George Stevens sits down with Sean Carnell, a Senior at Clemson University and President of Tigers for Tigers, an organization which is partnering with other universities to form the National Tiger Coalition. Sean is from Ithaca, New York and studies Biological Sciences at Clemson.
What is Tigers for Tigers?
Sean: “Tigers for Tigers is a student organization at Clemson University that is dedicated to preserving tigers through education, research, and service learning on local and global levels. Our goals are to increase awareness and interest in tiger-range countries while enhancing Clemson University‘s reputation for social responsibility and public service.”
Tigers for Tigers gets students involved in the following ways:
1. Taking yearly trips to India where they partake in cross-cultural exchange programs with Tiger Trust India.
2. Partnering with Central Florida Animal Reserve – a big cat wildlife sanctuary.
3. Visiting local zoos like the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina.
4. Cubs for Cubs – an educational iniative that teaches elementary and middle school students about tiger conservation.
5. Fund raising for Tiger Trust India and CFAR.
Tigers for Tigers takes yearly trips to India where students earn credit for BIOSC 496 and learn about the biodiversity of India and wildlife conservation. Tigers for Tigers has recently begun making yearly volunteer trips to the Central Florida Animal Reserve to give its members an educational experience concerning the private ownership of exotic animals and to get an opportunity to work closely with tigers that they would otherwise only see on the India trip.
What made you want to join Tigers for Tigers?
Sean: “I personally view college as an opportunity to take advantage of opportunities. Coming to Clemson, I found out about the club from their website and I saw an opportunity where I could really get involved in something that mattered a lot to me and would allow me to explore my desire to pursue a career in wildlife.”
What is your role with Tigers for Tigers?
Sean: “President, but I could not do it without everyone else on the team within our Executive Board, our officers and members. It really is a collaborative process.”
What do you enjoy most about working with Tigers for Tigers?
Sean: “Seeing people getting involved just like I did when I started in the organization. When I was a freshman, the vice president at the time, Brian Lang, asked me, ‘Why don’t you go to student government and find a way for us to get to Florida for CFAR?’ So I was very involved in the decision-making process from the beginning.”
What ways do you raise money and where does that money go?
Sean: “We developed a successful 5k race in the Spring of 2011 and continued it in 2012. We raised over $3000 in the first year. We had over 100 participants in each race. The money was split between two organizations: Tiger Trust India and CFAR.”
Tiger Trust India is a non-governmental organization that “is mainly involved in technical training for staff in major tiger reserves.” CFAR is a wildlife sanctuary that houses large cats that have suffered from abuse or poor living conditions while educating the public about private ownership of exotics and preserving tigers in the wild. CFAR is a non-breeding facility.
I’ve read about your efforts to collaborate with other universities with tiger-mascots. Could you give me more information about this initiative?
Sean: “One of our founders, Conn Davidenko, saw a need for getting students involved in tiger conservation after an experience viewing a tiger in the wild in 1997. He had an idea of getting students from different universities together under one mission to make a greater impact on tiger conservation..Recently a group of concerned students at Clemson University have begun to establish the basis for organizating a national charter by reaching out to colleges and universities across the country, with tigers as their mascot, to establish a national coalition dedicated to the preservation of tigers in the wild. Due to the rate at which tigers are becoming extinct, there is a greater need for awareness and involvement. We feel as though college students can be mobilized across the country to further the cause.”
As it is envisioned, the proposed national tiger coalition will have four main goals:
1. To establish a student-run national organization with partners at each participating university devoted to the preservation of tigers in the wild.
2. To have each chapter partake in an annual/unified fundraiser in which all proceeds go towards tiger conservation
3. To expose students to current conservation needs, from experts in the field.
4. To identify areas where collegians can become directly involved.”
Sean says that the national coalition is forming a steering committee this Fall which will bring several colleges and universities together to start building a charter. Tigers for Tigers organizations exist at Clemson University, Auburn University and the University of Missouri. Auburn and Clemson may be enemies on the football field, but they can come together for the conservation of their mascot.
Why do you care about tiger conservation?
Sean: “Personally, its not about the fact that tigers are a predatory animal or that they represent cultural significance throughout the world. It is that we have the opportunity to make a difference in the survival of the species. We have the ability to make a change and we need to become active. We need to find a balance of co-existence. One of my worst fears is being asked the question, ‘Why didn’t you save them Daddy?’ I wouldn’t know how to respond. I would feel disheartened knowing that we had the opportunity to save the tiger and we watched them disappear.”
Sean believes others should care because there is also cultural, religious, economic and ecological value in the tiger. Tigers are an umbrella species, and act as a regulator within the ecosystem as they are responsible for managing deer populations, which therefore regulates plant life as well. Tigers are an indicator of forest health. With proper governance, tigers can be invaluable to the ecotourism industry.
What are some of the major issues/challenges facing tiger conservation?
Sean: “Currently tigers only exist in 7% of their historic range and less than 3200 remain in the wild. Three out of the nine subspecies are extinct (Caspian, Javan, Bali and possibly the South China Tigers). The three main issues facing tiger conservation are depletion of tiger prey, tiger poaching, and forest deforestation/habitat loss.”
The protected areas are too small to sustain tigers which are highly territorial animals and require a large home range. Isolated populations create genetic problems, so there is a need to facilitate corridors to exchange genes. Poaching, although banned internationally, is still highly lucrative (tigers fetch $10,000 to $70,000 on the black market). Although there are laws and regulations in place, few poachers are brought to justice.
However there is good news.
Sean: “Many organizations and governmental officials throughout the world are now working together to conserve tigers with hopes to double the tiger population by 2020. There has recently been a shift from saving the species to saving ‘tigerness’ including the habitats where tigers typically live. Tiger conservationists are also benefiting from technological developments, better tracking systems with GIS systems and radio telemetry. Many individuals are working to understand tiger ecology and the dynamic relationship between local people, wildlife and economic incentives.”
What’s at stake?
Sean: “Some people are saying tigers could go extinct in 10-12 years.”
What would it mean if the tiger went extinct? The Clemson mascot would be “gone like the dodo.”
Do you have any other cool ideas going forward?
Sean: “This semester we are going to be hosting a wing eating competition, hopefully we can have athletes attend the event to raise awareness and funding for our supporting organizations. Check our Facebook page for further updates!”
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