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The Amur Tigers Need You!

Posted: December 20, 2016 by Rob Voyle

This time last year my wife Kim and I were returning from a tiger tracking expedition in Eastern Russia. Tiger conservation is an expression of Kim's love of cats and especially tigers which are her great love. And I would like to share the story of how we created the Trees for Tigers 501c3 charity.

The Amur tiger, also known as a Siberian tiger is the largest of all cats and is critically endangered with only an estimated 500 remaining in the wild.

While the tigers in the area we visited are not generally threatened by poaching as they are in other areas they do face another substantial threat: Disposable Chopsticks! Yes you read that right, Disposable Chopsticks.

The tiger's wilderness forest is being legally and illegally harvested, trucked across the border to China, machined into disposable chopsticks and exported to Japan and Asian themed restaurants here in the US.

Tigers don't specifically need trees, but their primary food source, the wild boar does. For the wild boar to flourish they need nut bearing trees such as the Mongolian oak and the Manchurian walnut.

While we didn't see any tigers in the wild we did see many tracks and were within 20 minutes of at least one tiger based on freshness of the tiger tracks. What we also saw was their natural habitat in Dumiskoye a wilderness reserve overseen by Alexander Batalov a Russian conservationist and authority on the Amur tiger and Himalayan bear that also inhabits the area.

It's natural when seeing something bad, such as the destruction of the tiger habitat, fueled by greed it is easy to get angry and focus on getting people to stop doing these bad things.

From an Appreciative Inquiry perspective problems exist because we keep asking the wrong questions, or focusing in the wrong direction. As we tracked and then spent the long nights enjoying good conversation, great hospitality at the reserve, and lots of laughter my mind began to think of the questions that weren't being asked.

While poaching isn't a significant problem where we were, indifference to their plight will kill off the remaining tigers. But if we were to think of the problem of poaching, most people focus on stopping the poaching. I think we need to ask a different question:

What do we need to do to make a live tiger (or other endangered species) more valuable than a dead tiger?

One of the answers to that question is eco-tourism. Where the local population benefit financially from those who come to see the tigers. And like all good appreciative inquiry interventions there are also multiple benefits, because people who come to these places are profoundly impacted and changed.

When awe and wonder touch the human soul all sorts of good things happen.

As I sat at the dining table drinking vodka, and laughing outrageously as we told jokes in Russian, German and English and watched Viktor our great interpreter try to translate a joke that relies on a play of words. I sat and marveled with some sadness over who had taught us to be afraid of one another and consider each other an enemy. Here we were joined in laughter and a joint concern for the well-being of such a magnificent animal as the tiger. We had found a common ground that was not just good for each one of us, but connected us to something far greater than ourselves.

Another question began to echo in my mind. How can I become part of a solution? It is easy to sit and talk and ask who is to blame for some problem. In the Appreciative Way we begin by changing the question and the focus.

It is easy to say what the government should do or what other people should, which all avoids the question, what can I do?

Personally, as an engineer, I like simple, practical solutions. The problem is deforestation the solution is reforestation. But not just any reforestation. Most of the cut over forests, being wilderness, quickly regenerate with white larch, however these trees have no benefit to wild boar or tigers. It takes many generations before the oak and walnut and other nut bearing trees return.

As I pondered these problems my memory took me back to a story I had hear many years before about Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, a contemporary in the British navy of Lord Nelson. This was a time of wooden sailing ships built primarily from oak. When he was on leave Collingwood was fond of walking and hiking and would always have one of his pockets filled with acorns, which he would plant wherever he thought was a good spot for an oak tree. This simple act was his way of ensuring an ongoing supply of the lumber from which to build new ships.

In conversation with Kim and Martin Royle of Royle Safaris who was our tour guide and also shares our passion for tigers, and with Alexander we started an organization Trees for Tigers which we have now incorporated into a charitable organization. It is a collaborative effort with all the stakeholders to create a safe and sustainable habitat for people and tigers in Eastern Russia.

Our three core collaborative activities are:

Reforestation of logged areas with a balanced ecosystem of trees that can sustain wild boar and consequently tigers. This will include research into the best practices of creating sustainable forests.

Promoting eco-tourism to ensure that live tigers are more valuable to the people than dead tigers. Eco-tourism also build bridges of cross-cultural awareness that can further collaboration for environmental conservation.

Education, partly through the eco-tourism, and partly through direct education programs in schools and conservation groups. The education will focus not only on the plight of the tigers, but on the simple things people can do to be part of the solution.

We are currently working on a website: http://www.treesfortigers.org that describes in more detail the challenges the tigers face and the nature of our work.

If you would like to join us in our efforts on behalf of the Amur Tiger:

Educate people about the negative impact of disposable chopsticks and refrain from using them when they are offered.

If my newsletters over the years have proven helpful to you in your life and work I invite you to make a Christmas gift to the Trees for Tigers. You can do so online at: https://www.treesfortigers.org/donate.cfm

And in the meantime I encourage you when faced with a problem to listen to the questions being asked and then ask the question that isn't being asked. As my friend Steve Andreas says, "it is easy to spot wrong answers but much harder to spot wrong questions," and I would add it would be simpler to ask the question that isn't being asked.

With Christmas Blessings

Rob Voyle
Director, Clergy Leadership Institute

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