalised criminal investigations and prosecutions with more sharing of intelligence; consumer awareness and behavior campaigns; and an increase in short to medium term anti-poaching and deterrent programs, with increased prosecution rates in tiger range countries.
Save Wild Tigers educates populations, including children, about the plight; what impact do you hope your work with children will have and will it be in time?
While we don’t overtly target children, wherever possible we do try and engage them. It is important, as I did as a child, to become aware sooner rather than later.
You’ve once again collaborated with Belmond, who has tasked artist Jacky Tsai to create tiger-themed art on the iconic Eastern & Oriental Express train. What impact do you think the Art in Motion 2020 campaign will have on your on-going conservation efforts?
Belmond has been the perfect partner and a pleasure to work with; it is an enduring relationship. I think to have a renowned Chinese artist from Shanghai on a train which has a tiger as its logo, travelling through critical tiger habitats, really makes for the perfect “canvas” to communicate and inspire all. Our strategy is to inspire rather than shock and the linkage to Belmond’s “Art in Motion” campaign makes for the perfect collaboration.
Save Wild Tigers also counts among its ambassadors Jacky Tsai and Chef Ping Coombes; what impact do such collaborations have on your conservation efforts?”
Influencers and ambassadors are an important part of the communications mix, often with large influential followings themselves. However, we would only work with ambassadors and influencers that are passionate and true believers in the cause and wider issues.
What can we as travellers do to help bring a halt to tiger poaching and bolster conservation efforts?
Get involved and help spread the word, be that in person and or on social media. Apply pressure to your local elected politicians and ensure governments are honouring global commitments agreed under the UN CITES agreements. Very importantly, please always be on the lookout for anyone trying to promote and or sell any illegal wildlife products or animal parts, whether that’s ivory, tiger skin or other anything illegal, and report them to a credible conservation group as well as to local police.
Of course, you can also support Save Wild Tigers and help fund our conservation partners, which include anti-poaching patrols.
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