In the year 2020, schoolchildren may well read about the tiger, that noble beast of the jungle, the way generations past have read about the dinosaur: as an extinct animal that once roamed the Earth.
In the hope of avoiding that curriculum, National Geographic, in partnership with "Put a Tiger in Your Tank" Exxon Corp., has launched an alternative set of lessons. It is a school-based program that will not only educate children about the endangered tiger's plight, but also aid in efforts to prevent its extinction.
"Habitats: Realm of the Tiger" is a multimedia kit sponsored by Exxon, which has used the tiger as its longtime corporate symbol.
The kit contains two 60-minute videotapes, posters, transparencies, student handouts, trivia cards and a teacher's guide - all tools closely tied to national standards in science, geography and math, and linked to Asian studies, ecology, animal behavior and population dynamics.
"There is a lot of potential to make this a cross-curriculum program," said Alicia Feddor, a ninth-grade science teacher at Hammond High School in Howard County, and a teacher at the Baltimore Zoo's summer camp program. "Teachers rarely have the time to put together a packet like that or the money to make it flashy and entertaining for kids."
Feddor said that middle school-age children are ripe for learning abstract issues such as ecosystem conservation in foreign countries. "Once you have a kid in middle school, they are able to take a problem and globalize it," she said.
Students may have seen tigers in their local zoo, but wild tigers are found only in Asia, scattered across 14 countries, including the world's most densely populated ones: China, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia. In these areas the tiger vies for land being logged or cleared for farmland, farms and villages. Its prey, such as deer and pigs, are also in demand as food for an exploding human population.
Tigers were once killed by hunters for sport and fur, and now are poached mostly for their bones, which in China are used as an aphrodisiac and in a concoction to treat arthritis pain.
Because of such forces, the tiger population has declined from 100,000 to a mere 5,000 to 7,000 during the 20th century.
The need to educate both at home and abroad is an urgent one, and consciousness raising, even with American schoolchildren who may be too young to join the effort first-hand, can help save the tigers.
"Raising public awareness for tiger conservation in the states is important," said David Phemister, manager of the Save the Tiger Fund for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, "Getting a population interested in tigers can trickle back to corporate and government interests that can affect the tiger."
Exxon is subsidizing the sale of the kit that now sells for $40, including tax and shipping- $30 of which goes directly to the Save the Tiger Fund, a joint effort by Exxon and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to generate awareness and raise money for the tiger's fight for survival through field research and other education programs.
In the future the kit may sell for as much as $200.
Exxon also donated $5 million in 1995 to be used for tiger conservation over a five-year period, with an additional $1 million slated for 1998 - the Year of the Tiger in Chinese astrology.
Since the fund's inception in 1991, $3.5 million has been spent on tiger conservation and education efforts that include projects to help stabilize and improve tiger populations in the wild; support habitat protection; enhance conservation breeding programs in U.S., European and Asian zoos; and educate the public on the need for tiger conservation.
A council that includes some of the world's leading zoologists, conservationists and tiger authorities oversees the fund.
Other environmental education efforts for children and adults totaling $100,000 have been implemented in far eastern Russia and China. The fund's goal is to create awareness about how to coexist with the animals in a habitat with heavy population pressure, and to reduce the tiger's use in traditional medicine. Closer to home, funds promoting tiger conservation are of good use, according to Phemister.
"Environmental education is almost never wasted money," Phemister said. "In America, it may not have a direct impact on tiger conservation, but is a way to engage children with conservation ideas in general and environmental issues which are closer to home."
Peter Jackson, a Save the Tiger Fund council member, and chairman of the Cat Specialist Group for the Swiss-based World Conservation Union, agrees.
"It may turn some of the students into very good wildlife biologists or turn them on to other careers in wildlife or nature conservation," Jackson said. "That would be a great achievement."
The "Habitats: Realm of the Tiger" kit can be ordered by calling 1-800-5-TIGERS.
Also sponsored by the fund is the "5Tigers" Web site that can be used as an education source for groups ranging from schoolchildren to scientific scholars.
The Web address is http://www.5tigers.org
Pub Date: 8/02/98