“The important thing was to create content,” he explains. “So we created contests — for models, songwriters, artists and cartoonists. But to tell you the truth, they didn’t work. Not a lot of people wanted to participate. My experience in the last three months of travelling is that people just don’t care.”
So he changed his tack. In January 2006 the Dalai Lama gave an emotional speech about the fate of the tiger. He asked the Tibetan people to stop wearing tiger skins. Tibetans took heed, burnt their tiger skins and the furs of other exotic animals and the demand for tiger products dropped overnight. Taking note, one of Chris’s goals is to find influential people to take up the mantle, similar to how the likes of George Clooney lobbied for international intervention in the conflict in Darfur.
“You need influential people, [personalities or leaders] who are looked up to,” he explains. “I don’t know if there are people in Vietnam who can do that. But you see the tiger a lot in Vietnam. It’s an important symbol, part of the heritage. If people in Vietnam realise that their national symbol is vanishing, then I think it will be more effective. And if you lose the tiger, it will be gone and it won’t come back.”
On the Trail
Chris’s adventure, which this year has taken him to countries as far flung as Russia, Georgia, Tadjikistan, Kazakhstan and South Korea, began when he was 32 after going on safari in Africa. “It was fantastic,” he recalls. “My sense for nature started to develop from that period.”
In 2012 he decided to try viewing a tiger living in the wild. He looked into the possibility of going to Malaysia. The research “scared” him — which was when he got the idea to travel Asia in an attempt to raise awareness for the plight of the tiger. “I realised that I had to be quick, or there would be nothing left.”
He adds: “I worked in a sales and marketing environment for almost 20 years, making people aware of the essentials of a product, of the solutions in that product. When I started to read all the research, I missed the awareness part. Awareness is crucial to making something sustainable. If you teach people why [they shouldn’t do something], then they won’t do it. It’s about making people aware of why they should or shouldn’t do something. Awareness needs to be part of the process to achieve something sustainable. So this is why I’m doing an awareness campaign.”
His biggest success so far has been in Russia, where he was interviewed on primetime TV — the segment was viewed by 50 million people — and had interviews published in the national newspapers. All because “I’m doing something extraordinary for them,” Chris says. “I’m stepping up for their tiger. They think that it’s very strange that someone from Holland is stepping up for them.”
As for Vietnam, Chris hopes that the two sustainable populations of tigers — there are a maximum of 120 individuals — can be protected. Rather than attributing blame, a strategy that has proven unfruitful, he believes in a combination of education, co-operation between NGOs and marketing.
“We need to market the plight of tigers and de-market the demand for tigers,” he explains. “If NGOs market a tiger, they show beautiful pictures, make it more attractive, really beautiful. But in the process this makes consumers of tiger products demand it more, pay more for certain parts of the animal. It’s a Catch 22.” — Nick Ross
For more information on Chris’s journey and to pledge your support, go to tigertrail.org