Twenty years ago, the tiger was in trouble. In India its numbers were around 1,800. Then the Indian government launched Project Tiger, which set up national parks all over the country. Poachers still hunt the tiger illegally, but at least it is no longer in danger of extinction.
In Africa, the most important species in danger is the elephant, the world’s largest living land mammal. In 1979, there were 1.3 million elephants there. Ten years later, numbers were down to fewer than 600,000 and still falling. Conservationists warned that the species could be extinct by the end of the century.
But slowly the situation changed. In July 1989, Kenya’s President Moi publicly burnt his country’s stock of ivory, and towards the end of 1989 the world agreed to ban the ivory trade completely. Since then, the demand for ivory has fallen sharply, and elephant numbers in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania are increasing rapidly.
On the other side of the world, the grey whales of California nearly disappeared in the last century. Fortunately, the US Marine Mammals Protection Act of 1972 saved them. That same year, Mexico created the world’s first whale sanctuary on the west coast of the Baja. The grey whales recovered quickly. Today there are perhaps 20,000 and these gentle giants are now worth more alive than dead. The reason is whale-watching, American craze for tourists.
All over the world other rare species continue to receive protection; giant tortoises in the Galapagos, pink pigeons in Mauritius. In America you can hear the song of the timber wolf, and see the mountain lion in the canyons high forests.
Suddenly, wildlife is good for the tourist trade. And tourism — provided it takes only pictures and leaves only footprints — is good for the national parks. If wildlife can be seen to be paying its way, then its chance of survival will be much greater.