Saturday, January 31, 2009

Delay dogs tiger research project

Delay dogs tiger research project

1 Feb 2009, 0507 hrs IST, Prithvijit Mitra, TNN

KOLKATA: Even as tiger straying continues in the Sunderbans, the authorities have been dragging their feet over a research programme on the big cats of the mangrove forest.

Funds sanctioned for the project have been lying with the state forest department, which is supposed to have passed on the money to the Wildlife Institute (WLI) in Dehradun. But neither has taken the initiative to get the project started.

In July 2008, the National Tiger Conservation Authority granted Rs 50 lakh for a research on tiger behaviour in the Sunderbans. WLI was asked to form a team of scientists, who would be based in the state for the research. New tiger census techniques like radio collaring and camera traps were also to be developed by the team. So far, there has been no progress. The fact that three tigers have strayed into the Sunderbans in the past one month - including one at Kultali which was killed after tranquillization - indicates the importance of research.

While the state forest department pleaded helplessness, saying it was up to WLI to initiate the project, it could not explain why the recommendations of the National Tiger Task Force were not implemented. Formed after the Sariska poaching incident in 2006, the task force had pointed out that 50% posts of forest guard posts in the Sunderbans were lying vacant. Younger guards should be appointed, it added, since the present workforce was "aging and unfit". Still, no new appointment has been made, although about three years have passed.

"The result is there for all to see. Tiger straying has become a weekly affair and forest department officials remain mute spectators. Unless they know where to begin, they will never be able to solve the problem. The research would have helped gauge tiger behaviour. At least, the task force recommendations should have been implemented. It is clear that the forest department neither has the manpower nor the resources to check straying," said a senior forest official.

A section of experts and forest officials also pointed out that the ad-hoc measures being taken to check straying were doing more harm than good. The recent release of deer to add to the prey-base in the Sunderbans has been criticized. "It is no use releasing deer from other forest areas into the Sunderbans because they will not be able to survive in the mangrove forest, where conditions are very tough. It would have been better to move deer and boar from within the forest to areas where a shortage of prey is suspected. But unfortunately, we don't have a clue about the distribution of prey in the Sunderbans," said S S Bist, managing director of West Bengal Forest Development Corporation.

Principal chief conservator of forests, Atanu Raha, said he was not aware of the task force's recommendations. "I am yet to study the recommendations."

Wildfires force tigers into human settlements

Wildfires force tigers into human settlements

Rizal Harahap , The Jakarta Post , Pekanbaru Sat, 01/31/2009 1:20 PM The Archipelago

Scattered paw prints and two sightings indicate that four Sumatran tigers have encroached within several hundred meters of Basilam Baru village in Dumai municipality during the past fortnight.

Bastoni, director of Sumatran Tiger Conservation and Protection (PKHS), said the protected wildlife species had ventured inside the village because its habitat had been damaged by wildfires and forest conversions.

He added the four tigers were part of the 30 remaining in the wild in the Senepis conservation forest area in Bengkalis regency, which surrounds the coastal town of Dumai.

The tigers are a family unit, comprising a male and a female, both around 6 years old, and a pair of year-old cubs. They have been observed roaming in search of food in a mangrove thicket along the Dumai coast.

"The litter has not been noticed so far, but their tracks have been identified. They're preying on the wild boars and deer that roam the mangrove forest," Bastoni told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

"The tigers have entered human settlements not because they are in search of food, but because they're backtracking, after the path leading to their home to the Senepis forest was burned."

The path lies in a logging concession operated by timber company PT Suntara Jaja Pati, and runs along the Dumai coast until the fringe of the Senepis forest.

Bastoni added that because of the lack of any supervision, several chunks of land owned by the company had been illegally settled on by local residents.

"They then clear the land by setting fire, thus encroaching on the tigers' corridor," he said.

Bastoni also said Basilam Baru village, located around 10 kilometers from the fringe of the Senepis forest, served as an escape route for wild animals evading forest fires, as was evident by tapir and bird tracks found on the villagers' farms.

"People fear they could come into contact with the tigers during the forest fires," Bastoni said.

To date, the presence of the four tigers has not yet caused the villagers any material losses. Bastoni and the Riau Natural Resources Conservation Center are working with the authorities in Basilam Baru to immediately report any developments in the situation.

"The potential for a tiger-human conflict must be minimized by catching the tigers. Human casualties must be prevented and the tigers must not be hunted," he said.

The PKHS has set up two traps that use goats as live bait to catch the four tigers, but the effort has yet to bear fruit.

The Senepis forest, spanning 106,081 hectares, was designated a conservation area, particularly for Sumatran tigers, on Jan. 3, 2006, by the Forestry Ministry.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Surprising lion stronghold found in central Africa

Research uncovers surprising lion stronghold in war-torn central Africa

By ScienceMode on Jan 29th, 2009 in Headlines, SM

MADISON — Times are tough for wildlife living at the frontier between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Armies are reportedly encamped in a national park and wildlife preserve on the Congolese side, while displaced herders and their cattle have settled in an adjoining Ugandan park.

And yet, the profusion of prey in the region could potentially support more than 900 individuals of the emblematic African lion, according to new research – but only if immediate conservation steps are taken.

“Those two protected areas that straddle the frontier could be the stronghold for lions in central Africa – the largest population,” says University of Wisconsin-Madison environmental studies professor Adrian Treves, the study’s lead author. “Therefore, (the population) is critically important, because the lion is now considered threatened throughout Africa.”

He and fellow researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Panthera Foundation report their findings in the January issue of the journal Oryx, which published online today (Jan. 29).

While the conflict raging in D.R. Congo makes conservation efforts in that country’s Parque National Virungas (PNVi) nearly impossible right now, says Treves, action can be taken in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP). In an attempt to protect their livestock, cattlemen there have reportedly poisoned and shot predators in large numbers, stirring fears that the king of beasts may be driven to extinction in Uganda.

But these pastoralists haven’t traditionally killed lions, and Treves believes they can be convinced to coexist with the cats once more if given the appropriate incentives. News of the sizeable lion population that QENP might sustain should also be brought to the Ugandan government, he adds.

“We’re providing a vision of what could be,” he says. “Uganda could maybe have a third of those 900-plus lions, and they’re an incredible source of tourism revenue. So we’re hoping that’s an incentive the government will respond to.”

The northern Albertine Rift, in which the two parks sit, is one of the richest reserves of biodiversity in the world. It’s also home to many charismatic wildlife species, including elephant, great herds of ungulates, and lion. But how many lions is poorly known, because the area’s intense poverty and strife have made it dangerous to carry out ground surveys of the cats, which can’t be easily spotted from the air.

What can be readily seen and counted from planes, though, is the lion’s prey. Thus, Treves and his colleagues rounded up data from aerial surveys of buffalo, warthog, waterbuck and other ungulates, and plugged it into a model that uses prey numbers and size to predict the abundance of lions. Because ground surveys of the cats were conducted in QENP in 1999 and 2004, the researchers were also able to confirm that their predictions for the Ugandan park matched well with actual lion numbers.
PNVi consistently held four to five times less prey than QENP – presumably due to poaching and habitat loss – suggesting it can currently support fewer lions. Still, the researchers expect that if prey abundance rebounds and the Congolese park can sustain similar densities of lions as its Uganda counterpart, the entire region could hold up to 905 of the cats.

But actual lion abundance in QENP also revealed a disturbing trend: A 50 percent decline between 1999 and 2004, even though prey numbers rose by 7 percent over the same period. And if lions disappear, as some are forecasting, the entire ecosystem could be in peril, says Treves. Past research shows that loss of a top predator can trigger a cascade of unpredictable changes and completely transform the system.

Still, he’s optimistic this won’t come to pass, so long as immediate conservation interventions are taken. He hopes the paper will serve as a call to action.

“I don’t want to see lions disappear from Queen Elizabeth National Park the way that hyenas almost did, and the way cheetahs were eliminated from parts of Uganda,” he says. “That’s a fate we need to avoid.”

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison


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Fight is on to protect ocelots from US-Mexico border fence

All Things Considered, January 26, 2009 - The Department of Homeland Security has completed 90 percent of its controversial 670-mile border fence — most of the sections from California to western Texas. But the border barrier is running into opposition from conservationists in far southern Texas.

From the road there, it's not obvious there's much down to protect. The great river delta that comprises the southern tip of Texas, known as the lower Rio Grande Valley, is a vast patchwork of citrus orchards and vegetable fields, shopping centers and car lots.

Yet, down on the banks of the muddy, torpid Rio Grande, "It's a jungle," says Sonia Najera of The Nature Conservancy. "It's incredible wildlife and vegetation and habitat."

The Nature Conservancy owns the Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve — a thousand acres that include one of the largest remaining forests of native sabal palm. There, imperiled wildcats like the ocelot and jaguarundi still skulk through the underbrush. Birdwatchers come from around the world to check green jays, chachalacas and black-bellied whistling ducks off their life lists.

So last month, when the Department of Homeland Security announced its intention to erect an 18-foot tall, concrete-and-steel barrier for a mile through the preserve, the Nature Conservancy was not happy. Though the fence would be built on mainly nonforested land, conservationists worry it will sever the refuge.

"If the fence is constructed, it will trap three-quarters of the preserve between the fence and the river. That includes all of our facilities, includes the home of our preserve manager who lives there full-time," Najera says.

The conservancy has refused to accept the government's offer of $114,000 in compensation for the land under the fence. Now, Homeland Security has sued in federal court to force the sanctuary to let it build the barrier.

Other landowners, farmers and cities along the river also have said no to the fence. But a spokesperson with the federal agency says they've been able to work out a deal with most of the holdouts.

Dan Doty of the Border Patrol's Rio Grande sector says the new wall — though industrial in appearance — will be permeable and allow the passage of wildlife. He says people who live and work along the river will also be able to get through the wall by means of secure gates.

"The Rio Grande River is a beautiful resource. Our farmers depend on it, the communities here depend on it. Our goal is not to deny access to the river to anybody," Doty says.

The fence is part of border security measures mandated by Congress that include physical barriers, more agents and high-tech detection devices.

Though there's widespread skepticism among border residents as to whether the fence will do any good, the government reports that arrests of illegal crossers are down 19 percent since the fence went up — which it claims is significant, even accounting for the sour economy.

But conservationists remain concerned that a more secure border comes at a high price for habitat. The Nature Conservancy refuge is part of a 30-year effort to piece together public and private lands into a continuous wildlife corridor along the lower Rio Grande.

"Some estimates are that there's 1 percent of native natural land left along the river," says Betty Perez, a rancher and environmentalist in the area. "And the wall is fragmenting that."

The Nature Conservancy is hoping that the new Obama administration may consider alternatives to the final stages of the border barrier.


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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hope grows for Florida panther's protection with Obama administration

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

January 24, 2009

Hoping the Obama administration proves friendlier to wildlife than its predecessor, a conservation group has filed a legal petition to protect more than 3 million acres for the Florida panther.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, based in Naples, waited one day after the inauguration to submit a 43-page document requesting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designate a vast swath of South Florida as critical habitat for the endangered cats. The land runs from the western fringes of Broward and Palm Beach counties through the cattle ranches and agricultural lands southwest of Lake Okeechobee to the edges of suburban Naples and Fort Myers.

Although about two thirds of it already has protection as national parks, refuges or other government land, it includes extensive private lands that could be developed.

"We think we're on stronger ground with the new administration," said Andrew McElwaine, president of the 6,000-member environmental group. "With the Bush administration, we've been dealing with people focused on ideology, rather than science."

Once ranging across the southeastern United States, the panther has been reduced to a single stronghold in the swamps, forests and ranch lands of southern Florida. Intensive conservation work has arrested the species' decline, and the panther population has risen from 20 or 30 in the 1970s to 100 or so today. But scientists and environmentalists say the population remains far too low to be stable, and needs more land.

"After 41 years on the endangered species list without recovery, when threats to habitat deemed essential to its survival are growing daily, the Florida panther is in dire need of this long-overdue step for conservation of the species," the petition states.

The proposed area includes levees in Broward and Palm Beach counties used by young male panthers looking for territory not occupied by dangerous older males, said Darrell Land, a state biologist. Radio-collared panthers, feeding on the abundant deer of the eastern Everglades, have been tracked as far east as U.S. 27.

A critical habitat designation would make it harder for builders to win approval for construction projects, roads or other alterations to the land. McElwaine said it is a necessary step because the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have approved far too many residential and commercial developments in panther habitat in Collier and Hendry counties. Of particular concern, he said, is Collier Enterprises' proposal for a 9,000-home development called the Town of Big Cypress.

Tom Flood, chief executive officer of Collier Enterprises, said through a spokeswoman that the company is participating in a cooperative effort with environmental groups to create wildlife corridors and conservation incentives for landowners. If the critical habitat proposal meshes with their work, he could support it, if not, he would oppose it.

Under the Bush administration, the Interior Department, which oversees wildlife protection, saw a series of scandals involving the influence of industry over policy decisions. Obama appointed Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar to lead the department, and this week he told employees, "I pledge to you that we will ensure the Interior Department's decisions are based on sound science and the public interest, and not on the special interests."

Paul Souza, South Florida field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he has not yet seen the petition. But he said the service previously made a decision to not designate critical habitat for the panther so it could devote resources to species protection programs, such as building overpasses to reduce road-kills, assembling tracts of panther habitat to protect and conducting scientific research.

Panther primer
Do you think you know our state animal? Learn more about the Florida panther and its habitat at,0,707173.story


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Trapped tiger released into forest

Trapped tiger released into forest

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Canning, WB (PTI): A Royal Bengal Tiger, which was trapped by forest authorities after it strayed into a village here, was on Sunday released into the Sunderban forests.

The male tiger was released in Dhuli Bhasani jungle of the Sunderbans, about 150-km from Deulbari village in southern Bengal where it was trapped, to prevent the animal from returning to the locality, forest officials said.

Vets tested the tiger and found it fit enough for release in the forest, they said.

The tiger was trapped last night by forest officials after the striped animal strayed into the village in in South 24-Parnagas a couple of days ago.

The Royal Bengal tiger was suspected to have strayed into the village from Chituri forest in the Sundarbans.

Tiger enters Sitapur border

Tiger enters Sitapur border

28 Jan 2009, 0413 hrs IST, TNN

BAHRAICH: The tiger that entered district border recently, travelled 2.5 kilometres on Tuesday and again entered Sitapur border, thus creating terror among those residing in Majha area. The forest officers of Sitapur and Bahraich districts have launched 'Push' campaign to divert the tiger towards Katarniaghat.

Forest guard Devendra Kumar told TOI that a control room has been set up at Bhagwanpur to maintain constant vigil and to minimise the terror of the tiger. Vigil is also being maintained round the clock by installing camps at Sisaiya Chudamani and Baruha. Four teams of forest guard each consisting six have been deployed in the area for the same. Moreover the services of the villagers are also being taken.

It has been decided on the basis of pugmarks that it was a adult male tiger. The terror of tiger is prevailing in Lakhimpur and Siddarthnagar also. They said that there is no proposal so far, to kill the tiger or to tranquillise it but efforts are being made to push it back to Katarniaghat so that it may get natural dwelling area.

The forest guards deployed to push back the tiger are fully equipped with GPS machine, search lights and arms.

Dog defence plan to stop tigers

Dog defence plan to stop tigers

Last Updated: Wednesday January 28 2009 16:33 GMT

Tiger experts in Bangladesh have got a tough job as they have to try to keep the big beasts safe and help protect people tigers are attacking for food.

Tigers don't normally tuck into humans, but in certain areas some have begun to get a taste for people.

But because tigers are dying out killing them isn't an option, so another solution is needed.

The experts have come up with a unusual plan - training stray dogs to sniff out the tigers and then scare them off.

And even if the dogs don't scare the tigers away, they may know the big cats are coming before the the villagers do, giving them time to get to safety.

It's important that the idea works, as otherwise the desperate villagers may kill the tigers to stop them.

At one village called Chandpai a particular tiger is causing big problems as it seems to have learnt that people and farm animals are easy to kill for food.

If the dog defence plan doesn't work the villagers may hunt the tiger themselves.

Recently thousands of villagers ganged up to kill a tiger because they were angry and frightened, but it turned out not to be a man-eater.

The village is in a part of Bangladesh called the Sundarbans forest. It's thought around 400 Bengal tigers live there.

Risk of attack

People in Bangladesh have to go into the forest to get food to eat and to gather wood and honey to sell. They know the tigers are there, but have no choice but to go into the forest anyway.

As many as 50 people are killed in some years in the area, and some of the tigers are getting bolder and heading into villages to search for food.

To find out more about this story watch Man-eating Tigers of the Sundarbans at 8pm on Friday 30 January on BBC2.

Sumatran tiger population rises in Indonesian park

Sumatran tiger population rises in Indonesian park

Jan 27, 2009, 8:40 GMT

Jakarta - The number of critically endangered Sumatran tigers at an Indonesian national park has increased over the past few years thanks to a successful campaign against poaching, a conservationist said Tuesday.

The result of a 20-month monitoring programme showed that the population of Sumatran tigers at the Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park in Riau province had risen to 43 from 35 in 2003, said Muhammad Yunus, coordinator of the park's Sumatran Tiger Conservation Programme.

'The result is beyond our expectations,' Yunus was quoted as saying by the state-run Antara news agency.

Twelve cameras equipped with infrared triggers were installed at the park to monitor the species' population, he said.

Yunus attributed the increase to the success of the campaign against tiger poaching.

'Before, tiger hunting by outsiders who employed local people was rampant,' he said.

A female tiger can give birth to up to five cubs but only two of them are likely to survive, the conservationist said.

The conservation group WWF said there are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers in the wild and they can only be found on Indonesia's Sumatra island.

WWF said tigers were once widespread on the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java but these two subspecies became extinct in the 20th century.

Logging and rampant poaching are driving the Sumatran tiger to extinction, it said.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Space crunch for tigers

Space crunch for tigers

29 Jan 2009, 0359 hrs IST, Anindo Dey, TNN

JAIPUR: More is not merrier so far as the tiger population at Ranthambore Tiger Sanctuary in Rajasthan is concerned.

It was time for cheer last year in May when state forest officials first spotted 14 tiger cubs in the park. This year, with the mating season fast drawing to a close in February, the thought of more tigers at the park has become a cause of concern for forest officials.

The Ranthambore National Park does not have the capacity to hold more tigers. Everyday more and more tigers are straying from the park for want of space. "Just two days ago, a tiger had strayed towards the Chambal. We do not know if it will come back at all and if it doesn't, it may not stay alive for long,'' said a senior government official.

There have been straying of tigers in the past few months too. Tigers thenmade their way into the buffer zone of the Kailadevi sanctuary and other places.

"We are yet to get hold of this tiger. We put in a lot of people and money but are yet to bring it back to the sanctuary. In fact, the moment a tiger steps out of the sanctuary, there is a question mark on its life. It normally attacks cattle for want of food and is killed by villagers,'' the official said referring to the new incident.

Such has become the pressure on tigers, with 35 of them literally holed in 392 sq km of the Ranthambore wildlife reserve, recent incidents of straying gave sparked fears of them becoming maneaters.

"If they do not have a territory to themselves, they will not be able to hunt and that is when they attack human beings. This is what had happened in Bara Banki district of Uttar Pradesh when one such tiger on the prowl killed a teenager in December last year,'' the official said.

Adding to the woes of the state forest officials are recent directives by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. Efforts to relocate tigers from Ranthambore to Sariska came to a naught after NTCA directed that only transient tigers be relocated.

"We were looking forward to relocating these cubs just before they separated from their mother for a separate territory for themselves. But we were told not to touch the tigers in the core area and instead catch a transient tiger which is very difficult,'' the official added.

So frustrated are state forest department officials that it has shot off letters to the Centre asking it to carry out the relocation process in the wake of the new NTCA directives. But that was not to be.

"Our only hope is some relaxation in the directives so that we continue with the relocation of the third tiger to Sariska. In this way, in the long run we can use the Ranthambore Park as a breeding ground for tiger and shift the excess big cats to other sanctuaries in the state like the Darrah and Kumbhalgarh,'' the official said.

"Panther Alert" for Florida drivers

Public News Service-FL

January 26, 2009

"Panther Alert" for Florida Drivers

There is a "panther alert" for Florida drivers. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has announced the deaths of three panthers on Florida highways since New Year's Day. That's on pace with the deadliest year for panthers in recent memory, 2007, when 15 were killed. Each mortality is significant because only about 100 of the animals remain in the wild.

Mark Lotz is a panther biologist with the commission. He urges motorists to remember they're in panther country when they drive in the Everglades and Big Cypress areas of south Florida. He cautions that the animals are active at dusk and dawn -- and sometimes later in the day, at this time of year.

"Nobody plans on hitting a panther. The animals don't really understand how fast cars can move and they just dart across the road. It's usually a last-second thing, when you actually see one just before it gets hit. That means drivers must be more cautious and aware."

The Florida panther is the only surviving species of cougar east of the Mississippi River and is considered one of the most endangered mammals on Earth.

According to Lotz, the road-kill problem has been reduced to almost nothing in areas with wildlife underpasses, primarily along I-75 through the Everglades, and he says more underpasses are needed. Critics argue with the current budget crisis, new underpasses are not likely to be funded.

The risk of traffic deaths increases as development brings people closer to panther habitat, explains Elizabeth Fleming with Florida Defenders of Wildlife. She adds that panthers naturally avoid people, but they need about 200 square miles to roam. As development spreads, that space is becoming tougher for the animals to find.

"The largest threat to panther survival is fragmentation and destruction of panther habitat. We've got to conserve these large tracts of intact habitat. The greatest impediment to panther recovery is human intolerance."

Fleming says the Florida Panther Recovery Plan released in December offers hope. It was established to educate the public, to conserve panther habitat and to expand the panther population to other parts of the Southeast. In fact, the surviving panther population lives on five percent of the land where the big cat once roamed.

State wildlife commission biologist Mark Lotz says there's another human health factor intertwined with saving panthers, too.

"When you have all these natural areas set aside, you're providing an opportunity for the aquifers to be replenished. If people want to be able to turn on their tap and have water, wash their cars and such, we need these natural areas not simply for panthers but for our own survival, too."

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Foreigners Threaten Afghan Snow Leopards

Date: 23-Jan-09
Author: Jonathon Burch

KABUL - Afghanistan's snow leopards have barely survived three decades of war. But now the few remaining mountain leopards left in Afghanistan face another threat -- foreigners involved in rebuilding the war-torn country.

Despite a complete hunting ban across Afghanistan since 2002, snow leopard furs regularly end up for sale on international military bases and at tourist bazaars in the capital. Foreigners have ready cash to buy the pelts as souvenirs and impoverished Afghans break poaching laws to supply them.

Tucked between souvenir stores on Chicken Street, Kabul's main tourist trap, several shops sell fur coats and pelts taken from many of Afghanistan's threatened and endangered animals.

"This one is only $300," one shopkeeper told Reuters, producing a snow leopard pelt from the back of his shop.

"It was shot several times," he said pointing to the patches of fur sewn together. "The better ones are only shot once. The skin remains intact," he says as his assistant brings out a larger pelt, this time with no patches. "This one is $900."

All the shopkeepers said they had more pelts at home and that they had sold furs to foreigners over the past few weeks.

Asked if it was easy to send the furs back home, one shopkeeper who did not want to be named said: "No problem! We hide the fur inside blankets and send it back to your country."

Snow leopards along with several other animals in Afghanistan are listed as endangered or threatened under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Anyone caught knowingly transporting a fur across an international border is liable to a large fine. In the United States, it could result in a $100,000 fine and one year jail term.

It is hard to know the exact numbers of snow leopards left in Afghanistan due to the creatures' elusive nature and the lack of any case studies during the last three decades of conflict, said Dr. Peter Smallwood, Afghanistan country director for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

But what is known is that the snow leopard is endangered.

"If you look historically at Afghanistan, Afghanistan actually had more big cat species than the entire continent of Africa," said Clayton Miller, Environmental Advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

"Now the only cat species that is not on the threatened and endangered species list is the domestic cat.

Destruction of infrastructure, movements of refugees, modern weaponry, extreme poverty and a lack of law enforcement together with drought and deforestation are just some of the factors that have devastated Afghanistan's flora and fauna.
There are now only between 100 to 200 snow leopards estimated to be left in Afghanistan. In comparison, Bhutan has the same number but has three times less the area of habitat.

The estimated number of snow leopards in the wild worldwide is between 3,500 and 7000, according to the International Snow Leopard Trust (ISLT).


Snow leopards in Afghanistan mainly inhabit the extreme northeast of the country in particular the remote sliver of land called the Wakhan Corridor which separates Tajikistan from Pakistan and extends all the way to China.

The mountainous Wakhan is sparsely populated by humans but is a vital link for the snow leopard.

"The Wakhan is a critical area because ... you're going to get snow leopards going between Tajikistan, Pakistan and China through the Wakhan valley, so it's a key, key area. Its importance far outweighs its physical size," Smallwood said.
When the U.S. embassy's Miller first moved to Afghanistan he discovered a widespread practice of selling endangered animal parts to foreigners.

"There were threatened and endangered species being marketed to international personnel, not only military but aid mission folks and anybody visiting the bazaar," said Miller.

In a bid to stop poaching of snow leopards, the U.S. embassy and the WCS targeted the buyers.

"We decided that one of the quickest ways of trying to address this issue was to go after the demand. The only individuals that are actually able to purchase these things were internationals," Miller told Reuters.

Snow leopard pelts can sell for up to $1500, well beyond the means of most Afghans.
Since August last year, Miller and the WCS have been educating military and civilian staff, in particular those in charge of mail services, on how to recognize endangered and threatened animal furs as well as conducting "raids" on U.S. military bases.

The raids have yielded products from endangered species including snow leopards, said Miller, but he stressed the U.S. military was very "cooperative" in trying to combat the trade.

Within two weeks of their first training session on a U.S. base just outside Kabul, the military had managed to "virtually eliminate" any trade of these products on the base, he said.

Local traders who offer their wares on military bases are issued with a warning if they are caught selling the furs and are barred from returning if caught again.
Because of the structured nature of the military, said Smallwood, it is easier to get the message delivered.

"The harder part is trying to deliver the message to the rest of the international community, which we're working on," he said.

But the threats to the snow leopard still remain.

"With numbers this low I wouldn't want to say ...if we just fix this problem the rest is fine. All of these problems need to be dealt with. Losing 10 animals could be as much as 10 percent of the population," Smallwood said.

(Editing by Megan Goldin)


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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sumatran tiger kills Indonesian farmer

Sumatran tiger kills Indonesian farmer

Asia-Pacific News
Jan 25, 2009, 3:20 GMT

Jakarta - A wild tiger attacked and mauled to death a farmer in Indonesia's Riau province on the eastern of Sumatra, a local media report said Sunday.

The incident occurred Saturday morning when the victim, identified only as Rabai, 45, was walking to the rubber plantation in Pemantang Raman village of Muara Jambi district, the online news portal reported.

Didi Wurjanto, the head of Jambi provincial Natural Resources and Conservation Agency, was quoted as saying residents found the body of Rabai not far from his hut with deep wounds on his chest and waist.

'For a tiger to pounce a man like this is a rare case,' Didi said, explaining that tigers generally avoid humans.

The incident occurred at dawn and the tiger probably thought the man was livestock, because it left immediately and did not eat him, Didi said.

He speculated the tiger entered the settlement area looking for livestock, as food sources in the forest are increasingly difficult to obtain. He added that conservation officials had installed carbide bombs to drive the beast back into the forest.

Environmentalists say such attacks result from the destruction of the tiger's natural habitat by logging, noting that the animals would not disturb humans if their habitat were not destroyed.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are between 400 and 500 Sumatra tigers left in the wild. The Sumatran tiger is believed to be the last remaining sub-species of tiger indigenous to Indonesia. The Bali and Java tigers are believed to be extinct.

Environmentalists blame illegal hunting, which claims an estimated 50 Sumatran tigers per year, and rampant deforestation in Sumatra for the big cats' drastic drop in population.

Catch big cats alive, minister tells officials

Catch big cats alive, minister tells officials

23 Jan 2009, 0542 hrs IST, TNN

LUCKNOW: Let the experts and forest officials believe that instances of wild cats sneaking out of the jungles into the cities are a result of urbanisation at the cost wildlife, forest minister Fateh Bahadur Singh sees mischief behind it, if not sheer politics.

Meanwhile, reasons whatsoever, the failure of the forest officials in trapping or terminating the big cats continued to take their toll on innocent humans. In the latest attack, a tiger supposedly spotted in Kumharganj jungles surfaced in Sitapur and attacked a farmer leaving him critically wounded. The other wild cat, limited to Ghazipur for quite some time now, reached Azamgarh by Thursday evening.

However, on Wednesday, forest minister Fateh Bahadur Singh again claimed that the department is making best possible efforts to track the tigers. "Actually we are working round the clock to trap them. We had even chased away the tiger that was spotted in Ghazipur. Officials told me that it has come from Bihar jungles. Our forest teams had even chased it out of UP back to Kaimur jungles but the authorities there again forced the animal back to UP," Fateh Bahadur Singh said.

The only consolation that the minister offered was that the officials have been directed to ensure that the big cats are caught alive. "We will not shoot them. Preferably, we will tranquillise them and put them back in their natural habitat," Singh said, adding that the state government was putting in the best possible efforts to deal with the problem. "I have even asked the officials to ensure round-the-clock tracking of these tigers," he said.

Though the panic struck forest officials are yet to find a logical explanation for the sudden emergence of big cats from forests, wildlife experts believe that apart from the urbanisation factor, it is merely a co-incidence that three tigers are on the prowl in UP. "Wild big cats are often known to stray into villages so there is nothing new about it. The count can only be explained as a pure co-incidence," said a senior forest officer monitoring the trapping of the three tigers.

Wildlife experts, however, see a silver lining around the tiger scare. Explaining the phenomenon, a noted wildlife expert said that probably the count of tigers seems to have increased significantly during the recent past. "This could have led to the young big cats forcing their elderlies out of their territories in jungles to ensure proper food supply for themselves," said the expert seeking anonymity.

Adding to the crisis is the disappearance of buffer belts which segregate the jungles from the suburbs. These have virtually disappeared not only across the state but almost in entire North India, the expert said. These old tigers are hence left to fend for themselves and compelled to prey on livestock in villages, he added.

What supports the experts' opinion is the fact that two of the tigers on prowl are more than middle-aged if not old. However, what puts a question mark on the contention is that one of the tigers is barely two and a half year old.

Another tiger strays into Sunderbans village

Another tiger strays into Sunderbans village

21 Jan 2009, 0324 hrs IST, TNN

KOLKATA: Kamal Chakra got the scare of his life the moment he saw whiskers and then the fiery eyes of a tiger less than 10 feet away. The big cat was walking past some tree trunks of the Bish Nombor forest before entering Bhubaneswari village in Kultali, late on Tuesday afternoon.

Kamal, a crab-catcher in his thirties, simply left the iron stick he was using to catch crabs near the mouth of the river Oriwannala and ran for his life.

Kamal screamed his lungs out to alert the villagers and then fell unconscious. Villagers , led by local leader Mahadeb Mondal, carried him to his hut and sprinkled water on his face to help him regain consciousness. Even as the women tried to nurse him back to his senses, the men set out for the river embankment, from where they spotted the tiger on the prowl.

The incident occurred just days after a meeting - presided over by the chief minister - discussed the problem of straying tigers.

Kultali police station and the forest department were informed and both sent teams to the village by the evening. The villagers, meanwhile, stayed put in their homes. As some kept a close watch on the tiger's movements, others started preparing for a fight with the animal. They brought out iron rods, sticks and whatever else they could possibly use as a weapon against the big cat.

Darkness was descending on the village by then and villagers lit kerosene lamps. By then, the forest department team had reached the village with a cage. When reports last came in, the team and the villagers were still on the alert, but felt that the real battle would begin on Wednesday morning as any operation was impossible in the dark.


December 2008:

A tiger strays into a Gosaba village . Forest officials tranquillize it. The tiger dies

September 2008:

A tiger enters Annepur. It is trapped with a bait and released later

February 2008:

A lame tiger enters a Jharkhali village . It is trapped and sent to Alipore zoo hospital. Six months later, it is shifted to Khairbari Tiger Rehabilitation Centre

January 2008:

A tigress enters a Kultali village and injures four villagers. It is tranquillized and dies later

December 2007:

A tigress strays into a Gosaba village. Forest officials fasten a radio collar round its neck and release it

Forest team trails tiger

Forest team trails tiger

24 Jan 2009, 1732 hrs IST, TNN

VARANASI: Around 80 forest personnel, armed with two cages and other equipment, are behind the elusive tiger that has been on a long trail in the eastern region of the state since December 30 last.

Presently, its presence is being felt in areas on the border of Azamgarh and Ghazipur districts. "Though nobody has seen the tiger moving in the area, the pug marks clearly indicate its presence," forest officer of Kashi Wildlife Division PP Verma told TOI on Saturday.

It may be mentioned here that the tiger was seen for the first and the last time in Jamania area of Ghazipur district on December 30 and 31 last. And, since then, it has been moving from place to place in this region. After crossing the Ghazipur and Chandauli districts, it is now said to be on the borders of Azamgarh.

"We are also behind the beast and regularly following its pug marks," said Verma, adding that all possible efforts were being made to trap the big cat. "We have engaged a team of 80 forest men in this work," he said. However, he admitted that the tiger was still out of sight. He was also not sure when the forest department would succeed in trapping the tiger.

"The only good thing is that it is not attacking human beings or domestic animals. It seems that the small creatures, like rabbits, are falling its prey," he said, adding that there was no report of killing of any big animals.

Meanwhile, rumours were rife that the tiger had entered the Varanasi district and its presence was felt in Chaubeypur and Rohania areas. However, Verma said such rumours might divert the attention of the search team.

Depleting tiger population worries wildlife authorities in Madhya Pradesh

Depleting tiger population worries wildlife authorities in Madhya Pradesh

From ANI

Kanha Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh), Jan.21: The depleting tiger population in Madhya Pradesh has become a matter of serious concern for the wildlife authorities in the State.

The development holds significance considering that Madhya Pradesh is a good habitat for tigers and other big cats.

But the wildlife authorities have noticed that poachers and smugglers often exploit the grinding poverty of people in forest villages here and thus manage to win local villagers' support.

Authorities of Kanha Reserve Park and Wildlife trust of India and Self-Help groups, are concerned over the prevailing condition of tigers in forests here. They claim to be doing enough to prevent what's happening here.

"We have tiger protection force, we have employed ex-army men over here, we have concentrated more security in the buffer areas. In our range, there are 29 villages that come under buffer zone and 26 villages that come under the core zone. We are working on the eco-development of these villages," said R. P. Singh, Director, Kanha Tiger Reserve.

The purpose of all these efforts is to develop good harmonious relationship between men and animals and eliminate all possibilities of man-animal conflict.

Despite the local authorities trying to make villagers aware and drafting them as informants, the measures have not been able to meet their expected results.

"One could see a lot of tigers over here. But in the past few years the total number has gone down. A few days back a tiger skeleton was found from this area. Previously, also the skin of a tigress and hair and flesh of her dead cub were found from the nearby area. I feel that these electric wires should also be made underground, because if ever these wires fall, that will eventually electrocute many animals," said Ram Prasad, a villager.

Meanwhile, the self-help groups want the government to enact tougher laws and implement them rigorously to discourage poaching.

"They all (poachers) should be arrested then only we can curtail the roots of their illicit business (of trading in tiger skins and bones). Until the government doesn't come up with some serious rules and regulations, till then we can't stop them (poachers). And the laws of government should be implemented strictly," said M K Rajiv Singh, Chairman of Wild Life Trust of India.

There were about 40,000 tigers in India a century ago.

A government report on tiger census, published this year, states that the tiger population has fallen to 1,411, down from 3,642 in 2002, largely due to dwindling habitat and poaching.

In 2006, a special panel set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh observed that housands of poor villagers inside India's tiger reserves would have to be relocated to protect the endangered animals from poachers and smugglers.

Some experts have put the number at around 300,000.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Two tigresses to be flown into Panna forest

Two tigresses to be flown into Panna forest

21 Jan 2009, 1621 hrs IST, PTI

NEW DELHI: A tiger count is in progress in Madhya Pradesh's Panna Tiger Reserve even as officials are finalising plans to fly in two tigresses from another sanctuary next month, officials said.

"The two tigresses will be selected for relocation either from Bandhavgarh or Kanha tiger reserve," said LK Choudhary, field director, Panna Tiger Reserve. He added that the step has been taken to partially correct the skewed sex ratio of tigers in Panna.

Lately there have been concerns of low tiger population in Panna and officials admit that they have not seen any tigresses or cubs in the reserve for the past couple of months.

But tigers, they said, still roam the forests as is evident from the pugmarks observed by forest guards during patrols.

Habitat destruction and disturbances were considered main causes for the low tiger population in Panna.

"The present survey by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) would ascertain these facts in Panna, mainly the causes for low tiger density, as well as their numbers through camera traps and other methods," said Rajesh Gopal, head of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) that manages the tiger reserves in the country.

"This is however not a government of India's (central government) survey but a study commissioned by the state to WII. The findings would help us to plan better protection in the reserve," he added.

Choudhary said that between April 2006 and March 2008, a gang of criminals had been using the forest as their hideout. Last year the leader of the gang was killed, while several other gang members were arrested by the police.

Officials believe the disturbances might have forced the big cats to migrate to adjoining forests.

The Panna field director alleged that a local farmer had hired the criminal gang to prevent forest staff from taking charge of an area that he used for mustard cultivation.

"He hired the Thokia gang after the forest department objected to his (the farmer's) encroachment on the tiger habitat. But after the police gunned down the gang leader and several of the gang members were arrested, the situation has gradually improved, as forest staff can now do their work without fear," Choudhary said on phone.

The 670-sq km Panna reserve, nestled in the picturesque Vindhya Hills of the Bundelkhand region, was declared a tiger sanctuary in 1994 and is one of the five tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh. The others are Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench and Satpura-Bori-Pachmari.

Although the latest tiger numbers would be known only after the completion of the survey by the WII next month, a 2000 estimate had put the number at 32. The reserve is home to many other endangered animals such as the black buck, the chinkara deer, hyena, the Indian wild dog and different varieties of birds.

Tigers shining in Karnataka

Tigers shining in Karnataka

22 Jan 2009, 0000 hrs IST, TNN

BANGALORE: The dwindling population of tigers in the country is a major concern. But Karnataka gives reason to smile: a recent study reveals that the state's tiger population is stable.

The study, 'Distribution and dynamics of tiger and prey populations in Karnataka' by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Centre for Wildlife Studies, was done covering a 22,000 square km landscape - Malenad-Mysore Tiger Landscape (MMTL).

A tiger abundance index was derived which shows there are about 200 adult/juvenile tigers in the MMTL region. Intensive monitoring in three prime tiger habitats - Nagarahole National Park, Bandipur National Park and Bhadra Tiger Reserve - indicate that tiger populations in Nagarahole and Bandipur are relatively high and stable with tiger densities ranging between 11 and 15 adults per 100 square km.

"Tiger conservation is of high national priority and the National Tiger Conservation Authority is now seeking collaborations with research institutions to monitor tigers across the country. This project presents a practical yet rigorous scheme for monitoring tiger populations intensively in reserves and also for periodic monitoring at wider regional scales. We are pleased to offer a working model of how this can be done in an entire state, a model that can be extended across key tiger landscapes in the country. I believe that the methods we are using in Karnataka, the sample sizes we attained and thereby the robustness of the results, are far in advance of any other tiger monitoring programme in the world," says K Ullas Karanth, senior conservation scientist, Wildlife Conservation Society, and director, Centre for Wildlife Studies.

In comparison with the earlier studies done a decade ago, tiger and prey numbers seem to be holding steady in Bandipur and Nagarahole and increasing vigorously in Bhadra. "This is relatively good news in the face of what we hear from other parts of the country. Yet a lot more work is needed to push tiger numbers up at other key sites like Anshi-Dandeli, Kudremukh and Talacauvery-Brahmagiri and other areas," Karanth added.

The findings:

* Densities of large ungulate prey were also high ranging between 17 and 25 animals per sqkm in Bandipur and 23 and 42 animals per sqkm in Nagarahole.

* Documentation shows that there is a rebound of prey densities in the Bhadra reserve region after the villages on the forest fringes were relocated a few years ago.

* Combined prey density has increased from 12 per sqkm (prior to relocation in 2000) to 23 animals per sqkm in 2007.

* This is the result of relocating 419 families from 13 villages in 2002. * Tiger densities currently in Bhadra are 2 to 3 tigers per 100 sqkm.

PIL filed against killing order of UP tiger

PIL filed against killing order of UP tiger

22 Jan 2009, 1617 hrs IST, IANS

LUCKNOW: A wildlife activist moved a PIL (public interest litigation) here against the government decision to kill a tiger that had strayed out of
its habitat in Uttar Pradesh's Pilibhit region two months ago.

Wildlife enthusiast and member of the Uttarakhand State Wildlife Board, Kaushlendra Singh, filed the case before the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court headed by Justice U.K. Dhaon.

The judge, meanwhile, directed the state government counsel to seek instructions from the chief wildlife warden and return to the court Thursday.

Justice Dhaon expressed concern over the petitioner's claim that as against nearly 30,000 to 40,000 tigers that roamed the Indian sub-continent few decades ago, there were just around 1,500 tigers left today.

Singh blamed the state wildlife authorities for "allowing the genocide of tigers over the years".

The tiger had sneaked out of its habitat in the Pilibhit area some two months ago. It had also killed a person few days ago. Authorities had initially tried to capture the animal alive but later ordered that it be killed when repeated attempts to capture it failed.

The big cat has been prowling in the forest areas in various districts, including Shahjahanpur, Bahraich, Sultanpur, Faizabad and some parts of Lucknow.

Currently, it was reported to be hiding in a forest area near Kumarganj in Sultanpur district, some 130 km from here.

Singh pointed out that the declaration of the stray tiger as a "man-eater" by the state authorities was in violation of the established norms.

"Uttar Pradesh's chief wildlife warden had declared the two-and-a-half-year-old tiger as man-eater after it killed a human some days ago. The victim had gone to a field where the tiger was hiding,” he said.

He added that: "I seek the court's intervention simply because the wildlife department has authorized the shooters to kill the animal. Instead of doing that, they could have tried to capture the animal alive and transport it back to its natural habitat.”

Singh said: "Since the tiger is young, the animal is capable of producing at least 30-40 cubs during her life time."

UP minister intervenes to save stray tiger

UP minister intervenes to save stray tiger

23 Jan 2009, 1613 hrs IST, REUTERS

LUCKNOW: Alerted by the intervention of the high court, Uttar Pradesh Forest Minister Fateh Bahadur Singh has come to the rescue of the young tiger that strayed out of the forest in Pilibhit district of UP and has already killed three people.

"I have made it very clear to my officials that they must not leave any stone unturned to first trap or tranquilise the tiger. Killing the animal could be only the last resort," Singh said on Friday.

The two-and-a-half year old tiger has killed three people in the past two months and was declared a "man-eater".

A wildlife enthusiast moved a public interest litigation (PIL) petition before the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court to restrain the wildlife department officials from gunning down the tiger. Taking cognizance of the petition, the court directed the department to furnish a detailed counter-affidavit and fixed Jan 28 as the date for the next hearing.

In a swift response, the minister decided to intervene in the matter.

He said: "Not only in this case but it is our standard policy not to allow killing of a tiger. We are equally concerned over the fate of the endangered species."

Petitioner Kaushlendra Singh, who is also a member of the Uttarakhand State Wildlife Board, said: "Thousands of people die every year on account of snake bites, but does that entitle the government to order killing of all snakes?"

"In the same manner how can you issue a death warrant for a tiger simply because he kills a human being and because the department is not able to tranquilise or trap the animal."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tiger scare in district

Tiger scare in district

19 Jan 2009, 1923 hrs IST, TNN

VARANASI: The elusive tiger continued to scare the people of this region on Sunday night, though it was not spotted by anyone. There were also rumours that the big cat had killed a calf in Ashapur area on Sunday night.

But, the forest officials have ruled out the movement of tiger in Varanasi district. The calf might have been killed by a wolf or some other animal as there was no sign of tiger's presence in the locality, said forest officer LR Barwa on Monday. It may be mentioned that on Saturday too there were unconfirmed reports of the tiger moving in Rajwari area under Chaubeypur police station. However But, the forest officials denied this after combing the area.

The tiger was first seen in this region at Piyari village Jamania police station in Ghazipur district on December 30. Later, its presence was felt in Chandauli district.

Tiger killed in turf war in Madhya Pradesh

Tiger killed in turf war in Madhya Pradesh

January 19th, 2009 - 8:05 pm ICT by IANS

Bhopal, Jan 19 (IANS) A four-year-old male tiger was killed in a turf war with another tiger in Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha National Park, officials said Monday. The tiger’s body, with deep bruises, was found at the Kisla range of the park.

“The tiger was around four years old. The body had several injury marks, which indicated that he might have had a fight with another tiger. These fights are common during the mating season. The body appears to be four-five days old,” said park director R.P. Singh.

Singh, however, ruled out that it was a case of poaching. “The tiger was not poisoned. All the body parts are intact, including the skin. Hence, it was not a case of poaching.”

“It is the result of competition for territory. Every year, 20 to 40 cubs are born in the park, but male tigers start fighting over territory once they reach the age of around two-and-a-half years,” said P.B Gangopadhyaya, Madhya Pradesh principal chief conservator of forests.

These fights have become more common today due to the shrinkage of their habitat, he added.

Drive to trap tigers gains momentum

Drive to trap tigers gains momentum

20 Jan 2009, 0529 hrs IST, Pervez Iqbal Siddiqui

LUCKNOW: A Rs 25-lakh grant from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and an wildlife expert from Uttarakhand government have pushed the state forest department into action mode on the stray tiger from on Monday.

The department announced that three separate teams of 100 members each would be engaged in the job of tackling the three tigers on prowl in Kheri, Faizabad and Ghazipur areas.

Prior to the announcement at a hurriedly convened press conference by chief wildlife warden BK Patnaik, the forest minister Fateh Bahadur Singh convened a meeting of wildlife and forest officials to take stock of the situation and left for Faizabad to meet the family members of the villager who fell prey to the tiger on Sunday. He is also learnt to have paid an ex-gratia relief of Rs 50,000 to the kin of the deceased.

The NTCA grant will be spent on mobile veterinary units equipped with vets, para-medics and wildlife staff to be stationed in areas where the big cats come out on the prowl in the human habitat. "To begin with, we would be deploying a vet unit each at Faizabad, Kheri and Ghazipur," said principal secretary, forest, Pawan Kumar, confirming that Rs 25 lakh grant has been sanctioned by the NTCA.

Hunt for man-eating Indian tigers

Hunt for man-eating Indian tigers

Last updated at 18:19 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009

Wildlife wardens in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh are hunting three tigers that have killed eight people since November.

Teams mounted on elephants have been ordered to shoot one of the tigers and chase two others back into the forest.

Hundreds of thousands of people are living in fear, a BBC reporter says.

Forest officials say conservation work has boosted tiger numbers in India but human settlement is increasingly limiting the animals' natural habitat.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Experts expect rise in tiger population in Sariska

Experts expect rise in tiger population in Sariska

Jaipur, Jan 16 : The wildlife experts are hopeful of a rise in tiger population in the Sariska tiger reserve in Alwar district as a tiger pair, relocated in the Sanctuary from Ranthambhor tiger project area about five months ago, gave indications of acceptance for each other.

The tiger and tigress who took time to accept each other have now been behaving well. They have come closer.

The couple was seen together for considerable time last month and since then they are seen enjoying each others company intermittently, a wildlife department spokesman said.

''We have reasons to believe that the tigress is already underway to raise the family but the confirmation will be possible only by March,'' he said.

''If this happens, this will be a great success to our project of translocating the big cats in Sariska from another sanctuary, the spokesman said.

Sumatran tiger almost extinct in West Sumatra

Sumatran tiger almost extinct in West Sumatra

01/17/09 21:14

Padang, W Sumatera (ANTARA News) - The Sumatran tiger is almost extinct in West Sumatra as only one has remained alive in a 300-hectare habitat, a provincial nature conservation official said.

"The tiger population has decreased drastically because of the conflict between tigers and humans , hunting activity and the clearing of forests for farming and plantation projects," Indra Arinal, head of the West Sumatra branch of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), said here on Saturday.

Tigers react to humans because their habitat is being fragmented by human activity to start farms, palm oil and chocolate plantations, he added.

"The shrinking of tigers` habitat has triggered the conflicts between animals and people living near forests," Arinal said.

According to BKSDA`s observations, three other animals, beside the tiger, had come under threat of extinction in West Sumatra in 2008. They are the Sematran bear, Sumatran tapir and the Sumatran turtle.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Elusive man-eater tiger gives sleepless nights in Uttar Pradesh

Elusive man-eater tiger gives sleepless nights in Uttar Pradesh

January 18th, 2009 - 10:02 am ICT by IANS

Lucknow, Jan 18 (IANS) A young man-eater tiger that has killed four humans in a forested area in Uttar Pradesh is giving sleepless nights to villagers and wildlife officials.The repeated failure to trap or shoot down the two-year-old tiger that had strayed out of the thick forests of Pilibhit in the Himalayan terai belt two months ago has left state wildlife officials in this north Indian state totally crestfallen and frustrated.

Their desperation has led them to now give up all efforts to trap the animal through a bait or with the use of tranquilizer bullets. “Now that it has taken four human lives, we have no option but to gun down the tiger,” Uttar Pradesh principal chief conservator of forests D.N.S. Suman told IANS.

After traversing a good 300 to 400 km over the past two months, the big cat is currently hovering in and around a 100-hectare forest pocket near Kumarganj in Sultanpur district, about 130 km from the state capital.

It killed its fourth human victim Jan 15, bringing the official machinery on its toes.

In an unusual move, just after the first human kill, the animal was declared a man-eater, which according to wildlife experts, was a “hasty” decision largely on account of the failure of departmental trackers and tranquilizing experts to catch the tiger.

Departmental officials continue to give out the same lame excuses with which they launched their “shoot down” mission Dec 23.

Asked why the department’s shooters had failed to make any headway, Suman said there was little they could do as the thick lantana bushes provide the animal a very safe cover.

But none of the officials has a convincing explanation on their failure to trap the feline when it remained localized in a relatively small 70 to 80 acre spread for nearly five days in the vicinity of the state capital last month.

“Only on one particular day it came out in the open and we tried to tranquilize the animal, but the plastic tranquilizer bullets got deflected due to the obstructing bushes and so we missed it,” said Ajit Narain Singh, a tranquilizer expert.

According to Singh, the tiger was not an easy catch because its behaviour was unlike normal big cats - perhaps because it is still just about two to three years old, “therefore it does not have the usual defined habits of the animal”.

“Unlike a normal tiger, this one has not attacked a single bait that was tied as a trap. It is really strange for a tiger on the run not to get lured by a goat, left entirely for it on a platter. Either it is too smart or has begun to prefer human flesh,” Singh said.

Yet Singh has not given up. “I am sure we will be able to get it soon. I know it is very unfortunate that we have to gun down this elegant big cat, but then what else can we do to ensure the safety of villagers - four of whom have been devoured so far?”

Wildlife experts however allege that killing the tiger is now being seen as the only way to keep the official shortcomings under wraps.

“It was lack of expertise of the officials that has forced the poor tiger to turn to killing humans. And now that they have the licence to kill the animal, a few trigger-happy officials will proclaim themselves as saviours of the human race - it is a matter of shame,” remarked Kaushlendra Singh, member of the Uttaranchal State Wildlife Board.

“I am strongly of the view that a probe must be instituted to fix the responsibility of those who are responsible for turning a two-year-old cub into a man-eater,” he stressed.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sunderbans study links straying tigers with vanishing greens

Sunderbans study links straying tigers with vanishing greens

17 Jan 2009, 0638 hrs IST, Krishnendu Bandyopadhyay, TNN

KOLKATA: Why are incidents of man-tiger conflict on the rise in the Sunderbans? Rising sea levels, a diminishing prey base and the vanishing Hetal (Phoenix paludosa) are the most likely reasons why tigers are straying into human habitat in the only mangrove habitat for the big cats.

A Botanical Survey of India (BSI) study finds that in the Sunderbans, Hetal is increasingly being replaced by Chhat Garan (Ceriops). "Sunderbans tigers love Hetal bushes, as they find them ideal not only for camouflaging, but also for their smell and thickness," said a BSI official.

Repeated incidents of tigers straying into villages in the Sunderbans led experts to hold a brainstorming meeting on Thursday. The meeting witnessed heated arguments on the methodology adopted in replenishing the prey base by releasing 100 deer in the Sunderbans. Experts suspect that all the deer released had died, as they were not acclimatized to the new terrain. "Ideally, deer should have been bred. Only the next generation of deer could have been released in the forest," said an expert.

The meeting, convened by chief wildlife warden S B Mondal, decided on conducting an in-depth month-long survey by an expert committee to decide on remedial measures to be adopted by the forest department.

"The expert committee will study the prey base by WWF (World Wildlife Fund for Nature) and change of habitat vegetation by BSI. We will again meet to discuss the recommendation for an effective implementation methodology," said Sundarban Tiger Reserve (STR) field director Subrata Mukherjee. The meeting was attended by senior officers of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), BSI, and faculty of the department of zoology and oceanography, Calcutta University.

"We will have an in-depth study on how the vegetation is undergoing rapid changes in the Sunderbans, one of the most biodiversity-sensitive zones in the world," said Dr H K Debnath, principal investigator of BSI's Lead Institute. "Tigers in the Sunderbans consider Hetal bushes their homes. If suddenly these bushes are not there, they might feel homeless. We need to study that. If necessary, we need to undertake plantation drive of certain species of mangroves to maintain biodiversity."

The oceanography experts will assess the impact of rising sea level. "The rising sea level might have badly affected tiger habitat. The tigers might be forced to leave the islands," said a forest department officer.

Tiger foxes killers, skips bait

Tiger foxes killers, skips bait

17 Jan 2009, 2120 hrs IST, Neha Shukla, TNN

LUCKNOW: Good news for tiger lovers. The young tiger survived the designs of the forest department to hunt it down on Saturday. It managed to stay away from the bait and the bullet. The shooting order, earlier and now, has not harmed the tiger so far. The big cat is riding on luck, but till when. Wish it lasts longer.

The feline had killed a calf at Deoganj village in Kumarganj tehsil on Friday night in Faizabad. It was at the same spot that the foresters had set-up a `machaan' and tied a live bait to trap the tiger. But, the night-long camping at the spot did not yield result -- which in this case was the elimination of the `man-eater' tiger.

The staff present at the spot shared that the tiger did not return to the kill as was expected by the team. It did make some movement in the night as revealed by the fresh pugmarks found in the vicinity, but the big cat cleverly by-passed the route to `machaan' and bait.

All the efforts made so far to trap it in the enclosure have failed. It has never returned to its kill. The young tiger is a maverick in its own right as it has never emulated the confirmed tiger behaviour.

The two-and-a-half-year old feline had entered Rampurjanak village of Faizabad on December 28 and since then it has been moving within the forest along village clusters. The forest staff claims that it has successfully confined the tiger within 10 to 12 kms of the patch. But, what baffles the trackers is the unpredictable movement of the big cat.

At the start, it moved 6 kms to the left of Rampurjanak but then returned back only to change its course to the right of the village. On Saturday, the fresh pugmarks of the tiger were found at Bihara jungle. But, the animal was not spotted by any of the trackers.

Effort can still be made to push it towards Katarniaghat forest, which could be some 300 kms away, and thereby spare the animal from falling prey to bullets. But, is anyone in the forest department listening?

Tiger relocation entrapped in red tape

Tiger relocation entrapped in red tape

18 Jan 2009, 0451 hrs IST, Anindo Dey, TNN

JAIPUR: If at first it was a number of directives, now it is the lack of one that seems to have entrapped proposals for the relocation of a third tiger, this time a female, from the Ranthambore National Park to Sariska.

And though officials from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the state forest department revealed that the relocation was due any time now, but with each waiting for orders from the other, it may still be a while before the third tiger finds its way to Sariska.

While the state forest department officials are waiting for the NTCA to throw more light or, better still, do away with a clause that makes it mandatory for the WII to tranquillize only "transient" tigers from Ranthambore, others agencies involved in the relocation think that the onus lies with the state forest department. With chief minister Ashok Gehlot keeping this portfolio to himself, the orders will have to come from him first.

Sources in the state forest department, explaining the long wait for the much-hyped relocation of at least six tigers that were slated to be moved to Sariska within last year, revealed that the initial hitch came from the NTCA, which sanctioned the Rs 1.5-crore project, order to the WII.

The order stipulated that only tigers caught within the Ranthambore sanctuary or its reserve area could be relocated and not those from within the national park.

The directives threw a spanner in the work of the WII. "These kind of restrictions made the job cumbersome as one cannot not be sure as to whether a tiger is actually inside the national park or not. And a slight mistake in the location of the tiger could bring in the ire of the higher authorities," say officials involved in relocation of tigers.

The Ranthambore tiger reserve comprises the Ranthambore National Park, Keola Devi and Sawai Mansingh Sanctuary. The national park comprises a rich green covering and thus has more tigers but NTCA was of the opinion that tampering with the tiger populace there could trigger an unrest it the big cat's population there.

However, with the WII writing for a clarification on the orders of the NTCA, according to state forest authorities, changed it to tranquillizing only transient tigers from within the sanctuary area. "But even that is difficult. It must be understood that whenever a tiger is removed from its territory even from within the forest, that space is automatically taken by another tiger in due course and not left vacant," said officials of the forest department.

But Rajesh Gopal, director, NTCA had his reasons. "We don't have any such orders that restrict the catching of tiger from the national park area of Ranthambore. All that we are insisting upon is that they catch a tiger that is migrating to other areas for eventually these tigers are likely to get killed. And so it is better to relocate them. Currently, there are two tigers that have been straying off to the Keola Devi and the Sawai Man Singh sanctuaries," he said adding that the relocation can take place any time now.

Even officials of the WII denied that directives of the NTCA is acting as a hindrance. "If at first it was the elections, now with the chief minister himself looking after the forest department we are just awaiting orders from him. The moment it comes we will relocate the tiger," the official said. However he added that catching a tiger in the reserve area was that much more difficult.

But now with the mating season of the tigers fast running out (it lasts till February) it remains to be seen whether the motive of the relocation -- that of re-establishing the tiger populace at Sariska -- can be met soon.

Highway 4-laning cuts tiger corridor

Highway 4-laning cuts tiger corridor

18 Jan 2009, 0355 hrs IST, Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN

NAGPUR: Even as conservationists are seething over the threat to the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve emanating from the Adani power project, comes the news that even the Nagzira-Navegaon region is in imminent danger. The four-laning of the 80km road between Sirpur (Chattisgarh) and Lakhni (Maharashtra), which has resulted in large-scale and indiscriminate felling of trees, is threatening to block a safe corridor used by wild animals to move to Kanha (MP) and Indravati (Chattisgarh).

There are around 10 tigers in Nagzira and 15-20 leopards in Navegoan apart from bears, cheetals and sambars. There have been many instances of animals being run over on the highway even when it was a narrow two-lane road. After the widening, vehicles are expected to go at speeds of more than 100kmph.

Work on the Rs 424 crore NHAI road widening project on NH6 is in full swing, except in the forest area where clearance is awaited from the ministry of environment and forests for claiming 85 hectares of land. The work is being implemented by Ashoka Buildcon Limited, Nashik, by setting up Ashoka Highway (Bhandara) Limited, a special purpose vehicle (SPV).

The work started in March 15 last year and is expected to be completed by 2010. Conservationists claim that thousands of big trees have been cut along both sides of the highway without the requisite clearances.

A Wildlife Trust of India study conducted over the past five years reveals that the four-laning is detrimental to the tiger corridor. WTI chairman Ranjit Singh had recently visited the corridor project and pushed for its implementation with top forest officials. More importantly, Navegaon-Nagzira has been proposed as critical tiger habitats (CTHs) and road widening will threaten the future of these protected areas (PAs).

"The highway passes through a west-east 30km tiger corridor in Kohmara-Deori section," said conservationist Prafull Bhamburkar. "The four-laning in reserve forest compartment numbers 555/558 near Sasakuran hills and temple is hardly a kilometre from the Navegaon National Park boundary. A total of 10 compartments will be hit by the highway expansion project."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Deer released into tiger reserve

Deer released into tiger reserve

KOLKATA, Jan. 14 : The wildlife wing of the state forest department has released 25 spotted deer into the core area of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve today, in an effort to increase the population of tiger prey.

The wildlife authorities have concluded that a dearth of prey in the Sunderban Tiger Reserve may be causing the recent instances of tigers straying into human territory. In order to address the situation, the authorities have decided to release deer and hogs into the core area of the reserve, on an experimental basis. According to a senior official of the wildlife wing, a decision has been made to set up a treatment and rehabilitation centre over 200 acres of land at Jharkhali, to operate in addition to the 100 acres already in the hands of the forest department. The new centre will treat sick and injured animals, as well as providing food to the tigers during their rehabilitation. Two centres at Kultali and Canning respectively will also be established to deal with incidents of tigers straying into the localities. n SNS

Bullet to end stray tiger's journey soon

Bullet to end stray tiger's journey soon

16 Jan 2009, 0612 hrs IST, Neha Shukla, TNN

LUCKNOW: It is clear now that the stray tiger has lost the fight to
the forest department. No one on the earth can now save the ill-fated
feline who abandoned its moorings in Pilibhit in November last. The
orders to eliminate the tiger soon were reiterated on Thursday night.

The Wildlife Trust of India had asked the forest department for 48-
hour time to trap the tiger on Wednesday. But even before the agency
could act on its deadline, a man was killed and eaten by the feline
in Chaubepur village of Faizabad division on Wednesday night.

"When we asked for the time we did not know that another man will be
killed but now we will abide by the decision of the government," said
Ashok Kumar, vice-chairman, WTI.

The sources shared that orders to eliminate the tiger as soon as
possible were given to the officials involved in the tracking and
trapping operation in Faizabad. Though none of the officials from
Faizabad or those part of the team could be contacted, there is no
denying that the tiger's end is imminent. "It could be a matter of
few hours or might be a day", said sources.

The agencies which were till now criticising the department for
mishandling the operation, have accepted it is well within the right
of the department to shoot down the big cat. But, they should
certainly question the department on its duties. Right to shoot down
the tiger should not have gone without the duty to trap it safely in
the first place.

The two-month long prowl of the young tiger was destined to meet the
fateful end. The department never had the expertise to deal with such
situations. It did not learn a lesson from a similar situation in
Kukrail in the state capital in 1988. The big cat was shot down after
department failed repeatedly to trap it.

It is more than sure the death of two-and-half year old tiger will
also go down the history without making any difference to the
attitude of the department. Tiger conservation is certainly not the
word for Uttar Pradesh.

Lifeline for tigers

Lifeline for tigers

Stories by TAN CHENG LI
Tuesday January 13, 2009

An action plan to protect our endangered tiger is finally on the table, and it aims to raise tiger numbers to 1,000 by the year 2020.

LAST week, the gory photograph of four tigers with their heads cut off stared out from the pages of the Bangkok Post. Thai Police, who discovered the gruesome bounty in a truck in Hua Hin, said the load originated in Malaysia and was headed for China.

The case is just the latest in an alarming spate of cross-border wildlife crime. Last June, Thai customs officers seized the carcasses of a tiger, a clouded leopard and a panther at the Padang Besar checkpoint. The offender escaped by fleeing back to Malaysia.

In June 2006, police in Bangkok found smuggled wildlife, including the remains of six tigers, in the cargo of a flight from the Thai-Malaysian border town of Haadyai.

“These cases are just the tip of the iceberg,” warns Chris Shepherd, senior programme officer of Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network. “We are getting information that a lot of wild meat is leaving Malaysia for Thailand and tigers are being hunted in Malaysian forests.”

Tigers once ruled the wild. Today, only 500 is said to remain – a 1990s estimate that is questionable, seeing the numerous threats that this majestic big cat faces. Apart from poachers, tigers are losing their forested homes to expanding agriculture, killed by angry farmers and villagers, and losing their food to game hunters.

These perils put urgency to the newly released National Tiger Action Plan, which spells out the actions needed for the next seven years in order to boost tiger numbers. The goal is to double current tiger numbers to 1,000 by the year 2020, and for these cats to thrive in the Central Forest Spine, a mosaic of forests running the length of the peninsula.

This milestone in wildlife conservation demands measures ranging from securing and expanding tiger refuge to better forestry management, waging war on poachers, protecting tiger preys, wise land use to overcome man-tiger clashes and creating an informed public.

The plan is the effort of the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (Mycat), a collaboration between Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan), Malaysian Nature Society, Traffic South-East Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society and World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia.

Tigers now cling on to only a small slice of their former domain and much of this is unprotected or broken up by highways, railways, settlements and farms. To secure a sizeable home for tigers, the Tiger Action Plan wants expansion of parks and wildlife sanctuaries, such as by including Temenggor forest reserve in Perak. A noted key habitat for tiger survival, it is now being logged.

The plan does not dismiss wild habitats located outside protected areas in the rescue scheme for tigers, especially since 85% of suitable tiger habitat lies within Permanent Reserved Forests (PRF), which are forests earmarked for logging and which make up 36% of peninsular lands. Furthermore, most protected areas are too small to support viable tiger populations; the 42 parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the peninsula make up only 6% of its land area.

Wildlife experts say if PRF are managed sustainably – such as through selective logging which theoretically should leave a forest pretty much intact and does little damage to residual trees and the landscape – they can form important shelters for tigers.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) biologist Reuben Clements says enforcement in PRF must be stepped up to prevent encroachment and poaching.

“Businesses that impact tiger habitats (for instance, plantations) must be made aware of the Tiger Action Plan and the risks of man-tiger conflicts,” he says.

Just as important, states the plan, are vegetated corridors linking major tiger havens and forest pockets. Isolated tiger groups will then have safe passage to a larger habitat and can mingle, ensuring a healthy, genetically diverse population.

To boost tiger numbers, the plan calls for wildlife laws with bite. Now, sale of Chinese folk medicines containing tiger derivatives continues due to a legal omission – the Protection of Wildlife Act forbids trade in parts of protected animals but is silent on processed medicines containing non-readily recognisable parts and derivatives. Wildlife experts are hopeful that the ongoing review of the Act will plug its numerous loopholes and provide for higher penalties.

But the laws are only as effective as the will to enforce them. Traffic’s Shepherd says wildlife crime is of low priority within the judiciary. “Penalties for such crimes are often low and so are not a deterrent.”

No offenders have been slapped with the maximum penalty of a RM15,000 fine and five years’ inprisonment. Instead, a man caught with one tiger skull, 31 tiger claws and 10 tiger canines was fined a paltry RM3,000 in 2003, way below the market value of these items. And the 2005 case of a man in Tumpat who had a butchered tiger in his freezer? He was fined a mere RM7,000.

Poachers have been depleting Malaysian forests of its wildlife for years. Many, including foreigners, have been caught but the pilfering persists. In early November, wildlife staff found a staggering 500 snares in Taman Negara National Park. Wildlife poaching is a menace which can inflict the most harm in the shortest time.

To curb wildlife crime, the plan promises enhanced intelligence-driven anti-poaching patrol, imposing wildlife laws, more trained staff and equipment, as well as inter-agency collaboration.

Perhilitan, for instance, will team up with the Forestry Department for spot-checks at logging concessions and work with local authorities to revoke the business licences of restaurants and traditional medicine shops that violate wildlife laws.

Tiger density depends very much upon the abundance of large preys such as wild pigs, barking deer and sambar deer. Unfortunately, scientists believe these game species, which can be legally hunted with a Perhilitan-issued licence, are being over-hunted, thus depriving tigers of a food source.

“The sambar deer is in a precarious position. Camera traps set up in forests hardly capture photographs of these deer. Even hunters say they no longer get them,” says WWF’s Clements. The IUCN-World Conservation Union late last year moved the sambar deer onto its list of endangered species.

The plan wants a moratorium on hunting licences for prey species, pending population studies to determine if they need to be upgraded to the “totally protected” status where they cannot be hunted.

With tiger territory in short supply, tigers prowl forest edges and often end up in plantations and livestock farms. In Terengganu, tigers killed 309 cattle annually from 1999 to 2003. Between 1979 and 2006, they mauled 31 people (many were rubber tappers), killing 15 of them.

Since 1991, authorities have shot 13 tigers over such attacks and over the past decade, captured and sent 22 to Zoo Melaka and three to Zoo Taiping. What goes unrecorded is the number of tigers shot by angry as well as fearful villagers and farmers.

“Trapping tigers is an unsuitable mitigation measure in the long run as it does not address the root cause of human-tiger conflict, which is mainly caused by improper land use planning and unregulated hunting of tiger prey,” says WWF chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma.

To curb such “human-tiger conflict”, the plan proposes ecologically sound land use. This includes siting plantations and animal farms away from tiger territories and keeping both apart with buffer zones. Land owners will also have to ensure that their activities are compatible with tiger conservation.

Sharma says agricultural “best management practices” have also proven helpful in curbing tiger attacks, and include measures such as confining livestock in paddocks from dawn to dusk when tigers are most active, clearing estates and villages of undergrowth to improve visibility, and using air horns to ward off tigers.

With some 80 measures requiring action from a myriad of parties – Perhilitan, wildlife groups and agencies such as the Economic Planning Unit, Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, Town and Country Planning Department, Forestry Department and state park corporations – the plan runs the risk of implementation hurdles.

And what’s to prevent the plan from ending up like numerous other well-intentioned action plans – collecting dust on book shelves? One foreseen obstacle is getting state governments to abide by Federal Government policies pertaining to land use and natural resources.

To counter such possible glitches, the Mycat secretariat is tasked with monitoring progress and an independent audit is also planned.

Still, the tiger saviours can expect a difficult task ahead for even as the plan is being made known, the slaughter of tigers continues and their habitats are dwindling. The Tembat forest reserve in Trengganu which forms part of the important corridor linking Belum-Temenggor and Taman Negara, is being logged to build the Puah and Tembat dams.

The East-West Highway which cuts a once massive forest into two disparate halves, Belum and Temenggor, poses a new threat: acacia plantations now flank the road and more, including for oil palm, are being planned.

“They will further eat into tiger habitats and hinder animal movements between Belum and Temenggor,” warns Malaysian Nature Society science officer Kanitha Krishnasamy.

Faced with these grave threats, Mycat partners are urging for greater commitment, collaboration and haste to put the plan into practice.

“The plan is excellent but will only be effective if carried out. Having NGOs and the Government working together is key to this action plan being successful. I don’t think any organisation or agency can save the tiger on their own,” says Traffic’s Shepherd.

Tigers are a top predator and an umbrella species that indicates the health of forests. Given their need for good forest cover, clean water and a healthy prey population, tiger protection inherently benefits entire forest ecosystems. So shielding the tiger means shielding all other wildlife. Is that so difficult to grasp?