• Reading Level 5
Science | Geography

Endangered tigers roaring back across Asia

Are tigers the key to saving the planet? The big cat is bouncing back, with numbers rising across six countries. But some warn this news is a distraction from a gloomy global picture. From the swamps of Bengal to the mountains of China, the tiger is coming home. According to then WWFThe World Wildlife Fund. The WWF used to share an acronym with the World Wrestling Federation. The animal charity engaged in a long legal battle with the televised wrestling league until 2001, when the wrestlers lost, changing their name to the WWE., the big cat was in a "perilous state", close to extinction 10 years ago. But, thanks to a conservationThe practice of protecting plant and animal species and their habitats. initiative to double the population by 2022, numbers are rising in six countries. Three-quarters of all wild tigers live in India, where it is the national animal and protected on 50 national reserves. Since 2006, numbers have doubled to around 3,350 animals. In China, a tigress has been spotted with her cubs - a momentous sight in a country that once worshipped the tiger, but is now home to barely a handful. For millennia, the tiger has been a powerful symbol of the ferocious beauty of nature. William Blake's famous 1794 poem The Tyger asks: "what immortal hand or eye" could have created such a magnificent monster - 660-pounds of muscle, teeth, and claws, camouflaged by its stripes, stalking its prey in the dark of night? As a sign of power and strength, it has been popular with kings and sports teams, and used to sell everything from breakfast cereal to petrol. But its fearsome reputation almost led to its extinction. In the 19th Century, tales of man-eating tigers encouraged British colonial officers and maharajas to compete in killing some 80,000 animals.  Hunting tigers was outlawed in 1971, but their troubles were not over. Their bones are used in traditional Chinese medicine, creating a black market that continues to threaten numbers. But the biggest concern is the loss of habitat. Cities, farmland, and roads have cut up their vast territory, marooning them in patches of forest covering only 7% of their original range. So, today's numbers are great news for the tiger. But the WWF says it is also about the future of "the landscapes they inhabit and the communities living alongside this iconic big cat". It is a keystone speciesAny animal or plant with a pivotal role within an ecosystem. Without it, the ecosystem would dramatically change or disappear altogether., a top predator that plays a key role in its vast and diverse ecosystem. Save the tiger, the WWF argues, and we save the forests. And because the forests are essential to stopping climate changeLong-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. Human action is a major cause of climate change., we will also save the planet. Others are less convinced. Charismatic big beasts like the panda, polar bear, and tiger grab headlines and raise money. But in the last 10 years, 467 species have been declared extinct. These include some high-profile casualties like Lonesome George and the Black Rhino. But many more plants, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians have been lost whilst we struggle to keep the tiger alive. Naturalist Chris Packham went as far as to suggest we "pull the plug" on the panda and focus money and resources on less glamorous endangered species. Ecologist Ken Thompson argues we are creating the misleading impression that all we need to do is save the tigers. "Much as we like tigers," he says, we need to understand the real problem, "and that the casualties will not just be tigers, but us - our standard of living, and ultimately our very survival". So, are tigers the key to saving the planet? The comeback cat Yes say some. Tigers are a charismatic and universally loved animal that grabs our attention and helps people understand what is happening to the natural world. As a flagship species, it pushes us to act and donate money in a way that a rare plant or lizard cannot. But also, by protecting the king of the jungle, we inevitably must conserve the jungle itself. And with it, we save all the other species. Others say no. Saving the tiger makes us feel good and forget that we were the species that drove them nearly to extinction. The advance of human habitation and agriculture means they will never return to their former glory. And, meanwhile, other more important plants and animals are edging towards extinction. If we focus too much on the tiger, we may kill our planet. KeywordsWWF - The World Wildlife Fund. The WWF used to share an acronym with the World Wrestling Federation. The animal charity engaged in a long legal battle with the televised wrestling league until 2001, when the wrestlers lost, changing their name to the WWE.

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