Auburn University and Clemson University have put aside their SEC rivalry to assist an animal that is near to their hearts, the tiger.
The two institutions have joined forces with Louisiana State University and the University of Missouri to become part of the newly formed U.S. Tiger University Consortium. The consortium was initiated by Clemson University President James P. Clements, who also serves on the Global Tiger Initiative Council.
This international council was formed to assist the Global Tiger Forum in saving remaining populations of wild tigers, with a goal of doubling tiger numbers in the wild by 2022. The Global Tiger Forum estimates there are only about 3,900 tigers remaining in the wild.
The dean of Clemson University College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, Brett Wright, believes the dwindling tiger populations are an issue demanding the attention of land-grant institutions such as those belonging to the consortium.
Wright believes this issue should also be central to the many who cheer on their team on game days.
”Students, faculty and alumni chant ‘Go Tigers’ on a daily basis, but not many know the truth about the animal we hold so dear," Wright said. "These universities share the tiger mascot and benefit from that majestic symbol of strength, dignity and beauty, so they share a moral responsibility to apply all of our resources to save the animal that inspires that symbol.”
Wright said the consortium will achieve its goals in different ways, including research that supports evidence-based decision making by conservation professionals. Universities participating in the consortium have planned strategic communications to raise awareness of the issue of the dwindling population of their beloved mascots.
Janaki Alavalapati, dean of the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said with more than one university approaching the problem, the odds of success in saving tiger populations only increases.
”Each of our institutions possesses various academic disciplines important to the future of the tiger conservation and protection," Alavalapati said. "This is an obvious example of the need for multi- disciplinary contribution not just across colleges and departments but across universities.”
Along with Clemson, Auburn is putting its best foot forward on this issue. Alavalapati and Wright are hoping to create the next generation of environmental leaders at both respective universities through university-supported academic scholarships and assistantships.
Participating universities in the consortium will equip these leaders with means to make direct change where it is needed across the globe. Along with these efforts, there will also be an emphasis on the application of technology that will allow monitoring and data analysis related to wild tiger populations.
Thanks to the efforts of the Global Tiger Initiative Council, tiger numbers in 2016 were on the rise for the first time in 100 years, but the work to restore their numbers fully is just getting started.
According to Keshav Varma, chief operating office the council, the reasons for the tigers dwindling populations over the years have varied. However, the major issues include poaching and the natural deterioration of the tigers’ natural habitats, which affects the 13 countries in which tiger populations remain. These countries include India, where the population has increased thanks to the anti-poaching patrols and sustainable tourism initiatives, and China, Vietnam and Laos.
"Each of the 13 tiger range countries now has a recovery plan in place, which is a better situation than we were in even five years ago," Wright said. "The consortium is committed to supporting these national programs through training and research, and the work is already well underway.”