Sunday, October 16, 2011

Saranda springs tiger surprise

Saturday, 15 October 2011 23:40 Sayantanee Choudhury

If the inhabitants of the Asia’s biggest Sal forest, Saranda, and initial evidence are to be believed, then its good news in the offing for wildlife lovers. Contrary to the general perception that big cats never existed in Saranda, there are hints for the first time of a tigress and a couple of cubs living there.

A team of wildlife experts has been rushed to the spot to examine tiger pugmarks found recently in the dense forest cover of Jharkhand. The team will also collect excreta and shed fur samples.

According to Saranda divisional forest officer KK Tiwari, locals spotted few unfamiliar pugmarks and informed the forest officials. “People even claimed to have seen one tigress and two cubs in the forest,” he added. However, the sighting is yet to be verified.

Jharkhand wildlife warden AK Gupta said, “A team of six members — including local wildlife officers and members from Ranchi — have been sent to Saranda to collect samples.”

He added that a large numbers of leopards and hyena inhabited Saranda earlier and that the forests often give conflicting signals on the presence of big cats.

Saranda is considered an unspoilt world, where nature rules supreme. It is the home of the endangered flying lizard. It is famous for its Sal forests and majestic elephants. However, news of tigers in the area then would definitely be good.

“The samples will be sent for forensic examination and results will be available within 10 days. Since there were no evidences of existence big of cats earlier, so we want to get a confirmed report from the forensic laboratory,” Gupta said.

The Singhbhum Elephant Reserve is the only elephant reserve which exists in this forest, with traditional routes taken by the pachyderms. “We are also trying to trace the routes of the tigers, if they are in the forest. No big cats have shown their existence even in neighbhouring Dalma forests either. It is possible that the tiger family has migrated from Odisha or Andhra Pradesh,” said the wildlife warden.

Gupta added, “Of late, tigers are probably trying out new routes. Few of them might have been isolated towards the Saranda forest and are trying to re-establish themselves here.”

Environmentalists and investors draw claws over plan

Next generation ... $30 million has been ploughed into helping secure the future of the endangered South China tiger. Photo: courtesy Li Quan

Ben Cubby
October 17, 2011.

A BOLD plan to shield the South China tiger from extinction has become a battleground between environment groups and so-called ''angel investors'', who have plunged $30 million in cash into the big cats' future.

Li Quan, a former executive at fashion label Gucci, and her financier husband Stuart Bray, have been working for 13 years to rebuild a sustainable tiger population. Perhaps fewer than 20 South China tigers are thought to still inhabit remote and mountainous regions of China's south. They are likely to be extinct in the wild within a decade.

The couple have sunk a fortune into a breeding program for cubs in South Africa, and are now ready to start sending them to China for release.

The Save China's Tigers program has just been recognised as a charity in Australia. But it has been criticised by some environment groups, including the international arm of WWF. The battle highlights the critical choices behind many conservation decisions

In a letter seen by the Herald, WWF said the program is misguided, and the $30 million in funding would be more wisely deployed elsewhere. Others have publicly described the plan as a ''vanity project''.

''Yes of course I have heard this term 'vanity project','' Ms Quan said. ''The criticisms have been coming for many years now, but we are doing the right thing for the animals, we are sure of that.''

Fisherman killed by tiger in Sunderbans

Ananya Dutta
KOLKATA, October 17, 2011

A fisherman was killed by a tiger deep inside the forests of the Sunderban Biosphere Reserve on Sunday.

Satyabrata Jana of Kultuli had gone fishing with four others in the Gazikhali forest area within the Sajnekhali wildlife sanctuary. They had spread their nets in the waters and were sitting on the land when a tiger attacked the group, Subrat Mukherjee, field director of Sunderban Tiger Reserve, told The Hindu over telephone.

“We have received reports of one person being killed by a tiger. They had gone fishing in the restricted area of the forest and did not have a permit for fishing,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

Since Mr. Jana was killed in the restricted areas of the forest, his family will not be eligible for the compensation that is given to victims of tiger attacks.

Illegal fishing in the restricted areas of the forest is a perennial problem that plagues the region and results in several incidents of man-animal conflict.

“The fishermen try their best to dodge the guards of the Forest Department and enter the restricted areas. Since they are flouting the rules they are not entitled to any compensation if any such incidents occur,” said Sarba Mondal, a resident of the Sunderban islands.

3 Bor tigers can be rehabilitated: WII team

Vijay PinjarkarVijay Pinjarkar, TNN Oct 17, 2011, 05.29AM IST

NAGPUR: Amid debate over proposed release of three rescued tigers in Bor wildlife sanctuary, 60km from Nagpur, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, has submitted a positive report about their release.

After assessing the three tigers - two female and one male - a two-member WII team, consisting of scientist K Ramesh Kumar and veterinarian Dr Parag Nigam, said that the Bor tigers are good candidates for rehabilitation in the wild. The team had visited Bor on October 4. The team submitted the report to A K Saxena, additional principal chief conservator of forests (APCCF), East, Nagpur, four days ago.

The WII team was accompanied by A Ashraf, chief conservator of forests (CCF) & field director, Pench. The members, who were in Bor for over two hours, said that the tigers were in good condition, even better than those released in Panna.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had sent the team only after principal secretary (forest), Maharashtra, Praveen Pardeshi continuously took up the matter before the authorities. This comes after the respective chief wildlife wardens and officials had written a series of letters to the NTCA but failed to elicit any response. This bureaucratic red tapism led to unwarranted delay in deciding the fate of these cubs, which were rescued from Dhaba forest range in Gondpipri in Chandrapur district in September 2009.

"Our first priority is to shift the Bor tigers to a bigger enclosure in Pench. Funds for this have already been sanctioned. Releasing the cubs into the wild doesn't come in our domain. The final decision in this regard will be taken only after consulting NTCA. Entire protocol will be followed," Saxena told TOI.

Wild life experts had claimed that the cubs were 14-months-old when found and hence, are over three years of age now. They look quite grown up. However, the WII team have fixed the age of the cubs at around two-and-half-years.

Initially, the tigers were kept in small cages for treatment in Chandrapur before being shifted to Bor on November 9, 2009, with an aim to rehabilitate them. It has been two years since, but neither serious efforts nor right steps were taken to see that the tigers were relocated successfully. The team also stressed the need for giving live feed to the tigers, which is not being made available.

NTCA joint director S P Yadav told TOI that the matter is under consideration and a committee has been constituted to examine the issues related to orphaned cubs in India, which will decide the fate of such cubs.

Pardeshi said, "WII and NTCA have been asked to give permission for the rehabilitation and only under their guidance, we will release the tigers into the wild."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Film on R'bore tiger wins 3 awards in US

Anindo DeyAnindo Dey, TNN Oct 11, 2011, 02.28AM IST

JAIPUR: In a rare laurel for Ranthambore National Park, a documentary film on a tiger at the park has recently won three awards including that of the 'best film award' at a film festival in Jackson Hole, US. The film christened 'Broken Tail' is the true story of a tiger in the park which had disappeared but survived in an unprotected hinterland for several months and eventually died after a train hit him. The film won three awards in separate categories for the best overall film, best conservation film and best presenter at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival (JHWFF).

Internationally renowned as the largest and most prestigious biennial competition of the nature genre, this year's festival that concluded on October 8 included 510 films from more than 30 countries in 800 categories. According to conservationist Aditya Singh of Ranthambore Bagh, who was part of the production crew in India, "Broken Tail was one of the two male cubs of Machali, Ranthambore's best know tigress. In the summer of 2000, sometime in April, Machali mated with a large male tiger called "Bamboo Ram" and three-and-a-half months later, she gave birth to her first litter of two male cubs called Broken Tail (because his tail was broken) and Slant Ear. By the end of December 2001, both these cubs separated from Machali and we never saw Slant Ear again," says Singh. The production team also included conservationist Dharmendra Khandal.

"For about a year-and-a-half, Broken Tail stayed in a small territory at the edge of Ranthambore National Park, not really a great neighbourhood for tigers. Somewhere in the summer of 2003, Broken Tail decided to leave Ranthambore and in August 2003, a passenger train ran over him, in Darrah sanctuary, nearly 100 miles away from Ranthambore. It took the forest department and everyone else, including us, over a year to realize that the tiger that was run down by the train was Broken Tail," he said. Directed by John Murray and Colin Stafford-Johnson, who spent about 600 days filming the documentary. Broken Tail had posed for the camera in his initial days, but one day it suddenly disappeared, abandoning the sanctuary.

Barely three-years-old then, Broken Tail had made an unprecedented 200 km trek across densely populated countryside while wildlife cameraman Stafford Johnson retraces the steps of the tiger. "Colin had come down to Ranthambore in 2005 to shoot a film for Tokyo Broadcasting Service and that is when he thought of doing a film on Broken Tail's journey. For the next four years, Colin, Salim Ali, one of Ranthambore's best guides, and I researched the film. This included tracking down the path that Broken Tail would have taken from Ranthambore to Darrah.

We did this by inputs from villagers, who had either seen him or whose cattle Broken Tail had killed, forest guards who had seen him or his pugmarks. We interviewed over 200 people including the train driver whose train ran the tiger down in a tunnel in Darrah. The actual filming started in 2009 and was over in 2010. However a lot of the footage was actually shot from 2001 onwards, when Broken Tail was a cub," he adds.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Russian and US veterinarians collaborate to solve mysterious wild tiger deaths

A camera trap image of a Siberian (Amur) tiger in the Russian Far East. A team of health experts from the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society and several Russian organizations have confirmed the presence of distemper in wild tiger populations, a finding that will enable conservationists to formulate measures to mitigate this recent threat. Credit: Image courtesy of WCS Russia

September 30, 2011

A' team of Russian veterinary colleagues and health experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo are collaborating to understand how distemper -- a virus afflicting domestic dogs and many wildlife species -- may be a growing threat to Siberian (Amur) tigers.

The team presented its results at the first-ever Russian symposium on wildlife diseases held this week in the Russian Far East city of Ussurisk. The symposium underscores the growing recognition of the importance of the health sciences to successful wildlife conservation efforts.

Working at WCS's Wildlife Health Center at the Bronx Zoo, Russian health experts and WCS pathologists used histology along with PCR and DNA sequencing to confirm and characterize the infection in two wild Siberian tigers from the Russian Far East. This diagnosis provides long-awaited genetic confirmation of the fact that distemper is impacting wild tigers, which WCS and Russian colleagues first documented in 2003.

The collaboration will enable conservationists to formulate health measures to counter this latest threat to the world's largest cat.

The participants in the partnership included: Drs. Irina Korotkova and Galina Ivanchuk from the Primorskaya State Agricultural Academy; Elena Lyubchenko, county veterinarian for Ussuriski County, Drs. Anastasia Vysokikh and Mikhail Alshinetskiy from the Moscow Zoo; and Drs. Denise McAloose and Tracie Seimon from WCS.

Last year a tigress "Galia" -- studied by WCS researchers for eight years in Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve in the Russian Far East -- walked into the village of Terney. Galia displayed abnormal neurologic signs, seemingly unfazed by the new surrounding, appeared gaunt, and was searching for dogs as an easy meal. The tiger was shot by local police after several capture attempts failed. In November 2003, a similar event occurred when an otherwise healthy looking wild tigress walked into the village of Pokrovka in Khabarovski Krai. WCS staff working in the area immobilized the animal and worked with local Russian veterinarian Evgeny Slabe in treating the tiger, which later died in captivity. Samples for the diagnosis of distemper were collected only from these two animals.

Several other examples of tigers entering villages or stalling traffic on major roadways -- behavior possibly indicative of distemper -- have been reported in recent years.

"This exchange provides a foundation for elucidating potential disease threats to tigers in the Russian Far East," said Irina Korotkova of the Primorskaya Agricultural Academy. "Understanding the role of distemper in our wild Amur tiger population is vitally important."

Distemper is found worldwide in domestic dogs and has caused infection and death in wild species such as lynx and bobcats in Canada, Baikal seals in Russia, lions in the Serengeti ecosystem in Africa, and raccoons and the endangered black footed ferret in the United States.

"With all the threats facing Siberian tigers from poaching and habitat loss, relatively little research has been done on diseases that may afflict tigers," said Dale Miquelle, WCS Director of Russia Programs. "There are no records of tigers entering villages and behaving so abnormally before 2000, so this appears to be a new development and new threat. Understanding whether disease is a major source of mortality for Siberian tigers is crucial for future conservation efforts."

Anatoly Astafiev, Director of Sikhote-Alin Reserve, said, "We have seen a fall in tiger numbers within our reserve, so it is very important to know that at least one of the causes is a recognizable disease, something we may be able to address and potentially prevent."

Canine distemper is controlled in domestic dogs through vaccination. In Africa, massive vaccination campaigns of dogs in villages surrounding the Serengeti appear to have been effective in reducing the disease's impact on lions.

Dr. Denise McAloose, WCS's Chief Pathologist and leader of the investigation, said, "This is a great example of what international collaboration can achieve. Without our Russian associates there on the spot, knowing what samples to collect and how to preserve these specimens, samples would never have made it to our lab, and the cause of death would remain unknown. It's great that we're all here together to work on this issue as a team."

WCS is working with staff from the Primorskaya Agriculture Academy and other partners to establish a wildlife lab in Ussurisk to facilitate local diagnostic testing, although it will take several years until the lab is adequately funded and fully functional.

McAloose added: "Until then, there's still much to do including identifying the source of the disease."

It is still uncertain how tigers may have contracted the disease and whether it originated in another wild animal species or domestic dogs, both of which can act as reservoirs for the infection.

Latest reports suggest that fewer than 3,500 tigers remain in the wild; 1,000 are breeding females.

Provided by Wildlife Conservation Society

Poor genetic diversity a threat to tigers, says study

Krishnendu MukherjeeKrishnendu Mukherjee, TNN Oct 3, 2011, 03.59AM IST

KOLKATA: On her last legs, Machli - often called Ranthambore's matriarch for presiding over a majestic legacy of over a decade - can still make a tiger-lover crave for her glimpse. But her offsprings in the 400-500 sq km tiger abode in Rajasthan's Sawai Madhopur district face a genetic threat that could hit the population hard in the long run.

While Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (RTR) was in news for a sudden population crash in 1992 and 2003, it assumes more significance in the light of a recent study by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) that says tiger population in the park has shown a loss of genetic diversity over the years. "RTR tiger population is showing loss of many alleles, which may be due to an isolated population without any genetic exchange," said WII's Dr S P Goyal, the investigator of the report - 'Tiger Genome: Implications In Wildlife Forensics'. Alleles are a group of genes that decide an animal's hair colour and immunity, among other characteristics.

The park's tiger population had crashed to 12 in 1992 and 13 in 2003. It bounced back to 31 in 2010 but Dharmendra Khandal, a conservation biologist, feels lower genetic diversity would prove to be a new threat.

"Urbanisation and fragmentation in tiger corridors are the reasons. Ranthambore tigers used to take the Chambal river route to reach Madhya Pradesh's Kuno. But flattening of the river banks stopped tiger dispersal between Ranthambore and MP, resulting in no gene flow between the two tiger populations," he said.

"Since Sariska has lost all its tigers, now the nearest tiger reserve from Ranthambore is over 800 km away, be it Bandhavgarh, Corbett or Satpura," Khandal said. According to tiger expert Valmik Thapar, a growing human population is leading to encroachment of large landscapes making the survival of many species difficult.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Tourists throng tiger reserves on first day of season

TNN Oct 2, 2011, 10.22AM IST

JAIPUR/ALWAR: Living up to expectations, the Ranthambore tiger reserve saw a huge turnout of tourists, after a three month hiatus, on the first day of the season. Tourism also increased at the Sariska tiger reserve with 55 persons, including eight foreigners, making their way into it.

According to forest department officials, "The mood was upbeat at Ranthambore right from the morning. Around 20 Gypsies and nine canters made their way into the park and it included the conservationist Valmik Thappar. The tourists in the morning session spotted a sloth bear and a tiger in the Lakarda zone."

The evening session saw 22 Gypsies and 14 canters making their way into the park. Some tourists on a Gypsy spotted a tigress in the evening session.

"It was a great day at the Ranthambore reserve. As every year on the first day of the season we welcome tourists with a tilak as they enter the park and it happened this year too. The system of checking identity card was enforced and no fake booking was detected. They even managed to spot a tiger, T-16, in the morning session," said UM Sahai, chief wildlife warden, Rajasthan.

In Sariska some confusion prevailed when officials stopped Gypsies from going into the park saying only canters will be allowed inside. The Gypsy owners potested and even sent a protest letter to the Union minister of state for home Jeetendra Singh.

Accordind to Puranmal, a Gypsy owner, "In 2009, we were called by the then DFO Sudershan Sharma and were lured into buying Gypsies as he felt that the localites must get the benefit from the reserve. We had then bought our Gypsies and were even promised that we would be allowed to ply our vehicles for a long time. But this change in directives has been a blow to us. We will not allow the canters to ply under any condition."

Mahabaleshwar farmers oppose tiger reserve

TNN Oct 3, 2011, 02.05AM IST

PUNE: Thousands of farmers in Mahabaleshwar gathered on Sunday afternoon to oppose the Sahyadri Tiger Project, which was initiated last year by combining the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary and Chandoli National Park in Satara as they fear it would hamper developmental activities. The meeting was held at Taldeo village, about 15 kms from Mahabaleshwar.

Balasaheb Bhilare, member of the Satara Zilla Parishad, said, "The tiger reserve project is most likely to affect people of Patan, Javali and Mahabaleshwar. For us, the only source of income is farming and tourism. If our lands are marked under the reserve, farming activities will stop and the affected families will have to find new sources of income."

The villagers also posed the question of security before the guardian minister. Bhilare said, "What security would villagers around the reserve get? They will be most exposed to the reserve and if animals walk into the village, it will pose a danger to them."

The conservation plan, which was declared by the state government last year, will come up in an area of 740.5 sq km spread across the districts of Satara, Ratnagiri, Kolhapur and Sangli. The tiger reserve will focus on conservation of habitat, breeding of tigers and ensure food and water availability for tigers.

Pramod Shelar, president of the Mahabaleshwar Taluka Sarpanch Sanghtna, said, "When farmers and villagers need to construct a house, there are several restrictions imposed. At the same time, the government is giving space for animals when human populations are multiplying every year. The government has still not relocated villagers displaced by the Koyna dam. The same situation will prevail with the tiger project as well."

The land for the reserve is divided into buffer and core areas. The core area will not have human habitation, while in the buffer areas animals and humans can coexist. The reserve includes 83 villages in both the sanctuaries that cover four districts - Satara, Ratnagiri, Kolhapur and Sangli. Many villagers have already been shifted and the remaining will be relocated soon.

Meanwhile, Nimbalkar has assured villagers that the issues will be taken up and discussed with the government and a solution will be arrived at after a proper study.

6 tiger cubs are Melghat's new guests

Vijay PinjarkarVijay Pinjarkar Oct 3, 2011, 03.58AM IST

NAGPUR: While recent lynching of Navegaon National Park tigress in Bhakru Tola in Chhattisgarh by a furious mob came as a rude shock, there is a good news from Melghat - sighting of six new cubs has thrilled wildlife buffs and officials.

"In the past couple of months, tigresses with two cubs (around 6-8 months) each have been recorded in camera traps by the field staff in Sonala range in Ambabarwa wildlife sanctuary, part of Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR), Dhakna and Raipur ranges," revealed an overjoyed AK Mishra, field director and chief conservator of forests (CCF), MTR.

He adds, two months ago, driver of a forest vehicle sighted a tiger with a kill in Semadoh tourism zone. He also recorded the movements on his mobile. However, several such claims are not considered unless authenticated.

Tigers have always remain elusive in MTR, fondly called as the 'Kipling Country' and known for its mystifying landscape with high hills and deep valleys. Sighting of cubs in three places at a time makes big news in Melghat. Till now, such reports in the region could be heard only from Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) in Chandrapur district which has a distinction of producing 12-15 tiger cubs every year.

Melghat, where sighting of tigers is like cracking jokes, has made a major turnaround over the last two years. The last such record of tiger sighting was in February 2009 from Narnala where a tigress with three cubs was sighted. "With the new additions, we expect tiger numbers to go up to 50-55," Mishra says. However, the NTCA-WII estimation of 2010 puts the tiger count in Melghat at 39.

About the success, Mishra says strengthening protection and group patrolling, awareness among villagers by distributing pamphlets and educating them and imposing curbs on grazing have led to improving the situation.

"Controlling forest fires is our big successes. From 7.5% with 401 cases, the number of incidents has been brought down to 3.2% with 177 cases," said Mishra.

"In the past two years, we seized around 500 cattle and filed cases in the court against illicit grazers. Such measures are yielding results," Mishra says. The field director said relocation of three villages - Barukheda, Amona and Nagartas in Wan sanctuary and partial relocation of Vairat and Churni villages in Melghat sanctuary has also helped in reducing grazing pressure of 4,500 cattle.

In 2006, MTR in Amravati was rated as 'poor'. However, in 2011, it has bounced back and has been graded as 'good' by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII). The result of 2011 management effective evaluation (MEE) puts MTR in line with high-profile reserves like Corbett, Dudhwa, Ranthambore and Manas.

Even tiger conservationist Kishore Rithe, who works in Melghat, admits protection mechanism has been revamped and is very systematic despite shortage of trained and good staff. "Villages in core are willing to resettle. If MTR hands over tourism management to communities, it will help improve livelihoods and thus increase public support for tigers," he adds.

Melghat's sweet success

* Better protection measures, foot patrolling monitoring mechanism

* Resettlement of 3 villages done in 2001-02 and 5 (two partially) in 2010

* Getting young forest guards posted in sensitive areas

* Concentrating on threats like overgrazing, encroachments and forest fires

The area

MTR 1,676.93 sq km

Gugamal NP 361.28 sq km

Melghat WS 788.75 sq km

Wan WS 211 sq km

Ambabarwa 127.11 sq km

Narnala WS 12.35 sq km

Buffer Zone & MUA 1,268 sq km