Are they bad mothers for abandoning, injuring, or even killing their newborns?
Zoos are no place for mother cats to raise cubs
Take Aurora, the popular female polar bear at the Toronto zoo, for example. She killed two of her cubs in October, and had a third one taken away by zoo staff for hand-rearing to prevent a similar fate. She did the same thing the year prior, killing two of her cubs at birth by partially eating them.
It is well known that males will attack or eat their young and others, but mothers failing to care for their young, and animal infanticide in general is a touchy, almost taboo subject for major zoos, including Toronto’s. After all it doesn’t exactly drive attendance.
Yet it’s a phenomenon staff deal with and one that can be traumatizing for zookeepers, say Toronto zoo officials.
“It’s not uncommon, even with domestic animals. Some mothers just aren’t good (at being) mothers,” explains Dr. Graham Crawshaw, the Toronto zoo’s senior veterinarian.
“Anyone who works with wild animals knows this isn’t uncommon or a reflection on this zoo, or zoos generally. It’s animals. Some animals do better than others. You can’t predict,” explained Crawshaw, who was reticent to discuss the issue with the Star.
Infanticide in the wild is common and occurs for a variety of reasons, says Mark Fitzpatrick assistant professor in the biology department at the University of Toronto, and an expert in animal behaviour, mating and aggression.
For example, in the case of lions, a new male might take over a pride and kill all the offspring.
“That will reset all the females into estrous, and he can maximize his reproductive success by mating with those females. That sort of scenario also happens with Colobine monkeys,’’ says Fitzpatrick.
But such behaviour is typically driven by male aggression, he says.
“Males are more likely to do the killing. With females it’s less common,” Fitzpatrick says.
One theory found in scientific literature on parental infanticide suggests it’s part of “normal’’ maternal behaviour where a female can adjust her litter size to suit her ability to raise offspring. Or, as Fitzpatrick notes, the female may do it because she simply wants to mate with a new male.
Animal rights activists charge that captivity is a major source of anxiety causing females to destroy their young.
“I think it’s fair to say that in most cases of infanticide, it’s related to stressors, whether it’s in the wild or in captivity,’’ says Zoocheck Canada director Julie Woodyer.
She says zoos claim that when the keep animals in captivity they’ve removed “stressors’’ that animals would face in the wild, such as lack of food.
“One of the primary reasons polar bears would kill their own cubs in the wild is because there isn’t enough food even for them to eat,’’ says Woodyer.
But this problem doesn’t exist in captivity, she says, yet moms such as Aurora are still experiencing difficulties rearing offspring, Woodyer notes.
“Once you remove those stressors these problems shouldn’t exist, but they do because zoos have created different kinds of stressors for the animals because they haven’t evolved to cope in that small environment. Polar bears are wide ranging carnivores that don’t do well when you confine them,’’ Woodyer argues.
To learn more about infanticide and maternal care issues with polar bears, the Toronto zoo is collecting the animals’ fecal and urine samples and trying to get a handle on their reproductive cycles and pregnancy.
Toronto is working with other zoos, which in turn are collaborating with biologists and researchers working in the wild. There are challenges however to studying maternal care in the wild because of the secretive nature of den sites for polar bears and other species.
Crawshaw argues one theory cannot fully explain infanticide and failure to rear issues involving females. He believes it’s largely tied to the disposition of the individual creature.
To make his point he describes the unusual maternal care case with Nokanda, the late female white lion who abandoned six of her cubs.
On two separate occasions she abandoned her newborns immediately after zoo staff separated them from her to do veterinary checks to ensure the offspring were healthy.
“(The first time) we put them back with her … she never touched the cubs again … She didn’t want anything to do with them. That was enough disturbance for her,’’ explains Crawshaw.
Zoo staff have separated moms from their cubs — other lions, tigers, cheetahs etc. — and those moms were absolutely fine once their pups were returned, he says.
In the second batch the following year, Toronto zoo staff waited 10 weeks before vaccinating the other set of Nokanda’s cubs — she’d been a good mother to them up to that point.
“We took them out, gave them their shots, checked them out (but) she never touched them again. That was that animal. We had to feed them. Now they’re big strapping animals.
“Again, each animal is different,’’ says Crawshaw.
As for Aurora, she was an inexperienced mom the first time she had babies, Crawshaw said, and was in an unfamiliar environment in the zoo’s new enclosure.
Aurora came to the zoo in 2001 after she and sister Nikita, both cubs at the time, were found wandering the wilderness alone, their mom apparently shot by a hunter. They were loaned to a polar bear habitat in Northern Ontario, and returned to Toronto in 2009.
In the past the zoo has had other polar bears who failed to raise their young, staff say.
Troubled mothers at the Toronto Zoo
• Female polar bear Aurora killed two of her cubs in October and had a third one taken away. She did the same thing in 2010, killing two newborn cubs.
• Tatiana, a Siberian tiger, gave birth to two cubs in 2000. One was found dead, the other alive but missing a leg that had been bitten off by mom. The cub was euthanized.
• Nokanda, a female white lion that passed away this summer, gave birth to four cubs in 1999 and two the following year, and abandoned all of them. Three in the first litter died, and one needed to be hand-reared. Two in the second litter required hand-rearing.
• Erin, a Himalayan tahr (wild goat), abandoned one of her two surviving babies, which needed to be hand-reared.
MUMBAI: A leopard mauled to death a 35-year-old woman, Sulabha Borad, who had ventured into the forest at Ganeshpuri in Bhiwandi on Saturday morning. Another woman accompanying Borad managed to escape.
Borad and Shanta Ramkuda, both residents of a tribal pocket in Akloli, had gone to the forest to collect wood.
The two women were collecting wood when a leopard pounced on Borad around 8.30am.
A CHILDHOOD passion for big animals had taken Jenna O’Grady Donley to the cusp of international recognition as a veterinary scientist.
Next week, Liz Donley was to have watched her only child graduate with first-class honours from the University of Sydney.
Instead, she and Jenna’s stepfather, Peter Donley, will accept the degree posthumously after their 25-year-old daughter was killed by a pygmy elephant while she was trekking with a friend in a remote wildlife park in Borneo.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/trailblazing-vet-who-loved-big-animals-killed-as-elephant-charges-20111208-1ole8.html#ixzz1g5MonUVe
Big-cat lover … Jenna O’Grady Donley. Her ground-breaking thesis was on renal failure in captive big cats. Photo: Facebook (This photo indicates a lack of respect for the danger inherent in wild animals)
Ms O’Grady Donley was to have presented her groundbreaking thesis on renal failure in captive big cats at an international conference in Florida next year, advancing the knowledge of why many large cats die prematurely in zoos.
”That’s the thing that’s comforting us at the moment, knowing that she made such a contribution,” Mr Donley said.
Ms O’Grady Donley had travelled to Borneo with a friend, Ashley Kelly, to celebrate the end of seven years of study.
Two pygmy elephants. Photo: AP
They were walking with a local guide in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve on Thursday when a pygmy elephant charged. Pygmy elephants, which are endangered, grow to 2.5 metres. A tusk pierced Ms O’Grady Donley and she died instantly, the State Wildlife Department director, Laurentius Ambu, said.
Masidi Manjun, the Tourism Minister of Sabah state, said the Australians had insisted on seeing the elephant up close, in defiance of regulations.
”What I have been told is that the tourists were insisting on getting into the forest to see the elephant,” he told the Herald.
”When one of them started taking photos quickly, the elephant didn’t like it because of the flashlights in the dark forest. It’s important for tourists to know that wild animals are wild animals and there is always an element of risk.”
The tour guide who accompanied the pair was taken into custody and has been interviewed by police. Guides are not supposed to disturb wild animals when trekking in Sabah.
Mrs Donley said her daughter was not a risk taker. ”She understood the risks involved with working with large animals and was very respectful of them and their environment,” Mrs Donley said through tears, from her Gymea Bay home. ”She had a connection with animals. They didn’t feel threatened by her.”
Photographs on Ms O’Grady Donley’s Facebook page show her lying with lions, cheetahs and elephants in Africa and swimming with turtles.
”She was fascinated from a young age by big cats,” her mother said. ”Because she’s an artist as well, she used to like drawing tigers and reading books on them and watching every David Attenborough program. She just had a connection with animals.”
Ms O’Grady Donley had accepted a job at a practice in Warrnambool, Victoria, and was to relocate with her partner, Matthew Izzo, who also is a vet.
Rosanne Taylor, dean of the faculty of veterinary science at the University of Sydney, said the industry had lost a bright star.
”She was very much the face of Australian veterinarians of the future – smart, dedicated, hard working, driven by research, above all deeply committed and caring and engaged with her community.
”She was a person who was poised to make a great difference to her profession.”
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/trailblazing-vet-who-loved-big-animals-killed-as-elephant-charges-20111208-1ole8.html#ixzz1g5MjcCII
Tigers Playing At Big Cat Rescue
With a study on tiger poaching revealing that the big cats were killed only when they ventured outside Panna Tiger Reserve, the call for creating a functional buffer zone has gained momentum, writes Ritesh Mishra
The study in tiger poaching cases suggests that the big cats were killed only when they ventured outside the Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) territory.
Moreover, three recorded cases of poaching of tigers in 2002 and 2006, state that the reasons behind poaching of tigers were not related to illegal trade. This calls for a critical need for functional buffer zone for PTR to check the poaching cases.
The JJ Dutta Committee report on PTR stated this fact and has recommended that a buffer zone should be established in PTR but now it has not been done by the Forest Department.
The other findings were- the village relocations, grazing control and improved fire protection led to excellent habitat recovery of a large part of Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR), which supported an optimum density of wild prey. This high prey density habitat served as the breeding area for tigers and accounted for a steady growth in tiger population. The report states that by 2002 this productive part of PTR had achieved saturation density of tiger population and was already yielding a “breeding surplus” in the form of sub-adults of both sexes that needed “dispersal habitat” beyond the breeding area for survival. On the other hand, absence of reasonably protected and moderately productive dispersal habitat around PTR proved to be a major deficiency for tigers in years 2002 onwards.
The dearth of a functional dispersal habitat also caused grown up sub-adult males to frequent the breeding area as transients and as these attained adulthood led to frequent turnover in territorial males In years after 2002, As recorded by researchers these frequently changing dominant males indulged in heavy cub killing in the breeding area.
Ajay Dubey, an RTI activist, who sought this report filing an RTI, while speaking to The Pioneer said that buffer zone is most important issue in PTR. “I have written to all the authorities in this regard, even the Chief Minister but nothing has been done till now,” he added.
The report which was submitted in end of 2010 states the poaching inside PTR were the main cause of decimation of tigers, as was alleged by researchers and media, it should have led to killing of both males and females But the observed subsequent preponderance of males as compared to females. Steady and significant decline in presence of cubs also pointed to declining female numbers within PTR, which can only be explained by the females moving outside.
The report in its finding clearly pointed out that of course animals can and should be sourced from different parks but their familiarisation in the new park is important before they are released as independents. The translocated animals should therefore remain together for some time in the acclimatisation enclosure, preferably large enough (10 or 20 hectares) and separated by a transparent fence so as to allow visual contact.
Translocation of tigers or other animals from one park to another, within a State or between States is essentially ordained by the objective need of active population management as a vital scientific aspect of larger conservation management strategy in the current scenario in India.
The Forest Department should of course apprise local leaders and conservationists as well as tourism industry of such scientific considerations in advance and elicit their understanding and support for such activities, which nonetheless must go on regardless of such support forthcoming.
About the buffer zone, the report states that PTR is potentially a viable conservation unit and can support a tiger population of about 40 animals but it needs a functional buffer zone. Tigers were mainly poached when they ventured out of PTR but the three recorded cases of poaching of tiger in 2002 and 2006 question the effectiveness of control even if these cases were not linked to illegal trade.
This reinforces the critical need of a functional buffer zone for PTR. A functional buffer zone is ordained by the “breeding area” within PTR complemented by “dispersal habitats” so as to prevent the population stress from surfacing again, when the current repopulation efforts, as desired and expected, succeed in a few years.
The report states that PTR requires a new management plan. The last plan was written in 1999: this was then a well-rounded document, living the age and the challenges. The present circumstances and changes in situation need to be incorporated and the aim should be to make this the best plan for conservation in all India. The Committee has suggestions for improving habitat management, managing tourism, setting up of a buffer zone, initiating eco-development and ecotourism for local peoples benefit. These suggestions should be considered by the Planning Officer and the Department. The need is for the Forest Department to raise itself to a level of respected excellence in a time when challenges abound yet support for change and improvement of the present situation is extant, provided there is a perception of change and drive.
There is need for Forest Department to meaningfully involve local people as well as informed individuals in conservation, and there should be a structured forum and process of such interaction including that with the “whistle blowers”.
The age profile of the Madhya Pradesh Forestry Service has got vitiated in that most ranks, due to lack of timely recruitment for a number of years, reflect aged incumbents sub optimally fit for field duties.
The Committee encountered evidence from 2005 onwards of intensifying protection by way of the State Government being seized of the matter as well as of PCCF-General and PCCF-WL issuing directives and making supervisory field visits. Evidence also came forth of these instructions being carried out in the field in PTR.
The Committee’s interactions and discussions with police officers threw up the need that even at this late stage a professional police agency should investigate into tiger poaching from 2002 onwards in Panna Tiger Reserve as well as in other reserves and intervening forest areas.
Instituting a police investigation into tiger poaching mortalities, notwithstanding the delay. This was not suggested for any retribution but with the positive aim of finding out the networks and methods of the poachers and recommending a strategy of coordination between the Forest Department and the Police Department in future. This initiative should lead to Madhya Pradesh becoming a zero tiger poaching state in the next one year.
INDORE: Two months after the death of a white tiger cub shortly after a few days of its transfer to Indore zoo from Aurangabad, the Central Zoo Authority of India (CZAI) has instructed all zoological parks across the country to strictly adhere to its guidelines for animal exchange programme.
The CZAI observed that the quality of captive animals in some zoos suffered due to violation of animal exchange programme and many died after their relocation. Wildlife experts attribute it to pre-mature release of cubs in a zoo to attract visitors.
However, the new order raised question over the plans of Indore zoo to transfer lion from Kamla Nehru Zoological Park in Rajkot and tiger from Junagarh Zoological Park. Zoo in-charge Uttam Yadav claimed that they have made the plans by keeping CZAI guidelines in mind.The zoo, going by the guidelines, needs to have forest like cage (mot) for animals and exchange of animals should be allowed only if a pair is available. Besides, it is necessary to conduct medical check-up of animals before and after relocation or exchange. Animal which are 20% above their average age and less than their 80% of average age can only be exchanged.
Sources said most of the time ill underage or above prescribed age animal are exchanged and animals are also not exchanged in pair. It affects their reproduction. In exchange, under and above age animals run greater risk of death in as these are unable to adjust to new atmosphere.
You Can’t Send Hand Reared Big Cats Back Into the Wild
The much-hyped conservation experiment on “rewilding” of captive/hand reared abandoned cubs of big cats may be disastrous for the local population residing near the habitat of release, says the doyen of wildlife conservation Dr George Schaller.
In an exclusive interview to The Pioneer on Wednesday at the sidelines of the international green film festival organised by CMS Vatavaran, the international tiger expert and wildlife author also expressed deep concern on the degradation of regions immediately outside the Protected Areas.
He said that the tragedy that followed reintroduction of abandoned leopard cubs in Bandipur and Bhadra in Karnataka is a glaring example of the inherent risk involved in such experimentation. In the aftermath of their release in the wild, the hand-raised cubs killed some local villagers following which the forest department had to kill one cub and capture the others.
“It is comparatively easy to relocate chitals and deer but not big cats”, he said.
The role of a mother is crucial for developing a cub’s hunting and survival skills, which also includes avoiding humans. This is why the mother stays with the cubs for 2-2.5 years in the wild. This training is especially important in India where the human pressure was increasing on the habitats, he said.
When raised by human keepers in captivity, cubs do not learn to fear or avoid humans. Set free, such big cats are thus attracted to people who invariably panic at the sight of a tiger/leopard. This often proves fatal for both.
On other areas of concern on conservation in the country, Dr Schaller stressed on formulation of a long-term policy for the management of forests outside Protected Areas. Due to reducing habitat and increasing human pressure the wildlife is bound to foray into areas outside the demarcated habitats.
“It is not enough to limit management strategies to the protected areas alone but the need of the hour is to have adequate corridors and their maintenance in the surrounding areas too,” he pointed out.
Suggesting an ideal model of conservation, he underlined the importance of local population in conversion. One interesting aspect in this regard is the link between folklore and ecology of the region, which had traditionally been serving the purpose of resource conservation.
One such example is the tale of Bonbibi in the Sunderbans where the forest deity is worshipped along with the tiger. The folk belief has gained so much credence that the villagers prior to their entry propitiate the forest deity to protect them from dangers.
Similar stories can be found for instance in Arunachal Pradesh, one of the biodiversity hot spots in the country that link local environment and folk belief systems.
However, according to Dr Schaller, there is the other side of the coin too. Since culture and tradition are being impacted by growing influence of money and market forces, it is essential to balance the spiritual aspect with economic incentives.