The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says it wants to double the number of tigers in the world by 2022. It’s a noble aim but if WWF really wants this to happen, it will pack up its bags and have nothing more to do with tiger conservation.
WWF was a major force behind the international ban on commercial trade in tiger products in 1987 and the internal ban introduced by China in 1993. But these moves haven’t helped. A hundred years ago there were perhaps 100,000 of the animals. The global wild tiger population has continued to drop sharply, to around 3,500 animals. These dismal statistics should be enough to raise more than a few red flags.
A couple of years ago I participated in a Washington, DC meeting on the subject. A senior WWF tiger campaign official prescribed at least another fifteen years of the same failed approach. Will there be any tigers left by then, I wondered aloud.
Wild tigers face a number of challenges, not least man-tiger conflicts within their extensive habitat in India and China. But one of the biggest pressures harming tigers also happens to be the international heavyweight lobbying of WWF, which continues to shepherd powerful politicians along the path towards tiger extinction. And in true liberal style, WWF is busy blaming everyone else for the species’ continued demise.
The “world’s leading conservation organization” strongly opposes establishing a limited legal trade in tiger products to meet demand in Asia for traditional medicines. And they are up in arms about tiger farming.
But, as is the case with other wildlife, regulated trade brings with it the order and oversight that is lacking in a chaotic black market in which illegal poaching and corruption rule.
WWF is also busy campaigning against captive tigers in the U.S., incorrectly asserting that the nation keeps 5,000 as domestic pets. Eager to generate public anxiety by casting their owners as foolish and irresponsible, a WWF ‘conservation expert’ told Reuters: “People don’t realize when they buy a $200 tiger cub that it grows into a full-grown tiger.” A truer estimate is that fewer than one hundred are kept as pets in the U.S. Most of the privately-owned tigers are in zoos, sanctuaries, circuses and breeding facilities.
Meanwhile, WWF’s outreach naturally involves asking the public to send urgent donations to its bulging coffers. As a stunt to put pressure on this week’s International Tiger Forum in Russia, and to enhance the ‘feel good’ factor for the emotionally fickle, WWF is parading recordings of supporters roaring for tigers.
Leonardo DiCaprio provides the celebrity pull for WWF’s lobbying effort, putting his name to a joint opinion editorial in the Washington Post that called for U.S. Secretary of State Clinton to attend this week’s event in order to show “global environmental leadership”. This translates, of course, into “doing WWF’s bidding”.
Senator Kerry duly sponsored WWF’s Congressional Resolution on tigers to keep up the pressure.
But the core aim for WWF is not saving tigers at all. It all boils down to power and bad, old-fashioned liberalism.
As with climate change, tigers are simply a means to the end of drastically curtailing economic development. DiCaprio and WWF CEO Carter Roberts claim in their commentary: “By rescuing them, we save everything beneath their ecological umbrella – everything connected to them – including the world’s last great forests, whose carbon storage mitigates climate change.”
This is a sleight of hand. What they are saying from their comfortable perches is that human development must cease through vast swathes of Asia. If we stop the development, we can claim we are saving tigers, the planet or anything else that might appeal to modern western sensibilities.
Economic development leads to growing prosperity and greater personal freedom. The leftist war against capitalism pivots on the power of intellect. Can mankind concoct a better system than the free market – fairer, collective and more inclusive? Environmentalism is essentially a means for persuading the public to accept anti-capitalist principles.
As one conservationist put it to me: “Like the poachers, groups like WWF have a vested interest in keeping wildlife trade illegal even if it leads to species extinction.”
Nothing will stop WWF’s campaign. Endangered wildlife generates income and helps to satisfy an underlying philosophical purpose. And who in the west can argue against the need to preserve the natural environment on the other side of the world, whatever the costs might be to others?