Endangered Tigers NFT aims to help big cats by donating to charity, a trend one founder hopes catches on in Asia

January 30, 2022 GMT

A Hong Kong non-fungible token (NFT) project is trying to stand out among a flurry of NFT projects featuring cartoon tigers by using the digital collectibles to support charity.

The Endangered Tigers is an NFT collection of 5,888 cartoon tigers that will be minted on the Solana blockchain. The team, consisting of four people in their early 20s and a 13-year-old artist, says they want to use the project to help wildlife and contribute to other social causes, according to Usman Qureshi, one of the team members. For now, though, only 12.5 per cent of proceeds will go to charity and another 12.5 per cent to the artist’s college fund.

“From 2022 onwards, this is something that charities, non-profits and NGOs should definitely adapt into, because people love holding a specific asset, whether physical or virtual, to show off the fact that they have supported this particular cause,” Qureshi said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

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Sales of the collection started on Saturday. If the entire collection sells out at 0.88 SOL, the cryptocurrency on the Solana blockchain, that would value it at HK$4.1 million (US$527,000) based on current value, resulting in HK$513,000 for charity. The team will vote on which organisation will get the donation at a later date, Qureshi said.

With the Year of Tiger approaching, a number of NFT projects have cropped up seeking to capitalise on the theme.

In Hong Kong, a project named CryptoTigers, which consists of 888 algorithmically generated pixelated tiger avatars, is entering the market based upon works created by an 11-year-old artist. Fortune Tigers is offering 10,000 Lunar New Year-themed virtual felines. Typical Tigers, launched last year, said it has donated US$10,000 in ether to Big Cat Rescue, a non-government organisation, to help rescue tigers in a Thailand zoo.

NFTs, data stored on a blockchain that guarantees it is unique and immutable, took the world by storm last year. People are spending millions on cartoon profile pictures to join exclusive communities, with some individual NFT artworks going for tens of millions of dollars.

The Endangered Tigers developers want to use this trend to help big cats in the real world.

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Qureshi, a 22-year-old in his final year of undergraduate studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the team landed on tigers because their 13-year-old artist, the younger brother of one of the members, has a passion for the animal. Also, most of the team members are of South Asian descent, and there’s a certain cultural significance to the tiger, he added.

Qureshi, who interned at a blockchain investment firm and co-founded a travel start-up, said that he first learned about NFTs last year, when some influencers he followed on Instagram started talking about Monkey Kingdom, a popular Hong Kong NFT project comprising 2,222 pixelated portraits of the mythical hero Monkey King.

After buying a few of them, he saw their value jump 10 times within a week, allowing him and his friends to make “a hefty amount of money”, Qureshi said. Then they started thinking about a new use case for NFTs.

Having raised HK$1.5 million for a non-profit project when he was 18, he wanted to bring the non-profit angle to NFTs, which has not been widely done in Asia, Qureshi said.

The team is envisioning what he calls “creating the charity of the metaverse”, where people can use their NFTs in a future virtual space to show that they have contributed to a specific cause. Community members will also be able to vote for the organisations they want the project to donate to.

“Right now, if people donate a lot of money to an organisation, they may get a physical plaque that commemorates their charity, which can be put on a wall,” Qureshi said. “An NFT can also serve as a symbol that you have been a champion for this cause ... and people can put them up in their virtual homes or hang-out spaces.”

The project has attracted a following organically without large marketing campaigns, according to Qureshi, and their channel on the chat platform Discord now has more than 3,500 members. All tiger avatars are created by the 13-year-old artist without any help from artificial intelligence, he added.

The team also decided to buck the trend of anonymity or pseudonymity in the NFT community by using their real names, although they are not listed on the project website.

“As much as it creates a sense of mystery, there’s a lack of trust,” Qureshi said. “We want to be held accountable ... We want to be able to enact real change and show people that we’re not scared to show our faces.”

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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