Liz Bonnin

Liz Bonnin

Liz Bonnin is one of the most recognisable TV presenters and it well known for her love of big cats - especially tigers.

She has teamed up with Whiskas and WWF to launch a new campaign to help raise money to save the tigers of Nepal.

We caught up with her to chat about the campaign, how people can get involved and just how the money is going to help this endangered species.

- You are backing a new campaign to help protect wild tigers so can you tell me a little bit about it and who is involved?

WWF and Whiskas have teamed up together to protect tigers in the wild; particularly, tigers in the Terai Arc in Nepal. What you have to do is buy a special packet of Whiskers between July and September, and some of the money will be going towards a special fund to help the tigers.

The reason why this is a campaign that I was really attracted to was because I studied tigers for my masters in the very place that WWF and Whiskas sent a group to check out the tigers and see what could be done to protect them. So I thought it was a perfect fit.

I will be putting my voice to the film, and I will also be promoting the campaign. I just think it is wonderful that the general public can get involved in something that is hugely important.

- As you say people can get out and buy Whiskas to help raise money for this campaign but how is this money going to be used to help?

It is going towards dealing with one of the problems that tigers are facing, and that is poaching.

So in countries like Nepal, where there are very few resources, these funds are going to go towards giving community-based anti-poaching patrols help with walkie talkies and solar panels for the huts that they sit in; so just giving them a few more resources to be able to do their job properly.

It is really about getting the funds on the ground to help the people that are there. It is money that is very well spent and very much needed.

- A lot of people won't know about the plight of the tigers in Nepal so what are the numbers out there? And what problems are they facing?

At the moment, there are roughly about 120 tigers in the low end of Nepal. It seems like a small number, but this particular habitat has the potential to contain a lot more tigers because of the prey density; it is almost the perfect habitat for tigers, actually.

The reason why tiger’s numbers are not as high as they could be is because they are being poached, and their prey is being poached. There are also a lot of humans out there, and we are encroaching on a lot of wildlife habitat.

As a result of all of that the tiger is struggling. As much as the tiger is an animal that can recover very quickly because they are good breeders, and they are very healthy animals unfortunately the human impact is really giving the tiger a population a massive hit.

Across the tiger range, all kinds of species are struggling; there are only about 3,200 tigers in the wild at the moment. They are on the brink of extinction - it is a harsh reality, but it is the truth - and this problem has been going on for a very very long time.

Once and for all, we need to stop it from happening. WWF has a projective goal to double the number of tigers by 2022.

And with the help of the public buying these Whiskas packs we can really make a big difference in stopping these tigers from reaching extinction.

- There are only 3,200 are left in the wild so what are the major factors to their dramatically declining numbers?

More than anything else it is poaching. It is the demand of tiger parts from the Asian medical trade; particularly, China. It is such a culturally ingrained mindset that the demand has never been more rife.

Because it is so lucrative, the illegal wildlife trade in tiger parts has never been higher. The corruption that surrounds it and how these poachers are able to get into the forest and find these tigers is becoming out of control.

If we can fund anti-poaching patrols more effectively, if we can train them better and give them more support this will all help.

There is a programme called Management Information System Technology, which helps volunteers and anti-patrol officers to really document where the tigers are and the poachers.

To be more effective at stopping the poaching, we can really stop the demise of the tiger - it is as simple as that.

The other problem though is the demand; we can stop the poachers, but you also need to stop the demand in China. That is a huge challenge, but it is something that many organisations are getting involved with especially the WWF.

- Well, that leads me into my next question. What do you believe needs to be done on a global scale to stop tigers being something that we will only see in a zoo?

Because I have been interested in tigers, and I have studied them for so long I think I take some of the information that I know about tigers for granted.

The more I work on tiger projects - even getting involved with this project - I think people need to know a little bit more of what is going on out there and the harsh realities of why people are going into forests and killing these wonderful animals.

They also need to know what that does to the eco-system and ultimately how that affects us as a species on this planet. I think we separate ourselves from animals and think that we are not affected if the tiger becomes extinct.

But if the tiger becomes extinct, then that eco-system becomes unhealthy and lots of other animals die out; ultimately, our planet becomes even more unhealthy than it is today. So all of these factors are affecting us, but we don't know enough about it. I think people need to understand it better.

I can't stress it enough, get on the website of organisations such as WWF and just read up on these things.

Yes, it is a little big scary but when you learn more about these amazing animals, you will care about them more, and you will understand why they belong here.

So that is step one; everyone just needs to just inform themselves a little bit more about the wonders of the natural world around us.

Step two is the harder thing as it is overcoming, poaching and overcoming the demands of tiger parts.

We can all influence government, and we can all play in stopping it; it is more of a difficult challenge but we all have to show that we care. If we all show that we care, then things will change.

- We are seeing more and more campaigns like this that are trying to save this animal but how do you think the future looks for this big cat?

I have to say, I have mixed emotions. I have been very lucky in meeting incredible people at WWF and organisations are queuing up to raise a lot of money to save the tigers.

So I feel inspired by that, and I think that there is hope. There are so many scientists around the world working tirelessly for this animal; as well as other species that are endangered.

On one side of the coin, I do think that we are incredible as human beings because we can really work 24/7 and are constantly fighting to save this animal.

On the other hand, I find it difficult to understand why human beings would voluntarily go in and kill a tiger and not care if it disappears from the planet.

We have been saying this for a long time, and I think that people are almost getting desensitised to hearing that the tiger is facing a very real risk of becoming extinct.

But if that was to happen that would just be shocking. It's not something that is acceptable, and we can't let that happen.

The thing is, we have never been closer to that happening, and I think that people need to realise that. Imagine losing the tiger from this planet. What does that say about us as human beings?

- You have an obvious love for big cats so where did that start?

I have always been fascinated by big cats - I have not ideas why these animals fascinated me more than anything else. I have had domestic cats in the past; I am desperate to have another one, but I am traveling so much at the moment that I can't.

Then I was lucky enough to set eyes on my first wild tiger when I was in India many years ago. Not only are they stunningly beautiful, but it is how they live their lives, their incredible power, adaptability, intelligence, affection to their own.

To me, they are the epitome of evolution in the natural world. They are perfection in every single sense of the word. They represent the billions of years that it has taken for life to evolve on this planet. And the habitat in which they live is just stunning; wherever the tiger lives the habitat is just stunning.

The tiger represents the best of Mother Nature and the best of what we can have on this planet and what we have evolved to be on this planet. I have always felt that way about them. They are humbling.

As much as human beings are supposed to be the most intelligent, the most evolved, I would argue that point with many different species that we still don't understand that have involved to be as intelligent in their own environment; the tiger is definitely one of those animals.

Having been lucky to see one in the wild it is a no brainer. It is awe-inspiring, humbling and it something that we must protect. It is our responsibility to otherwise we have no idea why we are here.

- As the campaign gets underway and the money starts coming in do you have plans to go out to Nepal to see how the money is being spent?

I have been desperate to get back to Nepal since finishing by studies. It would be lovely to be part of it. I want to continue working with tiger conservations and organisations and supporting them in any way that I can. So hopefully I will get the chance to go there.

- Finally, what is next for you going through the rest of this year?

I am heading off to finish the second half of an animal behavior series that I have been filming; that will on BBC One in the autumn, I think. So more animals for me (laughs).

Because Whiskas UK cares for all cats, both big and little, it has partnered with WWF UK to help protect tigers in the wild.

Go to to see how every special pack of Whiskas bought between now and August will help to protect tigers and support WWF UK’s goal of doubling the number of tigers in the wild by 2022.

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