A stunning jaguar often prowls across the top of my computer screen when I call up my NYTimes e-subscription. It is elegance epitomized and one can only imagine how many sales of diamond necklaces it has helped close. Clearly, the jaguar is to Cartier what Tiger Woods is to Nike (yes, he’s still on their payroll.) And Nike is not alone. If one can believe the websites, it is commonplace for a corporation to spend tens of millions of dollars to use the image of a celebrity like Woods to promote their product. Which invites the question, how much does Cartier pay the jaguar?
Of course, they probably pay the jaguar owner and trainer, but what do they do to keep jaguars roaming the planet? Or should they do anything?
Let’s take on the second question first. Is there either a pragmatic or philosophical case to be made for Cartier to contribute to jaguar conservation? From a pragmatic standpoint, I’m not sure. On the one hand, were the jaguar to become extinct, it would be a bit awkward for Cartier. Suppose some company had used images of the passenger pigeon to promote their product. Wouldn’t they have come in for a bit of ridicule if they had done nothing as the numbers of those birds dwindled and then went to zero?
Fifty years ago estimates put the world population of jaguars around 400,000. Today, the Feline Conservation Foundation puts that number at 10,000. Other estimates get up towards 20,000, and there is general agreement among biologists that the decline continues. But it is no doubt quite in line with the image Cartier’s ad folks want to convey for the jaguar to remain painfully rare – just like their diamonds and emeralds. So from Cartier’s perspective it is something of a tossup. Since the jaguar is not yet on the brink of extinction, we don’t really need to support its conservation. After all, we don’t want them to become commonplace – like squirrels or chipmunks. So much for a pragmatic argument.
But isn’t there a philosophical case? Isn’t there an ethical obligation for a company which is profiting from using – dare I say exploiting – a wild animal whose habitat is being nibbled away by palm oil plantations and whose numbers are being reduced by hunters and trappers on the payroll of cattle ranchers to step forward and help tip the balance a bit in the jaguar’s direction? If Tiger Woods gets tens of millions of dollars to be shown wearing Nike footwear isn’t it fair to expect Cartier to do something for the jaguars that wear their diamond studded collars?
Well, there’s a pretty strong headwind against the fairness argument when talking about the treatment of animals as opposed to that of people. We don’t think twice about stepping on ants on the sidewalk but we certainly tread carefully when little children are underfoot. And what about the cattle in feedlots and what comes after all that corn? I won’t even go there.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling that Cartier really should contribute and contribute significantly to jaguar conservation, and if I can’t make a strong case that they owe it to the jaguars at least I think they owe it to…… me – and to the rest of us for whom the continued existence of this iconic animal in big tracts of wilderness is important, and to those for whom the idea that they might actually spot one in the wild some day holds great value. And what about those indigenous peoples who have considered the jaguar a living deity for centuries – some of whom are probably working for trivial wages in the mines from which Cartier gets its gems? Isn’t it right that a bit of the money cycling around between Cartier stock owners and the folks buying the diamond necklaces (many of whom are no doubt one and the same) be diverted to support the animal responsible in part for maintaining the speed of that cycle? After all, if the value of those necklaces is enhanced by this iconic animal shouldn’t some of that added value cycle back to support the continued existence of that icon? Don’t iconic animals add richness to the world and to the qualities and ideas for which they stand and doesn’t that create an obligation on those who use those animals for economic gain?
And if that ethical argument is not watertight perhaps we need a new ethics. One in which, a priori, value gained by using – either physically or in imagery – an object of nature would engender an obligation to contribute to the ongoing worldwide welfare of that natural object. So, Cartier would contribute to the conservation of jaguars, Weyerhaeuser would contribute to the preservation of virgin forests, commercial fishermen would donate some of their earnings to ocean conservation. The world would certainly be a better place. Isn’t that the goal of ethical principles after all? So, even if we have to invent some new ethical principles, I hope I’ve made the case that Cartier should contribute to jaguar conservation.
Of course the Cartier jaguar would not be the only species to benefit were this principle to be widely adopted. There’s Gorilla Glue, Jaguar Automobiles, the MGM Lion, the Chevy Impala, the Dodge Ram, the Mercury Cougar, Wolverine Boots, Eagle Claw Fish Hooks. And then there are those professional sports teams – the Detroit Lions, the Miami Dolphins, the Atlanta Falcons, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Carolina Panthers. The list goes on and on. Each of those businesses must profit, to some degree, from the use of those creatures in their marketing. Isn’t it reasonable to expect each one to step up to the plate?
Well, perhaps they do, but a search of the web sites of several organizations involved in jaguar conservation – The Jaguar Conservation Fund, Panthera, Defenders of Wildlife, The World Wildlife Fund, Feline Conservation Federation and the Born Free Foundation – yielded no evidence of a Cartier contribution. The Cartier website, while loaded with jaguar images and multiple jewel-encrusted renditions of jaguars, made no mention of any contributions or activities in the conservation domain.
I’ll admit right up front that my search has not been exhaustive. But just as we all know that Nike isn’t getting those images of Tiger Woods for free, you’d think that it would be common knowledge that whenever the image of some iconic species was used to promote a product or a service, that species would be compensated. And since that, at the present time, does not seem to be common knowledge, my cynical nature tells me that it is probably not commonplace – even though it should be.
So if any of you gentle readers happen to play golf with the CEO of an outfit that makes use of one of these species, please plant the seed. If they would just pass the word on to their VP for marketing maybe all those conservation organizations which keep sending me pleas for a tiny contribution wouldn’t need to do so quite as often.