By Sam Geden
From 1st-21st March of this year was an event at St. Pancras International Station that was touted as the world's biggest Tiger-themed event: Tiger Tracks. Presented jointly between the Environmental Investigation Agency, the Born Free Foundation and "Save Wild Tigers", which is an off-shoot of both of these organisations. The event was unique to anything I had ever seen before, holding an interesting hybrid of art (as seen in the incredible Veolia Recycled Tiger) and shock-value artefacts (as seen in the Police-loaned stuffed tiger), which made the experience every bit as visually pleasing as it was eye-opening to the plight that the wild Tiger faces in modern times.
What Tiger Tracks aimed to raise awareness in was that the Tiger is becoming extinct. There were 150,000 Tigers in the wild at the turn of last century; now there are only 3,500 left. Many Tigers are still illegally poached to be twisted into trophies for hunters, or are stripped of almost every single body part imaginable for decoration, medicine or alcoholic beverages. China encourages "Tiger Farming", wherein Tigers are bred specifically to meet an imminent demise for these aforementioned shocking purposes. The most terrifying thing to me though was that I didn't know anything about these horrific actions before the event.
I first heard about Tiger Tracks through the singing duo Brian May and Kerry Ellis when they announced that they were going to attend the opening of the event on March 1st. My friend Amie and I wanted to volunteer for a couple of days, but due to budgetary restraints (we both lived about an hour away from London and simply couldn't afford two train journeys within the month to get there) and we found that we were able to both volunteer for the opening of the event on 1st March. Having really only actively reading and discussing animal welfare for about six months by that point due to the news of the impending Badger Cull in this country, I was interested in not only what I could learn, but also how others would perceive this event. I was pleasantly surprised at the reaction.
Everyone at St. Pancras that day - from the volunteers to the passerbys - were incredibly friendly and incredibly interested as to what was going on around the station. Amie and I were positioned around the Recycled Tiger which garnered a lot of attention over how skilfully crafted and breathtaking it was. A brief conversation with Faith Bebbington - the artist who created the Recycled Tiger - informed me that it was made from 300 milk bottles! It was definitely a show-stealer, as there was rarely ever a time where there weren't anyone from the public marvelling at it and subsequently donating to the cause. People of all ages stopped by and discussed the plight with us; many were shocked at just how little the Tiger population truly is in this modern age. When they heard these very shocking facts, they all gave very generously to the cause and praised us for trying to raise awareness on this very important issue.
We had signed on to do a six-hour shift, which was fairly draining on both of us. I was recovering from a cold at the time (which came back the day after our shift because St. Pancras was far more cold than I anticipated it to be at the time) and I had been having leg problems, which made it difficult to stand at times. I also have Asperger's Syndrome and suffer with Depression, which makes it difficult to engage in conversation, especially with complete strangers. And yet, it was easier to talk about this cause than I thought it was going to be; very rarely did my social awkwardness and tendency to stutter when nervous inhibit my ability to get the point across that the wild Tiger is rapidly becoming extinct and action must be taken to prevent it. In fact, seeing so many positive responses to this cause was a very life-affirming experience for me.
What made the day all the more memorable to me was the fact that Brian May, Kerry Ellis and Born Free Foundation founder Virginia McKenna were at the event and were walking around the various exhibits. With me being a big Queen fan and Amie being a big Kerry Ellis fan, it was a great bonus for us to see them. In fact, Virginia gave Amie a donation, which prompted a big reaction from the surrounding people! Once they had finished looking at the Recycled Tiger, I somewhat nervously asked Brian and Kerry if they would take a picture with us, which they happily obliged to. We had both met the two on separate occasions beforehand, but this was by far the most fulfilling as we didn't go there especially for the opportunity to see them, but the fact that we did was the icing on the cake for us.
http://twitpic.com/c7u8tv - the picture in question.
About 2/3 through our shift, we were delegated to the Stuffed Tiger exhibit. The exhibit was a collection of items confiscated by Police from a London home recently, including various medicines and plasters made from Tigers; alcoholic beverages made from a Tiger's bone marrow and - most tragically for me - a stuffed Tiger cub, which was reportedly only 10 days old before it was killed. Many people flocked to this exhibit out of curiosity and doted over how cute the Tiger cub was. But the doting ended when they realised that the cub was killed when it was barely a week old to be used as an ornament in someone's house. Like the Recycled Tiger exhibit, there was hardly ever a moment where no-one was around. either admiring or lamenting the Tiger and its cub.
Brian and Kerry's main reason for being at Tiger Tracks that day was to mark its grand opening with a 30 minute free concert. Because our shifts hadn't ended, we only caught the last song so I can't really write anything about the concert, only that - judging from the last song - they looked just as on-point as ever. As I had expected, a giant crowd had amassed for the event which chanted and cheered throughout the show (we could hear the chanting despite being at the other side of the station!) After the show, I had inadvertantly garnered attention by still having the donation can and made another £50 or so in five minutes due to the impact that the show had on people. Shortly after that, I was interviewed by the EIA about what Tiger Tracks meant to me, which showcased me stuttering throughout but essentially putting forth that something has to be done to stop the Tiger population from dwindling any further, out of the very real fear that our grandchildren may live in a world where this animal is fully extinct.
In closing, Tiger Tracks was nothing short of a magnificently unique experience. It was every part as artistic as it was informative, which I believe really helped invoke a greater public response. St. Pancras itself was a great place to hold the event not only in terms of space (every exhibit was placed very strategically to maximise public interest), but in terms of capturing a greater audience. I initially had reservations about volunteering for the event because my social introversion and awkwardness would've made it difficult to communicate with people for that length of time, but it soon became very easy to engage people in the cause and to eloquently convey just how necessary it is to save wild Tigers. Meeting Brian May for me was the icing on the cake to an incredible day, as he is one of my role models in creative ideology, and it was his wildlife organization that brought all of this to my attention all those months ago. I wish that it extended further past the three weeks that it was around just so I could have the opportunity to volunteer again when my financial situation was a bit better.
Tiger Tracks is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life.