Article I wrote for a SUNY Purchase College newspaper.
Joe Walston, Executive Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Asia Program, gave an impassioned, educational lecture on the current struggle to bring tigers back from the brink of extinction. He spoke in front of a large audience made up of faculty, science majors and others interested in the subject. The talk was held on campus in the Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m.
The lecture, titled “The Science of Saving Tigers,” marked the final day of Purchase College’s informative “Science in the Modern World” lecture series. Hosted by Keith Landa, Purchase’s Science in the Modern World coordinator and director of the Teaching, Learning & Technology Center, the series focused on science topics that have bearing on current public policies.
In the 44-minute talk, Walston started by giving an overview of WCS’s Asia Program objectives. According to the program, there are fewer than 3,500 wild tigers currently in existence, and their numbers are continuing to fall. Poaching and habitat destruction were cited as the main causes.
“Tigers are also a figurehead,” said Walston during the lecture, “a flagship for a whole range of other endangered species that don’t share the same profile as the tiger.”
There are places where tigers are still clinging to life: small pockets of habitat in Russia, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Laos. Walston called these areas “source sites” and said that his organization is focusing its efforts on protecting and gradually expanding those areas. It is also working with governments to create and enforce international laws against poaching and deforestation.
Much of the lecture focused on scientific data collected by WCS and other conservationists; it included several graphs, maps, and pictures.
“Science underpins all of our activities,” Walston said of his organization. “It is a fundamental tool.”
According to Walston, a lack of scientific research led to the failures of past tiger conservation attempts, including a previous 30-year undertaking that saw an almost complete decimation of the tiger population in a region of India. At that time, conservationists focused on ending poaching to the exclusion of other factors that cause extinctions. The lack of knowledge about the importance of a sizable “prey base,” made up of animals such as deer that tigers hunt, caused tigers to die off from starvation when the prey base decreased during the same period.
Toward the end of the lecture, Walston fielded questions from the audience. Afterward, several excited students stood in line to ask him how they could get involved in conservation. One student, a senior biology major, asked which colleges in England are best for obtaining a master’s degree in conservation studies.
“Walston did a good job showing how scientific studies on tigers, their habitats, and prey populations can be used to make our conservation efforts more effective,” Landa said of the lecture.
“I thought that the speaker’s main message about the importance of using science in conservation efforts was the right message,” said Ronnie Halperin, chairperson of the School of Natural and Social Sciences, “and one that I was happy to see communicated to students.”