August 2, 2016

Tigers: More Valuable Than Diamonds?

Photo: "Machali" by Christopher Kray (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)
Source: Christopher Kray (Flickr), "Machali."  (CC BY 2.0)

In the wake of International Tiger Day, some recent news from India suggests the nation is putting tigers and their habitat ahead of diamonds, at least for the moment. Mining company Rio Tinto is asking permission to mine for diamonds in Madhya Pradesh, a large state in central India that encompasses critical tiger habitats such as the Panna Tiger Reserve in Panna National Park. To make way for the diamond mine, Rio Tinto would need to cut down nearly half a million trees.

If approved, Rio Tinto has claimed the project could make India one of the top 10 diamond producers in the world. However, India's forest advisory committee has deferred Rio Tinto's request (again) because of its concerns that the project will negatively affect the area's wildlife, including tigers. Today, all six remaining species of tigers (Panthera tigris) are endangered, primarily as a result of habitat loss. Three species are further listed by the IUCN as critically endangered.

Diamonds are economically valuable, but are endangered tigers more valuable? In India, the mighty bengal tiger is a cultural icon. As both a symbol of the nation and an apex predator that helps keep their ecosystems in balance, tigers have value that transcends dollars and cents (as well as rupees, crore, and, yes, even diamonds).

Tigers are part of India's "natural capital"--Earth's assets and resources that include soil, air, water, and all living things. And while it's not easy to put a price tag on natural capital, by avoiding further habitat destruction, India's forest advisory committee is recognizing that natural places (and tigers) are inherently valuable.

What do YOU think? Are tigers more valuable than diamonds?

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