Beyond being the animal emblem of ALL TIGERS, the protection of tigers is an integral part of our project. Member of the network 1% for THE PLANET, ALL TIGERS gives 1% of our proceeds to The Poh Kao Association, which fights to preserve wild tigers and their eco-system, where they are most threatened.
Let us introduce the founder, Véronique Audibert, who talks about her fight for biodiversity.
Véronique Audibert, of the Poh Kao Association
How was your passion for the wild world born?
I am curious about nature. Since I was a little girl I wanted to understand why we are here, and I loved the forest and animals more than anything... As a child, my best friend was a little bird that lived in a tree trunk! I went to visit it in the forest on Saturdays and Sundays, all day long!
In order to better understand the world, I embarked on film studies and watched thousands of films to have a global overview of man, his miseries, his anxieties, his life... Then the life-size test: I left for the other side of the world, alone, always in the most remote areas of civilization... And there...a tiger! The best meeting of my life! More than 20 years later, it always guides me...
How was this meeting so decisive for you?
The tiger opened me up to the world of nature, the planet, and the mystery of and perfection of evolution... Man has its limits, but nature has none! You never get bored!
And it started in Cambodia?
Back in 1997, I was investigating the trafficking of tigers in the northeast part of the country. The experience of being in a forest absolutely untouched by human destruction is indescribable... It's a very strong feeling: man is not superior to other beings, there are predators, like the tiger or the leopard. Walking in the footsteps of a tiger is very powerful.
I have done a lot of expeditions with hunter-gatherers from ethnic minorities who have always been living in contact with tigers. What they taught me is exceptional. While on a mission they asked me to help them. I founded Poh Kao in 2006 for them. In their language, it means "rice," "together," and "eat." So much symbolism!
What is Poh Kao's goal?
My belief is that we need to rely on local people to preserve biodiversity. They live in symbiosis with nature. They are the caretakers of nature, they show us what a balanced relationship with the environment is. And the tiger is much more than a symbol: when it disappears, it is the sign of a ravaged eco-system. Animal biodiversity maintains functional ecosystems: the first to suffer from their disappearance is the local people, who are often very poor. Never forget that 1.2 billion people are dependent on forests for food!
The largest primary forest area in Southeast Asia is located between northeastern Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, to create a giant national park that spans the borders of these three countries. We protect 24 endangered wildlife species, such as the nebula panther—the first feline to have appeared on Earth, 81 million years ago, ancestor of all others!—the gaur, which is the largest bovine in the world, the dhol, aka the Asian wild dog, and 5 species of primates, all thanks to the community patrols we have put in place. We have trained the villagers of these ethnic minorities anti-poaching techniques and taught them about how to fight against illegal logging. This model of direct protection of biodiversity and primary forest is hailed by scientists and experts, the work of our patrols is recognized, and it is immense recognition for this people of the forest.
But the tiger is gone...
So dramatic! 20 years ago, there were 800 tigers in the wild in Cambodia. Today all traces are gone.
Unfortunately the demand doesn't stop. They are used for "traditional remedies" in Asia, and increasingly as a symbol of social status: all this feeds the trafficking by mafia organizations that greatly profit from crimes against wild species. Beyond the tiger, all the biodiversity of this country is collapsing. 60% of the forests are gone! And beyond that, on a global scale, 60% of the wild animal population has disappeared in 40 years; it's a mass extinction of nature by man.
But you continue to follow the trail of the Tiger to India...
I'm not letting go of the tiger! After Cambodia, it took me to India. India is home to the vast majority of wild tigers, but demographic pressure, fragmentation of protected areas, and corruption and poaching still represent a major threat to the future of the tiger.
In Rajasthan, the local NGO KRAPAVIS has set up a remarkable project that has local ethnic minorities involved in tiger preservation. They do not receive any support from foreign funds, and local budgets are too small. POH KAO provides them technical expertise and assistance to raise funds.
Véronique and her local relays
The goal is to double the population of tigers in that region. To preserve the biodiversity and thus the food chain of the tiger, we must create ponds and replant trees. We also want to improve the living conditions of local people by creating milk-processing cooperatives for their herds, which they could then sell in local markets.
In this fight you lead, what are the victories?
There were 8 baby tigers this year in our action zone! As I always say, "Never give up!" You have to believe it.
There are always small victories that make me roar with glee! Getting funding for projects, for example. Seeing the results within the field, such as rescuing wild animals and trap destruction, thanks to the incredible work by our community rangers. Contributing to the creation of national parks. Seeing the great results obtained by local NGOs that protect wildlife. And, also, seeing images of compassion between man and animal.
And what should we fight against?
I bare my claws against the destroyers of the wild world and the exploiters of nature, for they are ignorant, arrogant, greedy, and selfish! The world does not need to be saved, we just need to stop destroying it now.
But the main challenge is the lack of means: biodiversity is not considered a major international issue, so the funds raised are totally inadequate. On the ground, we have data, the knowledge, the skills, but funding is lacking! Large organizations capture the bulk of endowment funds, but that money does not go where it's needed. The survival of truly efficient field projects is constantly threatened.
I am often asked "Is it too late to save the planet?". But the planet does not need us—it is we who need it! At this rate, it is our own extinction that we are programming, but, by that time, we must ask ourselves how many species will have already completely disappeared? What right do we have to do that? We must question our morals, reconsider our place among other living things. I hope that the coming generations will be more aware of the stakes.
What's your "jungle"; where do you feel at home?
My playground, where I feel in my place: Cambodia, Rajasthan, wherever man's footprint is in perfect balance with nature, where biodiversity can express itself fully... It's so soothing!
And is that where you feel like the "queen of the jungle?"
When I'm in the jungle, absolutely! When I'm walking with the team, when I'm crossing the wildest and most dense of forests, when I go back to the villages, with the tigers, bears, and panthers not very far. That's where I love to be! I love it!
What's women's place in this fight?
My mother, the most important person in my life, always supported me in my not so orthodox life choices! And women play a huge role in this struggle to preserve biodiversity. I am thinking of Suwanna Gauntlet of Wildlife Alliance Cambodia, Rosie Cooney of SULI IUCN, Amy Mailing of Wildlife Alliance Cambodia. They are extraordinary women who put their work for the planet first, before anything.
Nocturnal photo of tigers taken by local partners of Poh Kao
Who are the ultimate Tigers for you?
I think of Diane Fossey, with her life fully devoted to gorillas... And all those who work to spread knowledge, to defend the most fragile, the voiceless—animals and wildlife. Gandhi, Einstein, Newton, have all questioned their conscience in relation to these more fragile creatures, and what we are doing to them. Today, there are others, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, and many more anonymous players, such Nick Marx in Cambodia, or Mrs. Delia Bremont, President of the foundation Together In France, who constantly supports Poh Kao.
Natural, vegan, cruelty-free: Is that important to you?
It's more than important, it's part of my DNA today! It is a way for everyone to let go of a little pressure, violence, and cruelty to our fellow creatures. I am trying to be the voice for the "voiceless," especially those who live in areas where Poh Kao is involved.
Does lipstick belong in a life of fighting?
It's important to add a touch of color to reality. I wear it almost every day, except for when I'm in the field! It is the symbol of fantasy, a futile necessity to paint a world with a brighter smile.
Your favorite lipstick color?
Orange! Like the tiger!
Your journey, your commitment, your projects... That's impressive. You are our Supreme Tiger! You have to choose a mantra!
I choose one: MERCY TIGER!