Making The World Aware of the Plight of the World's Greatest Cats and Their Fight to Prevent Extinction
Two Sumatran tiger cub sleep with two baby orangutans in a nursery room at the Taman Safari zoo Wednesday Feb. 28, 2007, in Bogor, Indonesia.
The tiger and orangutan babies, which would never be together in the wild, have become inseparable playmates after they were abandoned by their mothers.
The latest global study on tigers pinpoint Malaysia as one of 10 sites crucial for the future survival of the big cat as the country still contains substantial tiger habitats and a viable tiger population. Dr John Seidensticker, chairman of Save the Tiger Fund which commissioned the study, says Taman Negara and Belum forest collectively spread over 12,900sqkm, making it one of world’s largest transboundary "tiger conservation landscape" (TCL, or places with the best chance of supporting viable tiger populations into the future) and among the 20 priority TCLs. "One reason why Malaysia still has tigers today is because it had conserved large tiger habitats such as Taman Negara," says Seidensticker, senior scientist at Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park and one of the authors of the study. The highest densities of tigers occur wherever there are many ungulate prey.
The landmark study, Setting Priorities for Conservation and Recovery of Wild Tigers: 2005-2015 found that tigers today occupy only 7% of their historic range and use 40% less habitat than a decade ago. The good news is that large areas of habitat remain. The study, produced by scientists at World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park and Save The Tiger Fund, identified 76 TCLs covering 1.1 mil sqkm, half of which can still support 100 tigers or more, thus providing excellent opportunities for recovery of wild tiger populations. "These are areas where tigers could be saved. Such knowledge will guide future investments in tiger conservation efforts," says Seidensticker, who recently joined a workshop to draft a Malayan tiger conservation plan.
The world’s largest tiger landscapes exist in the Russian Far East and India. South-East Asia holds promise to sustain healthy tiger populations although many areas have lost tigers over the last 10 years. The highest densities of tigers occur wherever there are many ungulate (hoofed animal) prey. India and Nepal have a good mixture of grassland and woodland that support large numbers of deer, and which in turn, feed the tigers. Here, tiger densities may reach 16 individuals per 100sqkm. In places that lack big grassy patches like the Russian Far East temperate forests and the Malaysian rainforest, prey densities are low and tigers must cover huge areas to feed. Thus these areas can only support around one to three tigers per 100sqkm. Affluence among the ethnic groups of Tibet and southern China is fuelling demand for tiger pelts.
Meanwhile, proposals for farming of tigers for trade have drew objections from tiger conservationists, who argue that captive breeding will not eliminate, but encourage, poaching. "Experience has shown that parts from wild animals are preferred and therefore, yield premium pricing that motivates poachers and smugglers," says a statement from Save the Tiger Fund. It is also impossible to release bred tigers into the wild, as has been done with other species, because tigers fed by humans are inclined to continue seeking food from humans. "True tiger conservation requires saving not just tigers, but the complex web of plant and animal life in the tiger’s habitats. Production farming for tigers would be a step backward in wildlife conservation."
Chinese tiger trade ban a catastrophe for conservation - WWF,
According to WWF and TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring programme of WWF and IUCN-the World Conservation Union) the Chinese ban has been essential to prevent the extinction of tigers by curbing demand in what was historically the world’s largest consumer in tiger parts. In compliance with the resolutions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the ban has virtually eliminated the domestic market for tiger products in traditional medicines.
“In the early 1990s, we feared that Chinese demand for tiger parts would drive the tiger to extinction by the new millennium. The tiger survives today thanks in large part to China’s prompt, strict and committed action,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC. “To overturn the ban and allow any trade in captive-bred tiger products would waste all the efforts that China has invested in saving wild tigers. It would be a catastrophe for tiger conservation.”
Measures to implement and enforce the Chinese trade ban have ranged from public education campaigns and promotion of effective substitutes for tiger medicines to severe punishment for law breakers, the report shows. As a result, undercover surveys by TRAFFIC found little tiger bone available in China. Less than 3 per cent of 663 medicine shops and dealers claimed to stock it, and most retailers were aware that tigers are protected and illegal to trade.
However, a TRAFFIC survey documented 17 instances of tiger bone wine for sale on Chinese auction websites, with one seller offering a lot of 5,000 bottles. And demand for big cat skins as status symbol clothing, particularly in China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region, is increasing, with about 3 per cent of Tibetans in major towns claiming to own tiger or leopard skin garments even though they knew it was illegal. Investors in the growing number of large-scale captive-breeding “tiger farms” in China are pushing for legalizing trade of products from these facilities, which now house 4,000 tigers, the report adds.
trade in tiger parts to resume, even if they are from captive-bred tigers,
would inevitably lead to an increase in demand for such products,”
said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme.
“And a legal market in China could give poachers across Asia an
avenue for ‘laundering’ tigers killed in the wild, especially
as farmed and wild tiger products are indistinguishable in the marketplace.”
Crisis Demands Urgent Action Says WWF Chief Scientist
Details of the study were discussed at a press conference at the lion and tiger exhibit at the National Zoo in Washington DC, and revealed disturbing news about tigers' shrinking habitat but also cause for optimism.
"We are faced with a second 'Inconvenient Truth': wild tigers are slipping away from us," Dinerstein said. "Tigers now survive in a mere 7 percent of their historic range and use 40 percent less area than was estimated in 1997. This is shocking news."
The study focuses on a concrete plan of action to rescue tigers from what scientists call a "range collapse." The study also found some good news. The Terai Arc Landscape, an area where WWF has been involved for many years, which spans southern Nepal and northern India is today home to some of the densest concentrations of tigers on the planet after creating new wildlife reserves and parks.
"Where we have invested in tiger conservation, conditions have improved dramatically," Dinerstein said. "Tigers were at record lows in the Terai Arc a few decades ago. Today it is emerging as a stronghold for tigers. If this can happen there surely it can happen elsewhere
It is estimated that only between 500-600 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild, and the actual number may be as low as 400. And their population is dwindling rapidly.
In 1978 a tiger census reported around 1,000 Sumatran tigers still in the wild. This means over the last 25 years, the population of Sumatran tigers has been cut in half.
The Sumatran tiger is considered to be a ‘critically’ endangered species.
The Sumatran tiger is found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra off the Malaysian Peninsula. Their habitat ranges from lowland forest to mountain forest and includes evergreen, swamp and tropical rain forests.
In recent years Sumatra has seen a great deal of agricultural growth and this has fragmented the tigers habitat. Most of the remaining Sumatran tigers now live in five National Parks, two Game Reserves, though around 100 live in an unprotected area that will most likely be lost to agriculture in the near future.
This destruction of habitat is considered the greatest threat to the survival of the Sumatran tiger, followed by poaching. The tigers are especially vulnerable to poaching in the ‘unprotected’ areas.
Although it is illegal to hunt tigers, this has not stopped the poaching of these animals for tiger products. China is considered the largest consumer and producer of manufactured products containing tiger parts, though tiger bones and other tiger products have been found in Taiwan and South Korea, and in North American cities.
If they are to survive, it will depend on people wisdom to see the Sumatran’s tiger place in the world and in a culture.
By John Ballard
AFTER spending more than a decade making regular trips to Nepal, a Warminster man has achieved a long-standing ambition by finding the elusive Bengal tiger in the wild.
Iain Perkins, 42, who works at the Warminster Garrison, went to Nepal in December and on Christmas Day was given the present he has longed for.
He said: "I walked into the jungle for four days with the help of two local guides and stayed at the Temple Tiger Jungle Lodge, where for the next ten days I went out daily on elephant back.
"On Christmas Day I saw four Bengal tigers, one adult female with three fully grown cubs, and during the rest of the stay I had four further tiger sightings, it was just excellent."
Mr Perkins first went to Nepal because of an interest in trekking in exotic places, and continued to go back after making connections with Gurkha soldiers while they were based in Warminster.
After falling in love with the country he is determined to help the Nepali people as well as the wildlife, which includes a number of endangered species such as tigers and rhinos.
He has already raised money for the World Wildlife Fund's Save the Tiger project, but wants to do more.
He said: "I hope to start a project to build a school, and perhaps later an orphanage, which would be able to sustain itself and the children could also learn about helping the environment.
"I don't have any firm ideas or plans in place at the moment, but I'd like to develop links with schools, businesses and other organisations in Warminster to help out
tigers pushed to the brink
"So no tiger bones should be sold inside China."
They were found living with two tigers in a rusty wagon on a roadside near Lisbon last April by a fieldworker from Animal Defenders International (ADI).
Michelle Damaskinos of the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre in Limpopo said: "According to ADI, the situation was desperate, with the animals in poor condition in two cages with poor sanitation, lack of water and lack of space."
One tiger died, but the surviving one, who has been named Tarzan, and the two lions, Sarah and Caesar, will be resettled at the centre next Friday.
Will be kept in quarantine
Damaskinos said the big cats appeared to be in good condition after recovering in a Lisbon Zoo.
The centre's chief veterinarian, Professor David Meltzer, will travel to Portugal next week to monitor the cats on the flight to Johannesburg and the five-hour road journey to Hoedspruit.
They will be kept in quarantine enclosures before being released into special permanent enclosures at the centre.
The circus, Circo International, had been forced to stop touring for financial reasons, but the animals were still legally under its control.
ADI convinced the Portuguese authorities to step in and the animals were taken to the zoo.
Damaskinos said it was highly unlikely the three surviving cats would be released back into the wild because they had spent too long in captivity and no one knew where they had come from.
Another circus rescue
The Hoedspruit centre is famous for breeding cheetahs and relocating them from areas where they are in danger.
Many rescued cheetahs are later released back into the wild.
ADI and the Hoedspruit centre started collaborating in 1996, when ADI rescued six lions, three tigers, horses, dogs and a python from a Mozambican circus.
Endangered Animal of the Month,
Illegal hunting and destruction of the forest in which they live threaten to erase tigers from the wild.
As wild tiger populations shrink, zoos and other conservation or game preserves have become an increasingly critical reservoir for tiger survival.
In Texas, El Paso Zoo has two Malayan tigers -- one male and one female -- and invites children, parents and teachers to visit the zoo to learn more about this beautiful animal.
Learn more about tigers at www. worldwildlife.org/tigers or www.5tigers.org.
Little is known about the habits of an estimated 668 Royal Bengal tigers that live in the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest and a United Nation's heritage site that stretches along the eastern coast of the subcontinent.
The team has tied up eight cows at different places at Neeelkamal forest range in the Sundarbans to lure tigers into the traps so they can be tranquilized and the collars fitted, Hasan added. Through a satellite antennae and a computer programme, the team will observe the tiger's whereabouts by tracking the sensor, he added.
The tracking will go on for three months before the tiger is tranquilized again to remove the sensor for further study.
Authorities say the big cats are on the brink of extinction worldwide because of poachers who kill tigers for their pelts and bones which are used in traditional medicine. Experts have estimated only 5,000 to 6,000 Royal Bengal tigers are left in the world, down from about 100,000 in 1900.
Genetic tests by researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute revealed that the clouded leopard of Borneo and Sumatra islands is a unique cat species and not the same one found in mainland Southeast Asia as long believed, said a statement by WWF, the global conservation organization.
"Who said a leopard can never change its spots? For over a hundred years we have been looking at this animal and never realized it was unique," said Stuart Chapman, WWF International Coordinator of the Heart of Borneo program, which is dedicated to preserving the flora and fauna in the deep jungles on Borneo.
The secretive clouded leopards are the biggest predators on Borneo, growing sometimes to the size of a small panther. They have the longest canine teeth relative to body size of any cat.
"The fact that Borneo's top predator is now considered a separate species further emphasizes the importance of conserving the Heart of Borneo," Chapman said.
The news about the clouded leopard comes just a few weeks after a WWF report showed that scientists had identified at least 52 new species of animals and plants over the past year on Borneo, the world's third largest island that is shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
The Heart of Borneo, a mountainous region about five times the size of Switzerland covered with equatorial rainforest in the center of the island, is the last great forest home of the Bornean clouded leopard.
Researchers believe that the Borneo population of the clouded leopard likely diverged from the mainland population some 1.4 million years ago.
Over the millennia, at least 40 differences emerged between the two species, making them as distinct as other large cat species such as lions, tigers and jaguars.
The results of the genetic study are supported by separate research on geographical variation in the clouded leopard, based mainly on fur patterns and coloration of skins held in museums and collections.
The Borneo clouded leopard is darker than the mainland species and has many distinct spots within its small cloud markings. It also has a grayer fur, and a double dorsal stripe.
Clouded leopards from the mainland have fewer and fainter markings within large clouds on their skin. They are also lighter in color.
"It's incredible that no one has ever noticed these differences." said Andrew Kitchener from the Department of Natural Sciences, National Museums, Scotland.
A total of 5,000 to 11,000 Bornean clouded leopards are estimated to live in the jungles of Borneo. The total number in Sumatra could be in the range of 3,000 to 7,000 individuals. The cats' biggest threat is destruction of their habitat.
New Report on the Tiger Farms
Where China’s 1993 tiger-trade ban may have granted a stay of execution for wild tigers, lifting that ban would be a "death sentence."
"For the foreseeable future," the TRAFFIC report concludes, "China’s policies will continue to play a pivotal role in determining the fate of the [wild] tiger."
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