From Shere Khan in The Jungle Book to The Tiger Who Came to Tea, tigers play a very prominent part in our culture. But there are now fewer than 4,000 tigers left in the wild, owing to a brutal trafficking trade and environmental destruction.
The stats are pretty stark. But increasingly the World Wildlife Foundation is turning to art and artists to try and highlight the dire situation before it’s too late.
“We tend to get this second-hand version of tigers in our culture, but we want to try and tap back into the reality of tigers in the wild.” says Nick Gentry, a London-based artist who has worked with the WWF on its tiger campaigns.
“Art is a reflection of our culture and the way we see the world. There’s one way to deliver the facts and the data, but we live in such a busy world, there are a lot of causes and a lot of guilt. We are emotional beings, and art speaks to the human side, the emotional side that people can link into.”
For World Tiger Day, the WWF has released images from photographers like Emmanuel Rondeau, Ranjan Ramchandani, Vijay Nagarajan and Sunny Shah which show tigers in the wild. Nick – an artist who creates portraits from discarded materials like floppy discs and camera film rolls – worked on a project with Tiger Beer around the #3890tigers campaign.
“Tigers’ve been living alongside humans for two million years and being apex predators, there’s a mutual respect that’s passed on from generation to generation,” Nick says. “It shocks me that in the last 100 years that symbiosis has almost come to an end.”
Nick is a city dweller – born and brought up in London where he still lives. But even he feels a particular pull when it comes to tigers.
“Look into the eyes of a tiger and it’s like no other feeling. It reaches down to the inner part of the human being, something very primal. It’s beyond logic and explanation. And that’s in a zoo – I can’t even imagine what that might be like in the wild.”
Nick’s own work explores themes of sustainability as he gives new life to old objects and asks questions about what we value, what we use and what we throw away.
“There is a relentless drive towards the future and we rarely pause to look back on the things we discard along the way,” he explains. “Even though they are culturally significant, they don’t get much regard as we move forward.”
As part of the #3890tigers project, Nick went to Cambodia to meet some of the rangers fighting to protect the few remaining tigers there. “It was a huge learning experience, and even though we didn’t see tigers, it sparked the imagination. In a way it was a form of inspiration that they weren’t there – it was a sort of ghostly feeling.”
“I was despondent at many points of the trip because we saw so many traps. But we talked with the rangers and I got so much respect for them. They are really up against it – I didn’t realise how risky the job is.”
“The poachers are armed and the loggers are armed, and if the rangers catch them doing something illegal, there is every chance they will get shot at and maybe even killed.”
That’s not to mention the many other dangers and inconveniences of living in the forest, and the long, lonely stretches they spend away from their families. But that willingness to devote their lives to saving tigers struck a real chord with Nick.
“It’s infectious when you meet people with that spirit – you can’t help but latch onto some of that.”
“There are a lot of grey areas in the world, and you can look at it this way or that way, but it comes down to do we care? Do we want to be part of nature, or are we going to treat it like a product we can exploit? It’s so simple at the end of the day.”
Please respect to all the life around you, surrounding you and living in a magical harmony with you.