It’s been a less than stellar time lately for fans of Earth. On July 9, New York magazine published a horrifying story implying that the planet is about to be way too hot for humans. And then researchers revealed that our animal friends aren’t faring so well either, releasing an alarming study contending that Earth is experiencing its sixth mass extinction event with half the world’s species in extreme decline.
But actor Zachary Quinto (of “Heroes,” “American Horror Story,” and “Star Trek” reboot fame) believes — to borrow a phrase from Capt. Jean-Luc Picard — things are only impossible until they’re not.
While serving on the jury of the Tribeca Film Festival’s documentary category last year, Quinto was inspired by Kate Brooks’ film “The Last Animals,” which documents the heroic work of conservationists, scientists, and activists fighting (and often defeating) tiger poachers. Now he’s been tapped by the World Wildlife Fund to be the face of its #3890 tigers fundraising campaign, aimed at saving the fewer than 4,000 wild tigers in the world that are threatened by poachers in addition to the perils of climate change.
WWF’s initiative essentially provides financial backing to rangers on the ground. “Often times, these are groups of locals who comes together and are trained as rangers and go into the fields to protect these animals against incredibly ruthless, violent poachers, at great risk to themselves and to their families,” says Quinto, who kicked off his campaign participation by removing his social media profile photo for a day in honor of the vanishing tigers.
There [are] more captive tigers in the world than there are wild tigers. … We’re talking about private collections or people who are keeping animals in their own backyards.
Quinto says that tigers also serve as status symbols for members of the moneyed class around the world, who capture and breed them in their own homes as pets. “I was really perplexed and saddened to learn that there were more captive tigers in the world than there are wild tigers,” he says. “And when we talk about captivity, we’re not talking about sanctuaries or credited, zoologically supported institutions. Often we’re talking about private collections or people who are keeping animals in their own backyards or even potentially feeding the black market with the captive animals that they have. And that’s even in the United States.”
Nilanga Jayasinghe, senior programs officer with the WWF, adds that tigers are also particularly vulnerable to poachers. “Every part of a tiger is being used for various things. Their organs can be used for traditional Asian medicine; their skins can be used as rugs or trophies,” she says.
Jayasinghe says it’s not just about a symbolic loss of the tiger population — they’re incredibly integral to the ecosystems they are a part of. “Tigers are incredibly important for our ecosystem,” she says. “As a top predator, they keep everything else in check. If they’re not preying on the deer and the things that live in a certain ecosystem, the deer will eat themselves out of house and home.”
If this all sounds particularly fatalistic, the WWF and Quinto want you to know that the fight isn’t over yet. The WWF’s #3890Tigers campaign aims to increase tiger populations to 6,000 by 2022 (the Chinese zodiac Year of the Tiger), and they believe it’s an achievable goal — contrary to the argument posed in that New York Magazine cover story, which “explores the worst-case scenario and paints this very, very distressing, bleak future of the world,” Quinto says.
“A lot of scientists have refuted that,” he adds, “and come back with a backlash to say that there’s still time. I was just listening to an interview the other day about the fact that, if you really look at the way we’ve committed to switching to renewable energy, we’ve made a lot of progress. It’s not enough progress, but we need to keep that momentum going.”
WWF and Tiger Beer hope to do their part by donating $1 million to the cause and match each donation that comes in to fund the efforts of rangers around the world who are protecting tiger habitats, especially in India, where the bulk of the tiger population resides.