AUBURN UNIVERSITY — Although rivals on the athletic field, students from Auburn University and the University of Missouri are working together to help save tigers in the wild through a conservation program called the National Tigers for Tigers Coalition.
The coalition joins together academic institutions with tiger mascots to help spread awareness of the survival challenges tigers face, including habitat destruction, poaching and the pet trade.
“Tigers are such beautiful animals, and with it being our university’s mascot, and with Aubie being consistently ranked one of the best in the nation, it makes sense that Auburn students would work to help Aubie’s wild cousin, which is on the brink of extinction in its natural habitat,” said Ashley Newell, a senior in zoology/pre-veterinary medicine and a campus representative for Auburn’s Tigers for Tigers program.
The national coalition coordinator for Tigers for Tigers, Sean Carnell, said several states in the U.S., including Alabama, do not have regulations on the private ownership of big cats. He cites an estimated 5,000 big cats, such as tigers, are in private hands in Texas alone, and an estimated 13,000 are under private ownership nationwide. As a result, Tigers for Tigers supports the proposed Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, according to Carnell.
Last summer, the National Wildlife Refuge Association sponsored a team of students from participating universities to travel to Washington, D.C., to work with the International Fund for Animal Welfare to lobby in support of the act. The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act would ban most instances of private ownership of big cats throughout the country, with exceptions made for facilities such as zoos, wildlife sanctuaries and circuses that meet certain standards.
“People get tigers for pets, particularly in the state of Texas where it’s legal to do so, and they do not know how to take care of them, so when they get loose, they often get killed,” said Newell. “When you hear about people being attacked by tigers, the tiger is usually blamed, but the people are the ones who are really at fault, because tigers are not supposed to be in cages in someone’s backyard. They are not supposed to be pets. Tigers are wild animals and have instincts.”
The National Wildlife Refuge Association is the primary partner of Tigers for Tigers, and while the students were in Washington, D.C., they joined the association and met with senators from Louisiana and South Carolina. After the meeting, Sen. Lindsey Graham from South Carolina wrote a letter to President Obama addressing the poaching crisis in Africa and the resulting national security issues that necessarily arise from an influx of crime syndicates who take advantage of the illegal wildlife trade. As a result of the letter and increased awareness, $10 million was transferred to support anti-poaching efforts in Africa after President Obama established an executive order to address the issue.
“We were told that students of the National Tigers for Tigers Coalition made a big impact on this issue, and we hope to return to D.C. soon. A task force has been developed and is currently in the process of coordinating efforts among all governmental departments,” said Carnell.
The group also promotes the Save Vanishing Species Stamp which is currently available at post offices around the nation. Nine cents from the purchase of each stamp goes toward Wildlife Without Borders’ Multinational Species Conservation Fund of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which benefits tigers and tiger habitats.
“I love animals of all kinds, especially exotic animals, and I would love to see tigers once again thrive in their habitats,” said Rachel Dedman, a senior in wildlife ecology and management and an Auburn campus representative for Tigers for Tigers.
“Right now we only have 3,200 tigers left in the wild and that’s not good enough. That’s not even enough tigers to fill one section of seats in Jordan-Hare Stadium. I don’t want to see our tigers disappear from the wild, so if we Auburn University students can work to build the population back up, that would be incredibly rewarding. It’s amazing to be a part of reestablishing an animal in the wild.”
Tigers for Tigers at Auburn University is organized by the Society for Conservation Biology, a student group hosted by the College of Sciences and Mathematics. The Tigers for Tigers program started in 1997, and Auburn joined the effort in 2006. Other participating academic institutions include Brenau University, Clemson University, Colorado College, Louisiana State University, Princeton University, Rochester Institute of Technology, SUNY-Cobleskill, Towson University and Trinity University.
For more information about Tigers for Tigers at Auburn, visit Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/auburnT4T or follow on Twitter at @AUtigers4tigers or Instagram at AUtigers4tigers. For more information about the National Tigers for Tigers Coalition, visit the website at http://www.t4tcoalition.org.
-Information provided by Auburn University, Candice Birchfield