News & Politics

Save the Sumatran Tiger With a Song

The National Zoo’s #EndangeredSong campaign seeks to raise awareness about the critically endangered species.

One of the zoo’s Sumatran tigers getting to know the album jacket of #EndangeredSong. Photograph by Connor Mallon for Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Spread this song and help save the majestic Sumatran tiger.

The Smithsonian National Zoo is marking Earth Day Tuesday with a unique effort promoting one of its most endangered—and most powerful—animals, enlisting the help of 400 “influencers” to raise public awareness about the 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.

Alaskan indie-rock band Portugal the Man created a previously unreleased song titled “Sumatran Tiger,” which the zoo distributed on 400 custom polycarbonate records to 400 individuals across the country. The special records will degrade after a limited number of plays, putting the onus on the 400 recipients to digitize and “breed” the record if the song is to survive in the wild.

The effort launched this morning and is centered on the social media hashtag #EndangeredSong. Hear Washingtonian’s copy of the song (#56 of 400) below; you can help spread it by sharing a link to this post or to the song on Soundcloud.

According to the zoo, the list of 400 record recipients ranged from music artists and noted bloggers to wildlife conservationists and other social-media “influencers.” The first they heard of the project was a letter from the zoo explaining that the record would be arriving this week—and to spread the word today, lest the song become extinct.

The zoo—which has its own rare family of Sumatran tigers (new cubs Bandar and Sukacita were born last summer to mother Damai)—is tracking the song’s spread through its special website. The Sumatran tiger, which exists only on the island of Sumatra, is one of just six subspecies of tiger left following the extinction of its neighbors, the Javan tiger and the Bali tiger. It’s listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Growing up in Alaska, we were surrounded by wildlife and the beauty of the natural world. We learned that we can’t take these things for granted,” Portugal the Man’s vocalist John Gourley said in a statement. “Thus the message of this project was very personal to us as a band, and we jumped at the chance to use our music to spread the urgent message of a species in danger of extinction.”

Photograph by Garrett M. Graff.