Just so we’re clear, I’ll say it again: I like kitties.
And not just our little kitten Hoshi, who is treading on my keyboard and eating my fingers as I write this, but also the big cats out in the wild. Tigers, for example, are pretty cool, being all orange and stuff, with a big roar, stalking the jungle. When food is scarce they’ll hunt other big predators, such as giant crocodiles and even freaking bears are on the menu up in Siberia. They can also be adorable and live in peace and cuddles with lions and bears.
To be frank, there are some things we have to agree on to be friends. Normally this isn’t a good idea for me because I’m strange enough that if we had to agree on everything I’d have no friends. But there is just this one thing, and no it isn’t about religion or taxes or politics or whatever, it’s just this: tigers are cool.
I could go on about all the good, non-absurd reasons about why we should save the tiger–(The WWF, pathetically, only lists five) the impact of top predators on the ecosystem and diversity, the fact that saving forests for tigers also saves forestlands for many other wonderful creatures, the economic benefits through tourism to communities close by to tigers, etc–but you and me, my friend, know that they’re just awesome. So let us, you and I, save the tiger.
Here’s the sad part of this blog post, and I’ll keep it short. In 1900 there were an estimated 100,000 tigers roaming the wild. Now there are less than 3,000. The drop is mainly due to the fact that tigers have humans as roommates, mostly living in the most densely populated spots on Earth in Asia. Unfortunately tiger-human interactions end badly for tigers. When tigers kill cattle, they will leave and then return to feed on the livestock nightly. In the meantime villagers will poison the meat.
Other people (otherwise known as douchebags) will hunt tigers for some sort of sport–in this sentence sport is defined as going up against mother nature with a huge ass gun. But it is hard to blame the impoverished people of the world for killing tigers when the Asian medicine market is so lucrative. Tiger parts are used in many traditional medicines, like their claws to cure insomnia. Or their brains to cure laziness. Or their penis to make tiger soup as an aphrodisiac. Okay, listen, if your lady won’t get busy with you without first going out and murdering an endangered animal, whacking off its man bits and then eating it, you’ve got more problems than can be fixed by modern or traditional medicine.
Also, and I can’t stress enough how important I feel it is to tell you this, they use tiger poop to cure alcoholism. Which should tell you how the Chinese feel about alcoholics. However, I think being told I just ate tiger poop to cure my alcoholism would make me want a drink, but that’s just me.
Current conservation methods are based on funneling money into convincing local governments in Asia to create more tiger reserves, changing local laws and attitudes about killing tigers and creating a giant tiger corridor. The tiger corridor is to allow horny tigers to wander off in search of new and possibly more attractive tiger ladies, and has the side effect of not inbreeding the tiger into extinction.
You’ll notice that this seems somewhat normal in terms of conservation techniques and thus they will not be discussed further here.
The two ideas I have are this: a world-wide campaign to tell people the true ingredients of tiger soup–it’s a barbed penis if you’d forced yourself to forget already–and to play God with genetics. I know, I know, it’s only been a few weeks since I last played God with genetics. Don’t judge me, lots of us have inner super villains.
In this case, by playing God with genetics I mean, and this really is obvious, let’s give tigers wings.
Think about it: tigers with wings can fly over the artificial barriers to prey populations. Terrified Indian villagers can look up into the sky and shout “Holy shit, tigers!” as they see the majestic orange beasts take to the sky.
This would also solve the issue of a genetic bottleneck: there’s no need to have tiger corridors if the tigers can fly over people’s houses. This could also be a game changer for the aforementioned douchebags if tigers are suddenly able to pounce on them from the sky and drag them back up to their lairs, high in the trees.
Okay, so what are the practical barriers to giving tigers wings, you ask. What about the ethical implications of genetic engineering, aren’t animals that combine species some sort of unethical, unnatural alteration of the natural orders of blah blah de fucking blah. First of all, no one complains about one of the side-effects of saving the American Bison: we made them part cow. Second, I really don’t care unless someone goes Monsanto on tigers and makes them round-up resistant so we can grow tigers but nothing else, and then establish giant mono-cultures of tigers to feed the world’s growing population (maybe that’s for another blog).
Third, someone is already working on it. In case you don’t feel the need to impulsively check my sources, that’s a story about scientists putting bat genes into mice to form protowings. Basically all they have down is some stretched hands that would later have skin stretched in between them, but it is a step in the right direction.
Bats, unlike birds, do not have hollow skeletons. But they do manage to keep their weight down. One of the largest living bats is the amazingly inaccurately named Giant Golden-Crowned Flying Fox, which only has a 5’6″ wingspan, making it not a giant, nor an owner of a golden headpiece, nor a fox. It does however fly. Anyway, even with its impressive wingspan, the bat only weighs about 2.5 pounds. The largest Siberian cats can weigh about 670 pounds, so by basic extrapolation we’d say they need 223 times the wing surface area. Maybe. I don’t really understand lift.
But what I do understand is that we either need a way to make tigers lighter, or the wings more powerful, or both. I personally prefer the version where we make the tiger wings beat as fast as humming birds, which not only allows their wings to generate more lift but gives flying tigers the ability to hover and fly backwards.
Humming-Tigers would expend a lot of energy just on flying. Meaning that, like the humming bird, they’d have a crazy-ridiculous metabolism and be hours away from starving to death at all time. So Humming-Tigers would have to be vicious, eating more than their body weight per day, making the ones that survive vicious killing machines. Oh my god, yes.
The only real problem is where to put the wings. Unlike the humble Pegasus, tigers are tetrapods. You, me, lizards, snakes, we’re all tetrapods, meaning we have four limbs (snakes are too, you’ll just have to trust me on this one). It’s a body plan that dates back to the fish that evolved limbs in the Devonian. There’s really no skeletal or muscular structure to graft on extra wings. So we have two choices about where the wings should go. Like bats and birds, one might tempted to put them on the front limbs, but tigers use those for hunting. So instead I think we should put them on the back limbs.
So, everybody onboard with this, flying, hummingbird-like death machines with two front paws and two back wings? No? Is that why people are against genetic engineering? Does giving tigers wings, actually just make them a different species all together and it will turn out that we haven’t really preserved anything? Hmm…
Anyway, if you want to actually help the tiger, here is an organization called Panthera and they seem to do some excellent work.