Can This Self-Destructing Vinyl Record Help the 400 Sumatran Tigers Left in the Wild?

An ‘endangered song’ by an Alaskan band and the Smithsonian's National Zoo raises awareness and funds for the imperiled species.
Apr 25, 2014·
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Releasing self-destructing records might sound like another ironic hipster ploy to promote music. But don’t roll your eyes yet. A campaign crafted by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo aims to draw attention to the disappearing Sumatran tiger population.

For the Endangered Song Project, the conservation institute teamed up with Alaskan band Portugal. The Man to release 400 seven-inch singles that represent the fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild. The vinyl degrades over a certain amount of plays; unless the record is copied and shared, the song will go extinct.

“This seemingly goes against everything that the music industry is about,” lead singer John Gourley told The Washington Post. “But I think there’s something really amazing about this, it really forms a community.”

While the project is fun, Gourley stressed that the species’ endangerment is a critical concern. “I really hope people can put in that extra time to look into and understand what’s happening with these tigers and all animals,” he said.

Endemic to Indonesia, the Sumatran tiger population continues to dwindle because of deforestation and poaching. Though Indonesian law protects them—they are the rarest tiger subspecies in the world—a market for tiger body parts remains strong in Asia.

Four hundred activists, musicians, and other influencers were given the 400 records, the only copies that Portugal. The Man produced. The recipients have been uploading and posting the song on social media sites using the hashtags #endangeredsong and #sumatrantiger for others to find. The zoo also created a website where people can donate funds for conservation research.

“We have to find new and different ways to inspire the next generation of conservationists,” the zoo’s Pamela Baker-Masson says in a promotional video. “If we can get people to think about and care about saving the Sumatran tiger, that’s just the beginning.”