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Bengal tiger close-up ©  / Andrew Parkinson / WWF

Bengal tiger close-up © / Andrew Parkinson / WWF

Working on the wild side

23 Jul 2018

  • illegal wildlife trade
  • poaching
  • tigers

Imagine if your job was to protect one of the most iconic and instantly recognisable species in the world - tigers. That’s a reality for WWF-Australia’s resident tiger expert Ashley Brooks. Come behind the scenes to learn what is happening right now to save these big cats, and how he works to #Connect2Tigers.

Introduce yourself and your role with WWF

My name’s Ashley Brooks, I work on a small team supporting tiger recovery in WWF. My role covers all of the unprotected tigers and their interactions with people.

Why are tigers endangered?

Tigers are endangered for a number of reasons. The two main ones are demand for tiger parts, which leads to poaching for their skin and bone, and selling into traditional medicine markets or used as ornaments in houses. And the second one is habitat loss, in other words clearing of their habitat for agriculture, new settlements, new urban areas, highways, railway lines and plantations.

What is WWF doing?

WWF is doing a number of things to help recover the number of tigers. We’re supporting all the tiger range countries (tigers are found in fragmented forests stretching from India to northeast China and from the Russian Far East to Sumatra) to double the number of wild tigers by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022. WWF formed a small technical team, which I’m part of, to make really concerted efforts to support this goal, and we’re working to increase the political capital, invested by all of the heads of state into tigers as a priority species.

Why should people care about tigers?

They’re literally the king of the jungle. When you support tigers and their recovery, you’re actually supporting every other species in that space. And people might not know, but tigers share that jungle with elephants, rhinos, orangutan in some places, and a whole range of different primate species as well. So you can imagine that by recovering tigers in one place, you’re actually supporting the recovery and the protection of all of those other species as well.

What can people do to help?

For people in Australia, it’s really about educating yourself. Get on top of this issue, there’s hardly any tigers left. They’re endangered, they’ve disappeared from three countries – Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam – just in the last ten years. This is something that I think a lot of Australians aren’t aware of, so learn about the problem, get across this issue. The same thing is playing out for elephants, rhino, orangutan, all across these landscapes. Also, chat with your your family, raise awareness with your friends and colleagues, wild tigers are endangered and they’re on the brink of extinction. If you want to do more, you can even adopt a tiger.

How do you feel working on this project?

Personally, it’s a privilege. We’ve got one chance to save tigers and that chance is right now. I’m not just saying that, we’ve reached a point with the species where their numbers are so low, that this is our last chance as a global community to bend that curve back and keep this wild animal in that space forever. This is the eleventh hour, and we’re in that moment now where we’re able to affect the direction that tigers take in each of those countries. And I think the great thing for me working on this project is that WWF is taking this so seriously. It’s an ambitious goal and an ambitious target, but we’ve got real purpose and for me it’s absolutely fantastic that we’re able to sit down with heads of state and ministers and decision-makers and heads of villages in these countries and they’re in agreement with us – how do we maintain wild tiger numbers? How do we bring this species back?

Why do you think humans have such a connection to tigers?

Tigers mean so much to us. They’re deeply embedded in religious traditions, they symbolise a combination of guardians and gods; protection against evil spirits; balance and auspiciousness; a symbol of virtue; and even benevolence and benevolent rule.

And while the tiger is also thriving as a cultural icon, ironically, they’re endangered and disappearing in the wild. We need them, we need tigers.