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Saving the Tiger

Big Cat Rescue is saving tigers through education and legislation. We post the latest in tiger news here and in our newsletter The Big Cat Times. We gather news from around the world DAILY and send it out to people who have signed up to get our daily email. See what you can do to help save these big cats in captivity and in the wild. Great Cats are in peril around the world and need people like you, who care about tigers and other exotic cats to help save them from the brink of extinction. Big Cat Rescue is working to make it illegal to sell tigers as pets and is diligently striving to improve conditions for tigers in zoos and circuses. To donate to tigers, click on the Donate link above.

Download this 2008 report documenting 1,158 endangered and threatened exotic cats being illegally, yet openly sold in Myanmar markets.  The Wild Cat Trade in Myanmar

Journal of Applied Ecology 2008 Report The impact on tigers of poaching versus prey depletion

Update 1/4/2010:  According to official statistics, as many as 59 tiger deaths were reported from acrossIndia in 2009 till December 8. Of the 59, 15 were “poached” while the remaining 44 died due to “illness and other causes”. Madhya Pradesh topped the charts with 13 tiger deaths followed by Assam (10), Karnataka (9) and Uttarakhand (7).

2009 saw more than a two-fold increase in the number of tiger deaths compared to 2008 and almost a two-fold increase compared to 2007. In all, 28 big cats were killed in 2008 and 30 in 2007. NGOs, nevertheless, peg the number of tiger deaths at more than 65 in 2009. India’s last tiger census put their total number at 1,411.

What About Breeding Tigers?

There is NO reason to breed tigers (or any other big cat) for lives of confinement and deprivation.  The only sanctioned international breeding plans for exotic cats are called Species Survival Plans (SSP) and they are ONLY carried out in accredited zoos.

Ron Tilson, director of conservation at the Minnesota Zoo and coordinator of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s captive breeding program for tigers says, “For private owners to say, ‘We’re saving tigers,’ is a lie,” Tilson says. “They are not saving tigers; they’re breeding them for profit.”

Tilson says the exotic animal market is a multimillion dollar industry, ranking just below the illegal drug trade and just above the illegal gun market.

Tilson says tigers are the most charismatic animal on earth. Their appeal is universal. “They are the alpha predator who used to kill and eat us,” he says. “We cannot help but be in awe of their power and grace. Tigers represent everything fine and decent and powerful. Everything those people would like to be. It’s all an ego trip—big guns, big trucks, and big tigers.”


Big Cat Rescue sponsored the International Tiger Coalition booth this week in Doha, Qatar thanks to your votes for us in the Chase contest where we won $25,000.  Your votes helped save the tiger!

21 March 2010

Doha, Qatar — Wild tigers held precious ground today, prompting the International Tiger Coalition (ITC) to congratulate a United Nations wildlife treaty on protections that will help end tiger trade.

Over 100 member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreed to keep in place a decision that tigers should not be farmed for their parts and asked for additional actions to stop tiger trade.

With wild tiger numbers as low as 3,000 and falling, the ITC is calling for an end to trade from all sources, including the thousands of tigers currently in intensive breeding centers in Asia.

“If wild tigers are to gain the respite from poaching required to stop their precipitous decline, demand must stop once and for all,” said Judy Mills coordinator of the International Tiger Coalition.  “Products from tiger farms only prompt growth in demand for farmed and wild tigers.”

Once widely used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), tiger bone was removed from the official TCM pharmacopeia in 1993 to support of the CITES tiger-trade ban.

“Enforcing the international ban on tiger trade was nearly impossible until tiger consuming countries introduced domestic tiger trade bans,” Mills said.  “The world owes these nations, especially China, a debt of gratitude for their responsible actions, and it’s clear CITES supports every effort to end all tiger trade.”

The Great Indian Tiger Factory

The Interpol puts the trade in illegal wildlife products at $12 billion a year. Home to half of the world’s tigers, India is keeping the supply line going, reports Jay Mazoomdaar

Posted online: Sunday, September 25, 2005 at 0000 hours IST

JUST how big is the illegal wildlife trading industry? Interpol says the trade in illegal wildlife products is worth about $12 billion a year. The rhino and the elephant apart, it is the big cat that pays the maximum in blood to keep this industry booming.

Although tigers in captivity—about 20,000 in US ranches and another 1,500 in China ‘s tiger farms—often end up as trade material, the primary source of the trade has been wild tigers. Home to half of the world’s wild tiger stock, India keeps the supply line alive.

In the international market, a tiger fetches at least $10,000, but broken into body parts, the value can soar to $50,000. Every bit of a tiger is in demand—the brain as cure to pimples and laziness, its whiskers for toothaches, the nose and eyes for epilepsy and malaria, the humerus bone for ulcers, rheumatism and typhoid.

Tiger skin can cost up to $15,000. Tiger bones and body parts cost twice or three times as much as a tiger skin. In Hong Kong black markets, vendors sell powdered tiger humorous bone for over $3600/kg. In Seoul , it sells for $3000/kg. In Taiwan , a pair of eyes cost between $175-250.

Tiger penis is used in a soup as an aphrodisiac—a bowl of the ‘‘first boil” comes for nothing less than $100 while subsequent boils cost less. In Taiwan , a ‘‘rich” bowl of tiger penis soup goes for a hefty $320. Finally, after about five to six boils, the penis is dried up and sold for anything between $200-500. In the late 1990s, a Japanese manufacturer was producing a brand of Tiger penis pills which were on sale for over $27,000 per bottle.

China is the biggest producer of tiger bone pills and medicinal wine, but such medicines are also made in factories in South Korea and other South-East Asian countries. Dealer price for raw tiger bone is estimated to be between $140 and $370/kg, depending on the size and quality of the bones. Till recently, the retail price of processed and powdered tiger bone in Singapore was over $4,000/kg.

USING tiger parts for medicinal purposes is not limited to Asia . WWF investigation in England of Chinese chemists, craft shops and supermarkets in London , Birmingham , Manchester and Liverpool showed that a number of shops sold products claiming to contain tiger derivatives. It’s prevalent in many US states, particularly in Texas , primarily among the Chinese expats.

Tigers are also valued as exotic pets. In 1998, WWF found two tiger cubs on open sale at a pet shop in Jakarta.

Given such demand, it’s little wonder that tigers are facing the worst ever crisis in India . In 10 years between 1994 and 2003, the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) has recorded 684 cases of tiger poaching here. This excludes, due to insufficient poaching evidence, a large number of tigers that were ‘‘found dead”.

In the last two years, skin seizures in India , Nepal and China indicate that another 221 tigers were poached. The Customs authorities multiply known offences by ten to estimate the size of an illegal trade. So even a very conservative estimate would suggest that the tiger and leopard trade in the subcontinent deals with at least 1,000 big cats a year.

Following strong legislation in different countries, the international tiger trade has been operating almost exclusively through ‘‘an army of ants”— large numbers of individuals smuggling small volumes of goods through a range of channels.

‘‘It is a thriving, uncontrolled market, which may explain the increased poaching of tigers in India that has left at least one tiger reserve devoid of tigers and four others almost empty. Huge seizures of tiger, leopard and otter skins in India and Nepal indicate the existence of highly organized criminal networks behind the skin trade. They operate across borders, smuggling skins from India through Nepal into China , and continue to evade the law,” says Belinda Wright, executive director, WPSI.

The modus operandi has been simple. One of the country dealers plant operators with a budget of about Rs 1 lakh in a village in or around a tiger forest. He spends months there, familiarizing himself and winning the confidence of the community and eventually luring a few villagers to poach a big cat for as little as Rs 15-25,000. Once the kill is made, the skin is sent to local tanneries—the ones in Kanpur and Allahabad have special expertise—and finally it reaches the kingpin. It’s difficult to transport other body parts which are often dispatched separately.

Once the kingpin has a good stock, consignments are sent across the porous border to Nepal , Tibet or Bangladesh . At this level, the country dealer earns between Rs 1,50,000 to Rs 2,00,000 depending on the size and quality of the skin. Bones, about 12 kg per tiger, fetches another Rs 50,000 to Rs 75,000. The foreign dealer, in turn, earns at least $10,000 per tiger product from the retailers. And then the products hit the retail market, spinning mega bucks.

THE findings of the recent joint investigation by London’s Environment Investigation Agency (EIA) and WPSI in Tibet and China points out that the supply line from India is very much active. ‘‘In the last five years, the international community has seen the trade in tiger and leopard skins spiral out of control. If this trade continues unabated for another five years, it will be the end for the wild tiger. It is imperative that the Indian and Chinese governments stop this trade now, before time runs out,” says Debbie Banks, EIA’s senior campaigner.

The Tiger Task Force report talks about a bunch of radical long term measures. But India won’t have too many tigers left to be benefited by those steps if we don’t act now. The Centre must address the issue at both ends. While bilateral talks with our neighbors and better vigilance at the border are necessary to curb the trade, immediate action is necessary to protect the tiger in its habitat against poaching.

‘‘We trust the Prime Minister. He must realize that we are losing tigers everyday. If need be, he has to deploy the paramilitary, even the Army, in our reserves to save the national animal,” urges P K Sen, chief of WWF-India’s wildlife program.

Till then, the countdown to the extinction of the Panthera tigris continues.

Sansar Chand

The face of Indian poaching. The alleged mastermind behind north India ‘s poaching network. Now in jail.

Pema Thinley

Of Tibetan origin, he was arrested during a raid in 1993 and admitted to procuring skins for Sansar Chand.

Mohammed Yakub

An associate of Sansar Chand. He is a co-accused in the Pema Thinley case and also accused in the Satna case against Shabbir Ali. He is known to control a network of poachers, who kill leopards inside Ranthambhore, Corbett and Bandhavgarh National Parks .

Tsering Atup Tamang

Ethnically Tibetan and a Nepalese citizen, a resident of Humla, near the Chinese border. He is an accused in two major cases in UP. His telephone diary contained the phone numbers of Sansar Chand and other traders. His name has also come up in several wildlife cases of Nepal .

Shabbir Ali/ Shabbir Ahmed Khan

A resident of Satna, Madhya Pradesh, he was arrested in 1997 with 11 leopard skins. In 1994, he showed an undercover investigator 11 sacks of tiger bones. During interrogation, he revealed links to a second rung of traders, who had sold him 40 to 100 leopard skins over the years.

Shabbir Hassan Kureshi

Shabbir was arrested in the Khaga case in January 2000. This was one of the biggest seizures in recent times. It included 70 leopard skins, 18,000 leopard claws, 4 tiger skins, 132 tiger claws and 221 black buck skins.

Wong Kim Quee

He is the main accused in a Siliguri case where two rhino horns were seized during a raid. Quee stockpiled his goods in Bhutan . He was apparently the man who allegedly supplied 22 rhino horns to the Princess of Bhutan (the king’s sister).


He is one of the most prominent ivory carvers based in Thiruvananthapuram, and is believed to source his ivory from poachers. His ivory statues are sold to buyers in Kolkata and Mumbai.

Indian Tiger census drops from 3000 to 1200

Tiger, tiger, not burning bright: Count falls by half

Bahar Dutt
Posted Monday , May 15, 2006 at 19:59
Updated Monday , May 15, 2006 at 20:29

New Delhi: From 3,000 in 2002, India’s tiger population is down to 1,500 in the last count. That is, if government figures are to be believed.

While the figures are based on government data, the exact number of tigers has always been a subject of much debate in India. For years now, it continues to be the best-kept secret of the Environment Ministry.

According to data available with CNN-IBN, India’s tiger population is down by a half in just four years. With the tiger population graph on a downward curve, Project Tiger has come to a point where it was first started 30 years back.

Ten tiger reserves — including Simplipal, Indrawati and Dudhwa — have reported a drop in tiger count in the latest census, highlighting a new crisis in India’s efforts to preserve its tigers.

The government is likely to declare the results of the latest census only next year. “What we have heard is that only 1,500 tigers are left. How are they saying it?” Dr Raghu Chundawat, tiger Scientist, asks.

Meanwhile, the method of tiger count itself continues to remain a controversial issue. The Environment Ministry, in an effort to avoid false reporting, has changed the entire system of tiger count from this year.

Called the ‘Framework for estimation of tiger populations of India’, the job of tiger census is now in the hands of India’s premier research body, the Wildlife Institute of India.

“We have used a new method this year. We have to get away from this method of counting tigers,” says Dr Y Jhala, a scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India.

Under the new method being used, estimates of not just tigers but also their prey base — which includes ungulates such as deer and chinkara — are also made.

But the new method is not without problems. A report of the World Conservation Union, which is available exclusively with CNN-IBN, points out serious problems in this new methodology.

Based on an assessment made by WCU, the report states that the exact number of tigers cannot be deduced on the basis of the presence and absence data as it can lead to over-reporting. Also, this process of tiger count ignores poaching, the report points out.

The new method has also reported tigers from non-forest areas, which may be false data, the world conservation body says, adding that the new method does not take into account tiger deaths or poaching which is one of the major threats to the species in India.

Tiger is present only in 7 per cent of India’s total geographical area. As its numbers crash, it is clear that the tiger has not only become India’s most endangered but also perhaps the most controversial cat. If urgent steps are not taken, scientists say it may be gone within the next decade.

Wildlife conservationists say the government is not willing to acknowledge the real problem. The new methodology is a mere eyewash, they claim.

Financial plans for tiger reserves for the state of Madhya Pradesh, which are now available with CNN-IBN, show that 60-80% of the funds meant for various anti-poaching measures are being spent on the construction of bridges, roads and culverts with only a small share going towards the actual purpose.

“On what basis did they arrive at these figures? Why are they not focusing on reducing poaching? Today, the department is not more than a civil engineering department,” says Dr Raghu Chundawat.

Can’t Hide The Stripes

The Indian tiger gets a macabre afterlife in Tibet


Got Money, Take Tiger is the new India-Tibet equation. This gruesome give-and-take was exposed this week at a screening in Delhi with film clips of the macabre afterlife of tigers. Not in India , but in Tibet . Where the bustling bazaars of Tibet have tiger and leopard skins piled in tall shaky stacks, strung up on clotheslines and peddled by salesmen, some of them Buddhist monks. This even as the Dalai Lama, sheltering in India , beseeches followers to recall Buddha’s mahakaruna.

India ‘s tigers becoming Asia ‘s fashion victims was reported by Outlook (Thy Fearful Cemetery, May 9). Fresh evidence points at the rise in tiger skin sales with the sale of Tibetan chubas adorned with tiger, leopard and otter skins. This year’s horse festival in Nagchu had chuba-wearers walking in a parade of animal skins. The footage came from a joint probe by the International Environmental Investigation Agency, EIA, and the Wildlife Protection Society of India, WPSI, from July to September 2005. Belinda Wright, executive director, WPSI, who maintains a meticulous wildlife crime database, states: “The trade is in Tibetan hands, they smuggle, sell, buy and wear skins.”

In Litang, 21-year-old Pentsok, just back from India , got a priceless tiger skin as a graduation gift. Asked if his outfit clashed with his Buddhist beliefs, his defence was: “But I didn’t kill it.” In Linxia , China , a single street had 90 stores stuffed with striped and spotted skins ready for sale, while huge stockpiles of tiger skin waited to be tanned. Wright, who posed as a buyer with EIA’s Debbie Banks as her niece, says all the salesmen said tiger and leopard skin supplies came from India .

Another 10-minute film, with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), shows a Tibetan sport festival where everyone, from the presiding officials to the tug-of-war team, was wearing animal robes. At a horse festival, men danced in skin skirts decorated with glass beads that filled the eye-sockets of tiger faces. The women swayed in tiger and leopard skin skirts, fitted with otter skin borders. At least 18 otter skins went into making the border for one skirt. “We have pictures of Boudha, a Tibetan colony in Kathmandu , where you see the same skin chubas,” says Ashok Kumar, vice-chairman, WTI.

Yet, with most Tibetans admitting that their forefathers didn’t own skin chubas, where is the money coming from? This newfound prosperity comes from the sales of a magic mushroom, cordyceps sinensis, which grows on caterpillars and is found in the Himalayas . Considered an elixir of life, caterpillar fungus, cooked in a duck’s stomach, was served to Ming emperors. Chinese athletes used it as a performance enhancer. Today, it’s a much-vaunted Oriental potion, selling at US $1,000 per kilo. But who will bell this illegal tiger trade before the 2008 Olympics in China ?

With a richer Tibet and China buying, India is willfully supplying. Trader Sansar Chand’s son’s diary of 2003 reveals records of sales worth Rs 1.38 crore, with tallies of 654 leopard and 40 tigers skins. The poachers are moving south. Says Kumar: “Traders want quality skins from south India .” Adds another expert: “The skinning, especially the fat removal, is an experts’ job.” Will the government seize the final opportunity to act? Tiger Task Force member Valmik Thapar warns: “We have five more Sariskas in the making, I’ve written to the PM, saying we can’t find a pugmark. For riots we send rapid action forces, to save the tiger we do nothing.”

Our crisis solutions are incoherent. Rubbishing the task force’s coexistence formula, senior wildlife biologist Raghunandan Chundawat says: “It’s impossible for a large carnivore like a tiger to coexist with humans. In Delhi , people can’t even live with monkeys.” With addled thinking and the relentless decimation of the jungles, our tiger species seems condemned to life-after-death in China and Tibet .

The disappearance of tigers in Sariska rang the alarm bells. But India ‘s tiger reserves have been mauled for years, writes Belinda Wright in “Too little, too late.”

February 13, 2005

The first sign of alarm about large-scale poaching of tigers dates back to August 1993, when 400 kg of tiger bones, eight tiger skins, and 59 leopard skins were seized in Delhi . The horrific size of the haul confirmed that organised wildlife crime had come of age in India . Since then, NGOs have documented poaching of tigers, habitat destruction and mismanagement time and again. But to little effect. Both the Central and the state governments have, for the most part, remained silent spectators to the carnage, hiding behind excuses, endless committees, and a ludicrous lack of transparency and accountability.

More often than not, a tiger’s death is veiled in secrecy. And woe betide the manager of a protected area if he reports poaching or declares a decline in tiger population: All that will result most probably is his transfer.

In fact, managers are actively discouraged from showing a hands-on interest in anti-poaching efforts. Last month, a senior forest officer in central India refused to cooperate in a raid involving two tiger skins. He was expecting a promotion and didn’t want ‘‘trouble in my area”. And thus, in the world of officialdom, tiger figures rarely diminish. What a wonderful bluff it has all been.

Over the past decade, I have been involved in hundreds of seizures of tiger and leopard parts. Pictures flash through my mind: Stinking piles of bones and skins; a trader in central India pulling out a crumbling tiger skin in the back of a moving car; five tiger skeletons packed in sacks; criminals like Sansar Chand (who has been convicted twice and has about 20 cases pending against him in five states) walking free from courtrooms and, yes, of officials and politicians conniving in the slaughter.

After 35 years of being involved, professionally and passionately, with these breathtaking animals, I can now say with despair that I have held the skins and bones of more dead tigers in my hands, than I have watched live ones.

Our wildlife criminals are bold and ruthless. And why shouldn’t they be? Nobody seems particularly interested in catching them. The tigers of Sariska must have been a piece of cake for poachers to finish off last monsoon, when there were no tourists in the park and virtually no patrolling.

The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), which I head, has documented the illegal killing of 719 tigers and 2,474 leopards between 1994 and 2004. Included in the total are 16 tigers killed by electrocution (a method now popular with poachers) over the past four years. Not included are mixed bags of claws, which would add further to the gruesome tally. Each dead tiger represents the loss of an extraordinary legacy and asset for India , like a chip off the Taj Mahal.

Way back in July 1995, WPSI put forward a detailed proposal to the government for a Directorate of Enforcement for Wildlife Crimes. Despite numerous representations, the only step forward in these 10 years is a name change; what is now being discussed in those unfathomable corridors is a Wildlife Crime Control Bureau. In September 1998, the then Home Minister assured us that it would be done. In January 2000, he again said, ‘‘It will be done!” We are still waiting…

AND so is the world. Thousands of letters have been written to the government and at least two world leaders (Bill Clinton and Tony Blair) have brought up the issue of tiger protection being a matter of international concern during official meetings. But to no avail.

India recently proved that it does not care about international concerns. Exasperated by India ‘s sluggishness in enacting appropriate legislation, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES, the largest wildlife treaty in the world) suspended India from the Convention on December 22, 2004, along with Gambia.

Meanwhile, the government spends huge sums on ‘‘tiger protection”, money that is spent largely on infrastructure and salaries for the 4,960 front-line forest staff in the 28 tiger reserves in 17 states. Officially, there are 1,576 tigers in these reserves, so there are more than three guardians per tiger. The current annual budget (2003-3004) for Project Tiger is Rs 30.67 crore. That comes to an astonishing account of Rs 2 lakh ($5000.00) per tiger.

So why are these tiger reserves so vulnerable to poachers? Clearly, the money is not being spent effectively. The lack of accountability and independent audit are glaring lacunas. It is widely known that state governments are not releasing funds, nor are they filling posts or thoroughly investigating tiger deaths.

In Delhi , there are more wildlife cases pending in the courts than in any other city; it is the base of known wildlife criminals such as Sansar Chand and remains the hub of the illegal wildlife trade.

On January 31 this year came another shocking case, when Delhi police seized 39 leopard skins, two tiger skins, 42 otter skins, 60 kg of tiger and leopard paws, three kg of tiger claws, 14 tiger canines, 10 tiger jaws and other bones, and about 135 kg of porcupine quills.

Four people were arrested, all related to or employed by Sansar Chand. What further evidence do we need that wildlife traders are operating with impunity?

We have excellent wildlife laws, but they are not effectively enforced. Only a handful of people have ever been convicted for killing a tiger or trading in its parts, despite hundreds of pending cases. Even the big case of August 1993 in Delhi is still languishing in the courts.

Another major concern is the widespread encroachment of tiger and other wild habitat. Less than five per cent of India has been set aside for protection and only a little over one per cent comes under National Park protection. Many of these areas have no long-term management plan and independent research is actively discouraged, to the extent that we do not even have a clear idea of the natural treasures that we still have.

To further erode these vital watersheds and banks of biodiversity is sheer lunacy. Ultimately it is the poorest communities that suffer when our natural defences are exploited. It is imperative that we achieve our development goals without further pilfering our forest cover.

Belinda Wright, tiger conservationist and campaigner, is executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India


United States Announces Global Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment Claudia McMurray will announce the formation of the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking today at the conclusion of the prestigious Wildlife Film Festival in Jackson Hole , Wyoming . This global coalition, initiated by the United States , will focus political and public attention on growing threats to wildlife from poaching and illegal trade. Seven major U.S.-based environmental and business groups with global interests and programs have joined the Coalition: Conservation International, Save the Tiger Fund, the Smithsonian Institution, Traffic International, WildAid, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the American Forest & Paper Association.

Wildlife trafficking — the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife parts — is a soaring black market worth $20 billion a year. Unchecked demand for exotic pets, rare foods, trophies and traditional medicines is driving tigers, elephants, rhinos, unusual birds and many other species to the brink of extinction, threatening global biodiversity. Added to this is the alarming rise in virulent zoonotic diseases, such as SARS and avian influenza, crossing species lines to infect humans and endanger public health.

In July 2005, at the initiative of the United States, G-8 Leaders recognized the devastating effects of illegal logging on wildlife and committed to help countries enforce laws to combat wildlife trafficking.

The Coalition on Wildlife Trafficking will focus its initial efforts on Asia , a major supplier of black market wildlife and wildlife parts to the world. Coalition partners are already working with the Government of Thailand and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The Thai government will host a regional wildlife trafficking workshop for law enforcement officials and officials responsible for compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in October 2005. Soon after the workshop, Southeast Asian environment ministers are expected to announce the development of a regional wildlife trafficking law enforcement network.

Additional government and non-government partners from Asia and Europe are expected to join the Coalition in the coming months.

For further information, please contact Susan Povenmire, Press and Public Affairs Advisor, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, at (202) 647-3486 (office) or (202) 257-1959 (cell).

Released on September 23, 2005


India Panna Natl Park ‘s tigers are missing too

If Sariska is scary, drive through MP’s showcase sanctuary

At Panna National Park , over 30 tigers have disappeared in three years, says field researcher’s report


Posted online: Sunday, March 06, 2005 at 0152 hours IST

PANNA (MADHYA PRADESH), MARCH 5: More than a month after The Sunday Express first reported on the vanishing tigers of Rajasthan, prompting PM Manmohan Singh to express his concern, it turns out that even Madhya Pradesh is not the big success story it’s being made out to be.

In fact, a visit to the Emerald Forest there clearly shows that the Panna Tiger Reserve could be going the Sariska and Ranthambhore way.

A well-known field researcher has submitted a report this week that some 30 tigers may have died or gone missing in the Panna reserve over the past two-and-a-half years. And, the Central Empowered Committee, set up by the Supreme Court, warned last month that unless quick action was taken ‘‘the tiger may never recover here.”

Local Park officials insist that there is no cause for worry and the number of tigers has remained steady since 2001, when between 30 and 34 were logged. But on the ground, the signs are chilling:

• Till a couple of years back, tourists could frequently spot tigers even on roads here, a fact corroborated by everyone from Park officials to jungle guides. Now even elephants acquired from Sanjay National Park find it difficult to locate tigers for tourists.

• Ken river flows across the Park — three ranges are in the east and one, Chandranagar, in the west. It is the unwritten law of Panna that animals don’t return when they cross the river and enter Chandranagar.

• In other ranges, too, population pressure is huge. If barbed wire and chain link fences were not enough, traps, snares and crude bombs wait for the animals. Primarily meant for herbivores, one such snare killed a tigress in December 2002 (see photo).

• Some villagers inside the core area admit to frequent hunting sprees — a few outsiders accompanied by locals in groups of 25-50 people. While herbivores are routine targets, they say, tigers are not spared. Even the less forthcoming ones admit that they do not feel signs of tiger or leopard presence in the surroundings any more.

• In the entire southern periphery—places like Kishangarh, Paturi, Vikrampura, Amanganj—you are likely to get ‘wildlife objects’ for a price. Many in these areas poach regularly and supply to centres in Uttar Pradesh — like Kanpur and Allahabad — via Niazpur for tanning. Katni, the hub of India ‘s poaching trade, is just 130 km south of Panna.

• Villagers have right to cultivation and they make good use of large areas between the plateaus or along the river inside the core area. Absence of any buffer zone makes the problem worse as peripheral pressure tells directly on the Park.

• Patrolling is lax, if not absent, in large areas of the park that has several vacancies at the Range officer and game supervisor level

This week, Dr Raghunandan Singh Chundawat, principal investigator, Panna Tiger Research Project, submitted a report documenting the loss of 30 tigers to the Project Tiger directorate. Project Tiger director Dr Rajesh Gopal has already sent a team to Panna to evaluate the situation.

Meanwhile, after inspecting the Park last month to follow up on a petition filed by Belinda Wright (Wildlife Protection Society of India), the Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee report on February 18 concluded: ‘‘Panna is showing signs of Sariska…It is necessary to put it right before it is too late. Otherwise the tiger will never recover here.”

Dr Chundawat says it was a change in the Park management that signalled the decline. Between 1995 and 2002, he says, tiger density in the 542 sq km park had gone up from 2-3 per sq km to 7 per sq km. Then, over the past couple of years, he says that that nine out of the 11 breeding females have either died or gone missing. Some 21 mature cubs have gone the same way.

He says when he alerted the Park authorities, they barred his access to the Park. He got it back only last month, after speaking to top state officials. ‘‘I went back to find the situation really grave,” he said.

Meanwhile, Shyamendra Singh alias Vinnyraja, a local royal who has been running an eco-tourism outfit by the Ken for last 20 years, agrees that all is not well with the Park. ‘‘Tigers have become difficult to spot. I can sense some suspicious activities in the jungle. A resident tigress in the tourist zone vanished after March last year. Given the excellent habitat by the riverside, it’s worrying that no other tiger has occupied her zone in the last one year,” said Singh.

Panna’s Deputy Field Director Mudrika Singh claimed that while tigers cannot be individually identified, some 34 were counted in a census in January.

Told how no trace of forest officials was found during a 4-hour drive cutting across the National Park in the Chandranagar range, Singh admits there is “some free movement” due to too many villages. “But wildlife density is not too high there,” he justifies.

Singh accepted that his staff needed to be more vigilant. He also acknowledged hunting activities in the region but said there have been no ‘‘confirmed reports” of tiger poaching. The real problem, Singh said, is the presence of so many villages around him—there are 13 villages inside the Park and 45 at its peripheries. ‘‘Security will be more effective once we can relocate them. These villagers need to be educated. The Wildlife Act doesn’t have any impact on them,” he rues.

But Madla range officer N S Parihar said that it takes so long to get funds issued for relocation that by the time the money comes, inflation makes it meaningless.


Wildlife tour operators stop promoting Indian tiger parks

Deepshikha Ghosh (IANS) New Delhi , March 24, 2005|13:21 IST

Badly hit by the dwindling tiger population, Indian tour operators have stopped promoting tiger reserves to foreign tourists.

So worrying is the situation that the operators are revising their trails and advising tourists to get interested in other sights of nature.

“We are not promoting Ranthambore and Sariska any more,” said Manoj Singh Rana of India Adventure, a company that promotes tiger camps and trail packages for foreign as well as Indian nature enthusiasts.

“If the tiger situation persists, we are in for worse times.”

Tiger trail routes have been changed to exclude the famed Ranthambore park in Rajasthan, once one of the most attractive destinations for tiger spotting.

At least 18 of 47 tigers in Ranthambore are reported to be missing.

The World Wide Fund-India says there may be no tigers left in another Rajasthan park Sariska, which was home to more than a dozen of these animals. No tigers have been seen there since June 2004.

The last all-India census in 1993 estimated 3,750 tigers, a sharp decline from four years earlier. At present, the numbers are estimated to be even less — 3,000 to 3,500 tigers — due to poaching, scarcity of prey and over-used habitat.

Tigers are being poached for skin, claw and bones mainly used in traditional Chinese medicines.

An alarmed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up a task force to save the endangered species and also established a wildlife crime prevention bureau.

Poaching may also have claimed six tigers in another big sanctuary, Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh, which tour operators believed was still better off than other wildlife parks in tiger sightings.

GS Rathore of Pench Tiger camps said there had been no tiger sightings in any of the popular reserves in the past year.

“We are very concerned,” he said, adding that bookings had fallen and tourist revenues had dipped by 10 per cent. “We have seen major cancellations by clients who are preferring to go to Africa .”

Pench is advising its clients not to expect to see tigers in Ranthambore, Sariska or Corbett.

“We tell them if you want to see tigers, you should visit the zoo. But it will be hard to spot them in the wild,” said Rathore.

It has been similarly disappointing business for Indian Travel, which promotes cultural as well as wildlife tours.

“Since sightings are rare, we have stopped promoting Ranthambore or Corbett as tiger attractions,” said Aftab Ahmed of Indian Travel. “We tell clients not to come to India for only tigers.”

According to him, tourists to Corbett had been coming disappointed for the past two years. As many as half a dozen tour teams had cancelled last year, each meaning a loss of $2,000.

“We don’t promote Sariska. As for the others, we mentally prepare tourists by saying the chances of sighting the big cat are slim. But still some of the teams came back and asked us to stop promoting the park as a tiger haven.”

It is a dismal tale for a country that used to attract nature lovers for its tigers.

Wildlife experts regret that the realisation has come late for the Government.

“Now even Madhya Pradesh parks are suffering,” said Tito Joseph of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. “The tiger population in Panna has also plummeted, and a separate census is being conducted.”,0008.htm


Scientists from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and their collaborators from the US Geological Survey’s wildlife research center in Maryland have developed a model that shows a solid quantitative relationship between tiger numbers and the amount of prey available to these highly endangered big cats. Published in the latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , the model can not only accurately predict tiger density over a variety of habitats, but also help safeguard populations by pinpointing the causes of their decline.

The authors tested their model by sampling tiger and prey populations in 11 ecologically distinct sites in India – from grasslands to dry forests – over an eight-year period, with teams of biologists walking more than 4,200 miles to count prey animals, and setting hundreds of camera traps over 8,600 days of effort. Densities of ungulate prey such as deer, antelopes, wild cattle and wild pigs ranged from a low of 5.3 animals per square kilometer in Meghat Reserve, to more than 63 per square kilometer in Pench Reserve. The model predictions matched the measured tiger densities ranging between 3.2 to 16.8 tigers per 100 square kilometers.

According to WCS scientist Dr. Ullas Karanth, the lead author of the study, the rigorous methods and extensive field component of this study set it apart from most population ecology research, which is often carried out on smaller animals in laboratories.

“When it comes to macro-ecological studies on far-ranging landscape species like tigers and their prey, the biological, statistical and practical problems involved have proved too daunting in the past, compelling scientists to draw weak inferences, usually based on secondary data,” said Dr. Karanth. “We tackled this problem head-on by immersing ourselves for eight years in the secret world of the tiger.”

“Our results confirm that decline of wild tigers is primarily driven by prey-depletion caused by human hunters,” Karanth added. “Conservationists should direct their concerns at reducing such negative human impacts.”

WCS’s conservation efforts to save tigers in India and throughout their range are featured in “Tiger Mountain,” a new exhibit that opened at the Bronx Zoo last May.

Six alleged Sumatran tiger poachers arrested

Haidir Anwar Tanjung, The Jakarta Post, Pekanbaru, Riau

Local police in Riau arrested six men and named another as a fugitive in relation to the alleged illegal trading of endangered Sumatran tigers.

However environmentalists said the arrests were merely made for show — given that on Tuesday the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had called for the government to be serious in the prevention of tiger trading.

Following reports from the management of Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park and forest rangers, the Indragiri Hulu police reported that the six men had been arrested as suspected members of a syndicate.

The police seized two dead Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrensis) and two dead tree tigers (Neofelis nebulosa), head of the police crime and investigation unit, Comr. Jamanair Simbolon, said on Friday.

“We arrested three alleged buyers of dead tigers on Feb. 15 in Jambi city while two suspected hunters and a middleman were arrested three days later. That was our strategy,” he told The Jakarta Post.

The buyers were identified as 31-year-old Kamal Mubarah, 39-year-old Rahmat alias Memet, and Ko Sugianto, 64. The police identified Sudirman, 36 and Mathakim, 29, as hunters and Herman, 25, as the middleman.

The three alleged buyers are residents of villages nearby the national park.

The police failed to arrest Jarmo, from the East Java city of Surabaya , who is also suspected of being a buyer.

After stripping the tigers’ skins, Simbolon explained that the suspects waited until the flesh rotted so that they could obtain the bones, which are also valuable.

He said that the suspects would be charged under Law No. 5/1999 on natural resources and Government Regulation No. 7/199 on conservation, which carries a minimum prison term of five years.

Despite the convincing evidence and contrary to the statement that the suspects were members of a syndicate, Simbolon said that the police had declared the suspects newcomers to the illegal business.

“We believe that they participated in the criminal activity for the first time. We’ll hand over the dossiers to the prosecutor’s office soon,” he said.

On Tuesday, WWF and IUCN urged the government to take immediate action to stop poaching and the rampant destruction of the tigers’ natural habitat.

Only 40 tigers are estimated to remain in the Bukit Tiga Puluh national park, Neil Franklin, the park’s Sumatran Tiger project technical advisor said.

Separately, national park management and several non-governmental organizations cited indications of why they doubted the police’s commitment.

National park head M. Haryono said that the arrested suspects were “old players” in the illegal business who had always managed to escape prosecution in the past.

Herman, the suspected middleman, he said, was caught in the act while hunting tigers in 1999 in the national park. However, he had managed to escape arrest.

Haryono also doubted that Ko Sugianto was new to poaching as four dead tigers had been seized from the poachers.

Franklin predicted that only 400 to 500 Sumatran tigers remained in the wild in Sumatra .

He said that poaching was the most serious threat to the animals, although illegal logging also had an alarming impact on their environment.

Endangered tigers are highly prized by hunters due to the soaring price of their skins, teeth, bones, claws and even blood on the international black market.

Franklin predicted that the international syndicate, which was responsible for Sumatran tiger poaching, included mafia from Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong and China — all countries where people still use products obtained from Sumatran tigers for traditional medicine.

About 50 Sumatran tigers were killed every year by poachers between 1998 and 2002, he said.

Tiger ‘on brink of extinction’

March 16, 2004 – 3:11PM

The Sumatran tiger is on the brink of extinction because of rapid deforestation and poaching that feeds a lucrative market for the big cat’s body parts, a wildlife trade monitoring group said.

The Britain-based group Traffic, a joint program between WWF and the World Conservation Union, said at least 50 Sumatran tigers had been poached each year from 1998-2002, leaving only between 400 to 500 tigers on Sumatra island.

“Tigers all over the world are under threat from poaching, loss of habitat and conflict with nearby human populations. N ow, the Sumatran tiger is on the brink of extinction,” said Dr Susan Lieberman, director of WWF’s International Species Program.

“With so few left, there are doubts about whether the population is still viable,” she said. “The current poaching is jeopardising the survival of entire populations, and indeed the very future of tigers on Sumatra .”

According to the Traffic report, the killing of tigers has been driven in part by domestic demand for skins and other body parts, especially claws and teeth for trophies, charms and souvenirs.

Tiger parts are readily available in Sumatra , with many openly displayed for sale, the report found. Tiger products were also found in 17 of the 24 towns surveyed and 20 per cent of 453 shops visited, according to the report.

The group also found a flourishing illegal trade in tiger parts to other parts of Asia .

“Increased and improved enforcement is critical to saving Sumatran tigers,” said Steven Broad, executive director of Traffic. “As a first step, action should be taken against the markets, trade hubs and retail outlets highlighted in the report, especially in northern Sumatra .”

Along with the decline in tiger population, the loss of their habitat has fuelled an increase in tiger attacks across Indonesia . Eight villagers have been killed in such incidents since August 2002, including a farmer mauled to death last week.


Running Out of Lives

For Cambodia, the plight of the tiger is just one more on a long list of problems. Still, it’s an issue the government does seem to be taking seriously. Sadly, it may be too late

By Brian Mockenhaupt/PHNOM PENH
Issue cover-dated June 21, 2001

WITH A DEAD MONKEY in one hand and a land mine in the other, Lain Sothy walked into the forest. He knew that if he got lucky he could earn more there in a week than in four years of farming. Picking just the right spot, he set the monkey on the mine and went away. When he returned a few days later, his prize was waiting for him: a dead tiger.

He carried the skin and bones home to dry over a fire, drawing unwanted attention. “Because the smell was so terrible, my neighbours came to my house and asked ‘What animal is that?’,” he says. Lain Sothy sold the tiger, but wildlife officials and local police, tipped off by villagers, tracked him down and gave him an ultimatum: Stop hunting or face trouble from the law.

Today, a year later, Lain Sothy is no longer hunting tigers–he’s helping to save them. The hunter-turned-ranger earns his living patrolling the forests near the border with Vietnam, educating villagers about wildlife conservation and urging fellow hunters to stop poaching endangered species.

The project is part of an impressive list of steps Cambodia is taking to save its wildlife: Helped by international groups, the government has staged sting operations to rescue tigers; an armed quick-reaction force is being assembled to break up poaching and trafficking rings; wildlife and forestry staff are using satellite navigation systems and images to pinpoint illegal activity; and the government is drafting long-awaited laws on forestry and wildlife that will be among the most thorough in Southeast Asia.

Yet the outlook for Cambodia’s tigers remains dismal. In recent years, scores have been killed by poachers and there may soon be too few to ensure a viable breeding population in the wild. Weak existing laws mean little or no punishment for hunters and wildlife traders, while many villagers have no better way to earn a living. The police and the military, meanwhile, are often involved in the trade or turn a blind eye.

Cambodia is hardly alone: Across Asia, wildlife is under threat. Habitat is being lost to logging and poorly planned development; borders are porous, making smuggling easy. And while supply is dropping, demand remains strong, pushed by a hunger–in China in particular–for rare animals for food and traditional medicines. “China and Vietnam are the Hoover vacuum cleaner for wildlife in Southeast Asia, so it’s never going to go away,” says Todd Sigaty, an environmental lawyer who helped design the new Cambodian draft laws on forestry and wildlife. “You can make some gains,” he says, “but it’s a losing battle.”

For much of the past three decades, almost nothing was known about Cambodian wildlife. The Khmer Rouge regime and 20 years of civil war closed off much of the country to biologists. But when conservation groups began exploring the country in the mid-1990s, they found encouraging signs–plenty of animals and largely intact habitats.

In 1998, the Cambodian Wildlife Protection Office and the conservation group Cat Action Treasury estimated there were between 400 and 600 tigers in Cambodia. Since then, at least 200 tigers have been killed, says Sun Hean, deputy director of the wildlife office and leader of the tiger conservation programme. Some say the tigers have now been poached past the point of no return, but Sun Hean still has hope. “The first thing we need to do is stabilize the population,” he says. “We want to maintain the population and in maybe five or 10 years it will come up a little bit, step by step.”

Turning poachers into rangers is one step. There are now 35 unarmed former hunters like Lain Sothy, who are paid about $70 per month–three times the per-capita income–and divide their time between educating villagers and watching for poachers. But though the rangers are happy with their new jobs, the problem is obvious: The government can’t afford to turn every hunter into a gamekeeper. For the bulk of impoverished rural Cambodians, the easy money from poaching is hard to resist. That’s why it’s not enough to threaten hunters with punishment, says David Smith, a professor of conservation biology who has worked on similar programmes in Nepal and Thailand. To gain community support, there must be an alternative, whether it is ecotourism, agriculture cooperatives or small loans to start businesses.

For now, poaching continues. In the Cardamom mountains of southwestern Cambodia, where 10 former hunters patrol the forests, three tigers were killed in March alone. No matter how many villagers are educated or how many hunters become rangers, wildlife officials admit there will always be someone willing to kill a tiger for money. People like the 60-year-old man dubbed the “rogue hunter” by Sun Hean. In a brief forest encounter in 1999, the man told wildlife officials he had killed 60 tigers in recent years. He pays villagers $50 if they can lead him to tracks and he earns $1,500-$2,500 for each tiger he bags.

From there the price goes up as the tiger is cut into parts and passed on from middlemen to the final buyers, who are often from outside Cambodia. A skin can fetch $900, a canine tooth goes for $125 and a claw brings $10. In one Phnom Penh shop, a tiger penis goes for $800. But the most popular parts are the bones. “If old people have rheumatism, this can help,” says Heang Lang, who keeps a stock of bones in the backroom of her family’s traditional Chinese pharmacy in Phnom Penh. The bone is slowly cooked until it is a black lump, then shaved down and put into wine or food.  The customers are mostly wealthy older people, from Korea, Taiwan and Japan. “If they don’t have money, they can’t have it, because it’s very expensive,” she says.

The bones sell for $400 a kilogram–with one tiger averaging 12 kilograms of bone. The price is high because times have changed since the store opened more than 20 years ago. Before, it was easy to find tiger bones. “Now it’s difficult,” Heang Lang says, “because they’ve killed nearly all the tigers.”

Around the corner from the pharmacy, there are shops where you can buy dozens of wildlife products–dried frogs, monkeys, antlers, entire skins of black bears–and restaurants, where you can choose from a number of animals that by law are not allowed to be sold, let alone cooked. But, as one shop owner explains, officials never come by. If they did, there’s not much they could do. Under current laws, fines range from $2.60 to just $260. It’s not illegal to possess protected wildlife, while a poacher can only be arrested if he’s caught actually killing the animal.

The new draft wildlife law introduces a permit system for possessing wildlife. It also sets jail terms of up to five years and fines of up to five times the market value of the endangered animal–a fine of more than $30,000 for a tiger. While the wildlife law is months away from being presented for passage, key parts of it were included in a draft forestry law that is due shortly to go before the National Assembly. Failure to pass it could cost Cambodia millions of dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund, which has set forestry reform as a condition for lending.

But laws are only as good as the people who implement them, and in Cambodia there have been plenty of problems, from soldiers who poach animals to border police who don’t know what to look for or are bribed to look the other way. The agencies are slowly being trained and professionalized, but salaries are so low that many soldiers and policeman turn elsewhere to supplement their incomes. For wildlife officials there is the added problem of pushing an issue that scarcely figures on the political agenda.

In recent years, conservation in Cambodia has received a huge boost from a half-dozen international wildlife groups that have set up shop here. Armed with plenty of cash, they’ve surveyed little-known areas of the country and launched community-based conservation programmes. But they also issue demands on what programmes they want to do and how they want the projects to run. Smith, who helped launch Cambodia’s tiger-conservation programme, calls it “ecocolonialism” and says the government needs to be firm in establishing its own priorities and policies.

Nonetheless, there’s agreement that Cambodia is moving in the right direction. But will it get there in time to save the last of its tigers? “I would be an absolute dreamer if I say we could save everything on the endangered list,” says Patrick Lyng, a retired United States wildlife agent and adviser to Cambodia’s government.

He adds, “If we can increase the risk of getting caught, maybe we can take some people out of the business. And if we can take some of those people out of the business, maybe we can increase the longevity of that species. I don’t know any other way to tackle it.”

Since conservationists sounded the alarm in the late 1980s about dwindling tiger populations, Asia’s biggest importers of tiger parts have been clamping down on the trade. In the past decade, China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea have all outlawed the sale of tiger parts and medicines.

But while availability has dropped in those countries, there is an active underground trade promising high prices for the coveted merchandise. That demand, along with growing markets in countries like Vietnam, is fuelling poaching throughout Southeast Asia.

Across the region, many species are threatened by habitat destruction and the wildlife trade, which has become a substantial industry. The tiger trade alone is estimated at several million dollars a year. Add turtles, birds and other wildlife, and the figure soars still higher.

China gets most of the blame. “China’s remarkable economic development over the past decade has led to a growing middle class hungry for wildlife food and medicines, as well as re-establishment of ancient trade routes between China and Southeast Asia,” says Julie Thomson of Traffic, which monitors the wildlife trade.

The 1997 financial crisis may have helped wildlife a little, lightening enough wallets in the region to make people think twice about paying forexpensive wildlife dinners or medicine. But there are still plenty of potential customers for items like tiger penis or bear paws.

“If you managed to change attitudes toward wildlife consumption in China, whether for medicine or food, you would greatly alter the conservation scene,” says Joe Walston of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “But that is a huge undertaking and a long-term undertaking.”

Many countries are trying to counter demand with protection. India, home to half the world’s estimated 5,000-7,000 tigers, has one of the most successful tiger conservation programmes. Other countries are catching up. But tiger populations in those countries are small and fragmented, making them more susceptible to being hunted out of existence.

“The future,” Walston says, “is really bleak.”

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  1. I admire what you have done here. I like the part where you say you are doing this to give back but I would assume by all the opinions that this is working for you as well.

  2. It is a pity that the statistics reflect a downward trend in numbers.
    I do not understand how the illegal trade from China is still allowed.
    As a tiger lover I am devastated.

  3. Worthwhile cause, they are such beautiful animals it would be a disaster to let them disappear from the earth. Why are some humans so arrogant they think their life is more imporant than an animals'. I want to save tigers.

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