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A faint roar

Student group sponsors Tiger Awareness Month to aid a dying breed

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  • Story by Chris Blose
  • Artwork by Francesca Owens
  • Published: Oct. 1, 2007
Tiger art

Artist Francesca Owens creates pieces that highlight the threats facing tigers, including illegal poaching for use in traditional medicine. Mizzou's Tiger Awareness Month features her work.

As school mascots, tigers represent strength, ferocity, beauty — all of the qualities the majestic big cats bring to mind. Tigers have another quality that isn’t so positive, though: scarcity.

Government researchers in India recently estimated that Bengal tigers (Mizzou’s mascot) have declined by 50 percent in the past five years or so, with only 1,300 to 1,500 left. These beasts are big — weighing 500 to 600 pounds — but they can’t always fend for themselves.

Mizzou Tigers for Tigers (MT4T) wants to help solve this problem before the only tigers left are mascots. The group, founded in 1999 as the nation’s first mascot-related tiger conservation program, now sponsors Tiger Awareness Month at Mizzou in October.

“It’s more of a crisis situation than people realize,” says Dana Morris, an adjunct professor and coordinator for the group. MT4T includes faculty, staff, students and alumni, and the group works with the World Wildlife Fund and Save the Tiger Fund on everything from local events and fundraising to international conservation efforts.

Emotional connections and scientific perspectives

Tiger Awareness Month features an exhibit by artist Francesca Owens. Owens created her exhibit, Beauty of the Beast: Tigers Facing Extinction, to bring attention to some of the biggest issues facing tigers: illegal trade and poaching of tigers for their pelts and bones for traditional Eastern dress and medicine, for example.

Owens’ exhibit, underwritten by Save the Tiger Fund, will be on display throughout the month in Ellis Library, Jesse Hall and Reynolds Alumni Center.

Richard Ellis, from the American Museum of Natural History, brings a research background to the same conservation issues. He presented a seminar, Threats from Illegal Trade: Tiger Tiger Burning Out?, on Oct. 11.

“Francesca has a great way to elicit the emotional connection with her art,” Morris says, “and then we have the scientific perspective from Richard Ellis.”

MT4T lists a full schedule of events at the group’s Web site. In addition to Owens’ exhibit and Ellis’ presentation, the fraternity Delta Sigma Phi has adopted MT4T as its philanthropy project for the year and will help raise money and recruit members for the group.

Ongoing awareness

MT4T’s programs go beyond Tiger Awareness Month. Student members take field trips to places such as the St. Louis Zoo to see real tigers and discuss conservation with experts. Students also present outreach programs at Missouri elementary schools.

Professor and Co-Chair Matt Gompper hopes the group will be able to fund more conservation research in the future, too. He already helped recruit doctoral student Abi Tamim Vanak, who previously researched tiger habitat and populations in India. MT4T helps fund Vanak’s education at Mizzou.

Clemson and Auburn universities have started similar programs. “We’re hoping other universities will follow the steps Mizzou has taken to do something about tiger conservation,” Morris says.

Read more in:  EducationArts & Culture

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012