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Clemson, Auburn Lead U.S. Higher Ed Effort to Save Wild Tiger Populations

CLEMSON, SC – Clemson University and Auburn University have joined forces to throw the weight of multiple academic disciplines behind efforts to save wild tiger populations worldwide.

The two universities, along with Louisiana State University and the University of Missouri, are leading the efforts of the newly formed U.S. Tiger University Consortium, so named for the mascots the institutions share.

Brett Wright, dean of the Clemson University College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, says the dwindling tiger populations are an issue demanding the attention of land-grant institutions such as those belonging to the consortium. For Wright, the issue should also be central to the many who cheer on their preferred teams 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 says. “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.”

The consortium was initiated by Clemson University President James P. Clements, who also serves on the Global Tiger Initiative Council. This international council made up of business and conservation leaders was formed to assist the Global Tiger Forum save the remaining populations of wild tigers with a goal of doubling tiger numbers in the wild by 2022.

Thanks to the council’s efforts, 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. Janaki Alavalapati, dean of the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said that with more than one university approaching the problem, the odds of success only increase.

“Each of our institutions possess various academic disciplines important to the future of tiger conservation and protection,” Alavalapati says. “This is an obvious example of the need for multi-disciplinary contribution, not just across colleges and departments, but across universities.”

Wright said the consortium will focus on several avenues to achieve its goal, including research that supports evidence-based decision-making by conservation professionals. Participating universities also have planned strategic communications to raise awareness of the worldwide problem with their many stakeholders.

As far as concrete action that can take place in countries where tiger populations are most affected, Wright and Alavalapati hope to create the next generation of conservation leaders through university-supported academic scholarships and assistantships. Participating universities will equip these leaders with means to make direct change where it is needed across the globe. There will also be an emphasis on the application of technology that will allow monitoring and data analysis related to wild tiger populations.

The Global Tiger Forum estimates there are only about 3,900 tigers remaining in the wild. According to Keshav Varma, chief operating office of the Global Tiger Initiative Council, the reasons for dwindling populations are varied. Major issues include deterioration of the tigers’ natural habitats and poaching, which affects the 13 countries in which tiger populations remain.
Two-thirds of the world’s tigers live in India, where numbers have increased during the past five years thanks to anti-poaching patrols and sustainable tourism initiatives. However, with other countries such as China, Vietnam and Laos reporting numbers in the single digits, the need for direct intervention is more dire than ever.

“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 says. “The consortium is committed to supporting these national programs through training and research, and the work is already well under way.”

Members of the U.S. Tiger University Consortium and the Global Tiger Initiative Council will convene for a meeting in Clemson on September 8 and 9 to discuss progress and next steps.