Editor's blog: Goodbye tigers

Posted: 15 February 2010

After the anticlimax of Copenhagen, a hush has descended on the climate debate. President Obama mentioned the word 'climate' only once in his recent State of the Union speech. But the problem has not gone away, as seen by the announcement that the past decade has been the hottest since records began in 1880, and new warnings by the World Glacier Monitoring Service that glaciers across the globe are melting so fast that many will disappear by the middle of the century. But perhaps that relative silence on the issue has opened the door to news about other pressures on the planet, reminders that have been drowned out by the flood of climate talk in recent months.

Tree frog, Madagascar
Tree frog, Madagascar
A Boophis viridis tree frog in the Analamazoatra Reserve, a wildlife reserve in Madagascar. Since last year's coup, marauding bands of loggers have chopped down valuable tree species, such as rosewood and ebony, in many parks and reserves, further endangering wildlife. Photo © Rhett Butler
This is, after all, the Year of Biodiversity, and there is plenty of evidence that the extinction crisis continues to reap its tragic toll. Especially sad is the news from Madagascar where, since the coup last March when President Ravalomanana was chased into exile, organized gangs have ransacked the island's protected rainforests for biological treasures - including precious hardwoods and endangered lemurs - and frightened away tourists, who provide a critical economic incentive for conservation, as Rhett Butler reports on this website. (See: Madagascar's political chaos threatens conservation gains.)

Other signs that cash and jobs continue to be more important than conservation in many settings, comes with the news that Russia plans to reactivate a hugely polluting paper mill on the banks of Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest freshwater lake in the world containing a fifth of all the planet's fresh water. The paper mill's polluting activities were restricted in 2001 after the lake became a World Heritage Site. Now it seems, sewage will again be discharged into the waters of the lake and the storage and disposal of hazardous waste will be allowed on the lake's shores. (See: Russia to reopen polluting Baikal papermill).

Elsewhere comes news that the tigers of the Greater Mekong region are on their very last legs - down from around 1200 only 12 years ago, to 350 today. (See: Mekong tigers plummet to only 350). As the UN Environment Programme said, at the launch of the Year of Biodiversity, "losses [of diversity] are irreversible, impoverish us all and damage the life support systems we rely on every day."

Turtle mural, Mexico
Turtle mural, Mexico
Turtle mural, Mexico.
But, among the gloom, there are glimmers of a better world. Robin Sears tells a success story from Baja Mexico where, after 10 years of public art in the form of colourful murals depicting the riches of marine life, including endangered turtles, attitudes are changing from consumption of turtle meat and eggs to their conservation. (See: Murals are helping to save Mexico's turtles).

There is hope, too, in the story of the small Hebridean island of Eigg whose inhabitants have won a share of a £1 million prize for their progress in transforming the island into the UK's first green community. See: Scottish Isle of Eigg wins energy prize). And hope also in the success of the small Russian Republic of Khakassia in reviving the tradition of bird feeding in winter, which they now plan to spread throughout Siberia. (See: LETTER FROM SIBERIA: Feeding the birds in Khakassia). Small steps, but ones with a big message.

John Rowley