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Celebrate International Tiger DayJuly 29th. It was founded at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit in 2010 to celebrate this majestic animal’s very existence but, more importantly, to try to prevent its total extinction. Many animal welfare organisations pledged to help these wonderful creatures and are still working hard to raise funds to reach this goal. The aim of Tiger Day is to “promote the protection and expansion of the wild tigers’ habitats and gain support through awareness for tiger conservation.”

Bengal Tiger India - photo c/o www.indusexperiences.co.uk

Bengal Tiger India – photo www.indusexperiences.co.uk

As an English Literature student many years ago, I had to learn “The Tyger”, a poem by the English poet William Blake. It was published as part of his collection Songs of Experience in 1794.

'The Tyger' original William Blake printed c 1795

‘The Tyger’ original William Blake printed c 1795

Most modern anthologies have kept Blake’s choice of the spelling “tyger”. It was a common spelling of the word at the time but already “slightly archaic” when he wrote the poem.  Therefore, his choice of “the tyger” is often interpreted as being for effect, perhaps to render an “exotic or alien quality of the beast”,  or because it’s not really about a tiger at all, but a metaphor for beauty in the beast.

The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest cat species and the world’s 3rd largest land carnivore Its most recognizable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with a lighter underside. In zoos, tigers live for 20 to 26 years, which also seems to be their longevity in the wild. They are territorial and generally solitary but social animals, often requiring large  areas of habitat to support their hunting needs.

Of the nine known tiger subspecies, only six now remain in the wild: the Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, Amur (aka Siberian) Sumatran and South China tigers.

The Worldwide Fund For Nature (WWF) is one of the leading organisations working to protect and support the tiger.  They say, “The tiger is the biggest, the most iconic, and also one of the most endangered of all cats. Over the last century wild tiger numbers have fallen disastrously, by more than 95% – mainly due to poaching and the destruction of forests and other habitats they need for survival.”  There are only around 3,200 tigers left in the wild. With our help they aim to double that number by 2022.

There are many places you can see these beautiful animals including local zoos doing important conservation work, such as Cumbria’s South Lakes Wild Animal Park helping to save the Amur Tiger.  And of course there are Tiger Tours that bring much needed money to the poorer regions of the world struggling to maintain their own lifestyles whilst preserving the tiger’s habitat.

Bengal Tiger India lying down - photo c/o www.indusexperiences.co.uk

Bengal Tiger lying down – photo www.indusexperiences.co.uk

At the end of Yann Martel‘s magically moving story The Life of Pi the last we see of the tiger, Richard Parker, is him slowly disappearing into the jungle and the author writes,  “I wept like a child … I was weeping because Richard Parker had left me so uncermoniously. I wish I had said to him then, ‘Richard Parker, it is over. We have survived … And now go where you must. You will always be in my heart.'”

Tigers will always be in our heart – it is up to us to help them survive …