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Archive for the ‘Tigers’ Category

Bengal Tiger [photo credit: Ali Arsh, https://www.flickr.com/photos/76877186@N06/8258715760]

Bengal Tiger [photo credit: Ali Arsh, https://www.flickr.com/photos/76877186@N06/8258715760%5D

Here’s a disturbing fact about the state of the world’s Bengal tigers:

One of the world’s largest populations of tigers exists not in the wild—but in captivity in the United States. With an estimated 5,000 tigers, the U.S. captive tiger population exceeds the approximately 3,200 tigers in the wild.

Is this the future of our beloved wild animals? If animals aren’t being poached or crowded out of natural habitat, too many are being hunted for trophies or to keep as “pets,” with often disastrous consequences.

Many people may love animals, but as a species, humans are doing a terrible job protecting them. The New York Times recently ran an op-ed that noted that an elephant is killed every 14 minutes.

As for tigers, with July 29 noted as International Tiger Day, their outlook is becoming bleaker and bleaker. At the turn of the 20th century, there were 100,000 tigers roaming the wilds. Today, there are at best 3,200, most of them in India, which will soon be the most populous nation in the world. And it is intent, understandably so, on developing its economy, which means less habitat for tigers and other animals.

The United Nations just reported that the current global population of 7.3 billion is forecast to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, slightly above the last set of U.N. projections. Most growth will happen in developing regions, particularly Africa, where many species are at great risk.

 

Shrinking tiger habitat [WWF]

Shrinking tiger habitat [WWF]

Global society should be doing everything possible to protect tigers. If this majestic animal cannot withstand the human onslaught, what species can?   Certainly elephants, rhinos, giraffes, chimpanzees, and gorillas are losing the battle in Africa, as are orangutans in Indonesia, pandas in China and lemurs in Madagascar.

It makes one shudder to think of Earth without these creatures in the wild, yet we continue with business as usual, plundering the planet for the last remaining bits of coal and drops of oil, searching for rare earth metals to power our lives, oblivious to the true cost of the way we live.

There are efforts that can be taken to change course. At the top is stabilizing human population growth – which can be done voluntarily with investments in maternal and newborn health, providing health care for families – especially contraception, supporting girl’s education, ending child marriage, and promoting women’s empowerment.   This is the “low-hanging fruit” – things that should be done and can be, at a relatively low cost.

Protecting tigers and other species also calls for changing a global economic system dependent upon constant and unsustainable growth.   This is definitely a more difficult task, but there are numerous organizations, academics, and other experts working on alternatives. And now we have Pope Francis calling for an economic system that supports the poor and protects the environment.

Of course there is much to be done. It really boils down to a paradigm shift – recognizing that nature has rights and that it isn’t here for humans to use and abuse and to provide us entertainment. There are consequences to our actions, and if we as a global society allow species that are an important part of the web of life to disappear in the wild, we might be changing it to our detriment.

We need to rethink/re-envision our relationship with Nature.

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This week India began its country-wide tiger census, which is held once every four years.  Over seven days, experts will be tracking tigers to see if numbers have increased from the official figure of 1,706 as reported by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

Though hopes are high that tiger numbers have increased, the reality is that poaching is on the increase.  The Wildlife Protection Society of India reported that the poaching of tigers in 2013 is at a seven-year high.  As the year comes to a close, 39 deaths due to poaching have been recorded in India (and while the total number of tiger deaths is less than the 76 for 2013, versus 89 last year, the increase in poaching is alarming).

[photo credit: simple.wikipedia.org ]

[photo credit: simple.wikipedia.org ]

India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests has said that proximity of human settlement with tiger habitats is a major reason for poaching. There are about 762 villages with 48,549 families in the core/critical tiger habitats across the country (and, I would add, in my non-expert opinion, that high demand from China and other Asian nations is probably the major reason).

A research study published last month in the journal PLOS ONE found that human settlements and intervention are negatively impacting tiger movements.   Many tigers are found in small, protected parks in India, and their survival depends on improving and increasing the connectivity between these areas via tiger corridors.  Tigers can go 650 kilometers between protected areas, so creating wildlife corridors are just as important as having tiger reserves.

These isolated protected areas are too small to even hold demographically viable populations of tigers.  The report’s authors stated that adult tigers live in areas that are less than 7 percent of their historical range.

Having just been in Kanha National Park, in central India, and seeing the number of villages and people surrounding it, I was unsurprised to hear of the impact of humans on tigers.  The reality in India and many other places is that there are simply a lot of people and dwindling wild lands.

chitvan village

Local village outside Kanha National Park, MP, India [photo credit: Suzanne York]

But that’s the situation in which we have to work.  And it’s important that local people are vested in protecting nature.

Valmik Thapar, a tiger conservationist, said in a recent interview that India should look to Africa for the best innovative wildlife tourism model to conserve wildlife.  “We should learn from Africa. Their wildlife policies allow locals to manage a large part of the land for wildlife.  We don’t even match up to the ‘A’ of Africa when it comes to preserving and conserving our wildlife.”

The pressure from the illegal trade in animals is enormous, and add to that human encroachment, habitat loss, development, and economic globalization and it will take all hands on deck to save tigers.  Even the best conservation models in Africa are struggling in the face of rampant poaching of elephants and rhinos.

It is in the world’s interest to help protect the remaining tigers in what little habitat remains for them.   Cracking down on poaching (especially international syndicates) and an all-out education program (see this example in China) in countries that consume trafficked animal parts must be top priorities.

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[Last month I spent a couple of weeks in India, there mainly for a Global Exchange rights of nature study tour.  I managed to squeeze in a safari trip to Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh just prior to the study tour.]

As an “outsider,” nothing really prepares you for the India experience.  I’ve now been to the sub-continent four times, and each time I have to relearn the pandemonium that is India.

Indiachaos

Agra

The sights – cows in the road, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, begging mothers, horse and cart, dogs, goats, pedestrians; I’m sure I’m leaving one or two things out.  The sounds – car horns, truck horns, rickshaw horns, firecrackers, dogs barking…did I mention the horns?

I spent my initial days (escaping the chaos that is Delhi) at a lodge outside Kanha National Park in central India, in hopes of seeing a wild tiger.  Getting there was one of my more brutal car ride experiences, and believe me, I’ve had my fair share.  I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep or lack of food that made this four hour trip from the Raipur airport to my lodge especially taxing, but the roads certainly left a lot to be desired.

Funny how you can look at a map and assume what looks like a major road would be paved and not full of potholes the size of boulders.  Silly me.  My driver was 25 years old and his age belied his driving experience.  He was top-notched.  How he missed hitting the hundreds of cows, and potholes, in the road is beyond me.  And not just cows, but goats, dogs, children, motorcyclists, trucks, buses, and other cars.  I will never complain about drivers in California again (okay, that’s probably not true, but I will do so with an asterisk for India).

When we finally got to the Chitvan Jungle Lodge, it was a little piece of heaven.  A small posse came out to greet me and gather my belongings which had scattered in the backseat of the car.  After I settled in to my gorgeous room, I had a lunch fit for a king – an Indian sampler platter of locally-farmed organic ingredients.  The pumpkin was particularly tasty.   Almost everything I ate while at the lodge was delicious.

tiger best shot

a lone male bengal tiger

The highlight of my trip, and certainly my year, was sighting a tiger while on jeep safari.   I only saw the one, out of a total of three safari excursions, but what an experience!  It was a very emotional moment.  I was of course thrilled to see a tiger, but mixed into that feeling was an overwhelming sadness that this species may be wiped off the Earth forever, possibly in my lifetime.  How someone can poach such a beautiful and majestic animal is beyond my comprehension.

Of course there were plenty of other animals to see, including monkeys, spotted deer (there are so many you become blasé about seeing them), barasingha (swamp deer), peacocks, hawk eagles, jungle fowl, and even a python.  It’s also a beautiful park, especially at sunrise and sunset.

barasingha

barasingha

It was rejuvenating to be at Kanha, after the polluted grey skies of Delhi.  (Ironically, there are billboards and signs all over about planting trees to keep Delhi green.  Right now it’s an uphill battle.)  My time there was all too short, but it was worth the journey.

My short visit also reinforced my deep belief that humans should do everything possible to protect wild tigers and increase their numbers. People and tigers must find a way to co-exist.  Humans are part of the web of life; we do not own it.  More to come on this.

Kanha National Park

Kanha National Park

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When it comes to tigers, you have to look hard to find good news.  Usually what you hear about is how many tigers have been poached in (insert name of any Indian tiger reserve).

But I came across this article below and wanted to share it, as it focuses on educating youth.  We adults have done a  great job at allowing the degradation of the global ecosystem, which is threatening the web of life. And of course it is today’s youth that could inherit a world without tigers.  Any effort that gets them involved is a positive step.

In this case, the mobile phone company Aircel teamed up with Kids for Tigers, an environmentally-inclined education program, to bring a small group of young adults to Ranthambore National Park, home to 50 tigers.

If we are going to save tigers, and the rest of the natural world, it is imperative that youth get out into nature and learn first-hand whenever possible.  You can learn a lot about tigers on an iPad; you can be motivated and passionate about saving them if you happen to come close to one.

Read on for a little hope.

Future tiger saviours shaped in India

June 16, 2013

Gulf News

Sawai Madhopur: Miles away from their classrooms, playstations and social networking sites, a group of teenaged students from eight cities got a hands-on experience of how to save India’s national animal, the tiger, from the manifold evils that threaten its existence today. Awakened and determined, the group vowed to spread the message.

“I always thought that humans are afraid of tigers but now I have realised it’s the other way round… it’s we who are a threat to them,” Bhoomika S, a student of Sindhi Public School, Bangalore, said, adding that it was the love of spiders and tigers that brought her to the wildlife camp.

“This workshop was an eye-opener for all of us… I’ll make sure to pass on the information and educate my friends and families back home,” the Class 11 student said.

The three-day knowledge workshop-cum-national camp, titled Kids for Tigers, was organised by mobile telephony provider Aircel. An annual event, it is a part of the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative – Save Our Tigers – at the Ranthambore National Park.

A tiger crosses the road in Ranthambore National Park where children learn of the importance of the fierce predator. Image credit: AFP

It operates in conjunction with Kids for Tigers, an environmentally-inclined education programme run by Sanctuary Asia magazine in schools across India to sensitise children on the plight of the tiger and the environment as a whole. The annual camps began four years ago after Aircel came on board and the eight participants are selected by Sanctuary Asia on the basis of competitions and other events in the eight cities.

For 16-year-old Shimanshu Agrawal, the experience was “unforgettable” as he realised how the whole ecosystem depends on the tiger’s survival.

“The tiger is on top of the food chain, if we don’t save him, the whole ecosystem will be destroyed,” said the only participant from Rajasthan, a student of Bharti Public School in Sawai Madhopur district, which houses the Ranthambore National Park.

“Poaching, deforestation and human settlements are just some of the issues threatening the tiger. I live near the national park and I believe I can educate the people who really matter,” he added.

The participating children came from cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore, and the camp saw activities like park safaris, film screenings and interactive sessions with well-known conservationists and public figures on the conservation of tigers.

Bittu Sehgal, environmentalist and chief of Sanctuary Asia, said that it was of paramount importance that the youngsters are educated about the issue as it is the generation of tomorrow that will lead the nation.

India is home to the world’s largest tiger population, with 1,706 living in the wild across 42 tiger reserves. But the figure is almost a 10th of what it was half a century ago.

Tiger conservation in India began in 1973 with the launch of Project Tiger. Over the years, there has been excellent recovery of the habitat and consequent increase in the tiger population in the reserve areas – from a mere 268 in nine reserves in 1972 to 1,706 in 42 tiger reserves in 2012.

“We need to sensitise the children about the cause,” Sehgal said.

He said his organisation has reached out to hundreds of schools across the country since it first began educating children way back in 2000.

“We are now focussing on children living around national parks because they are the closest to the tigers… we just tell them not to cut trees and save the forest and the tiger will be saved automatically,” Sehgal added.

The consistent hard work has paid off, Sehgal said.

“I am seeing a change now: children these days are aware of the problems that the tiger is facing… they know the basics and just need help with the solution,” he said.

Agreed Brinda Malhotra, Head of CSR at Aircel, who has been associated with Save Our Tigers since its inception in 2008.

“People are realising that they need to give the tigers space and the villagers are willing to move away from national parks,” Malhotra said.

“On our part, we have set up rapid response teams in tiger reserves that provide immediate help to a sick or an injured tiger… we train and counsel communities living near tiger reserves and have also started compensating villagers whose cattle are killed by tigers,” she added.

The Ranthambore National Park is spread over 650sq km and has approximately 50 tigers, including 22 cubs.

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photo: indiapicks.com

On the same day that India’s Supreme Court lifted its ban on tourism in the core areas of the country’s tiger reserves,  the Indian government committed $50 million toward conservation efforts during the Convention on Biological Diversity summit.

Regarding tigers, tourism will now be permitted in 20 percent of the core areas of India’s 41 tiger sanctuaries.  The Court asked state governments to draw up conservation plans that follow the guidelines prepared by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

Under the new rules, no new tourism infrastructure would be created and all permanent structures would be gradually removed from the core tiger habitat.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority has also just proposed the creation of six new tiger reserves. Which would range from Uttar Pradesh to Goa to Tamil Nadu.

As for the $50 million pledge towards biodiversity efforts by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, it will be invested both domestically and shared with other developing nations that are struggling to cover the costs of protecting their own biodiversity.  It is also hoped that this will spur similar commitments from rich countries like the U.S.

For now, it seems like things are proceeding in the right direction for tigers.  But the pressure on tigers and other species are enormous.

Below is an excerpt from an op-ed in The Hindu newspaper by Tarsh Thekaekara, who is a biodiversity conservation researcher in India.  I think it succinctly captures the challenges facing India, and until the country comes to terms with its development priorities, the future may not look so bright for animals, or villagers:

India is home to three of the world “biodiversity hotspots,” the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka region, the Himalayas and the Indo-Burma region. The Western Ghats are currently being ripped apart by large-scale legal and illegal mining, large development projects and even private hills stations like Lavasa. The hills have recently witnessed a very comprehensive conservation prioritisation and planning exercise by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), which suggests an intelligent and democratic zonation plan with varying levels of exploitation. But most politicians object to the recommendations of the panel, arguably driven by kickbacks from the extractive industries or a short-sighted approach to “development.” Vast tracts of the Indo-Burma hotspot will be submerged by a series of dams, supposedly to cater to India’s ever expanding power needs. 

…India’s two main flagship programmes ― “Project Elephant” and “Project Tiger,” have been in place for a few decades now. Though their success is debated, they have been doing a reasonably good job of protecting these two species. But India Inc is now catching up with our charismatic beasts. Central India, globally recognised as one of India’s best metapopulation of tigers, is being carved up for coal mining. A proposal for an Elephant reserve in Chhattisgarh never saw the light of day since there is coal under the elephant forests. India’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) and the Minister of Environment and Forest (MoEF) have been fighting desperately to stop the indiscriminate industrial expansion into India’s natural forests. But both the FAC and MoEF were chastised for “slowing down India’s galloping economy.”

Thekaekara ends by saying that in terms of biodiversity loss (what he refers to here as an underlying driver),  “The question now is whether India is going to honestly identify what this underlying driver is and make a serious effort to balance the development versus nature battle.”

He seems hopeful that the government is indeed making serious efforts at this.  Of course, time will tell if this is true.  The fate of tigers, other species, and a way of life for many people are at stake.

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The headline from an Indian newspaper tells us all we really need to know: 69 tigers die in 9 months; only 1,706 left.

India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority (NCTA)  just announced that tiger deaths are on the rise and that 69 of them having been killed or died naturally in the past nine months.  This is a five-fold increase as compared to 2011.

“While 41 tigers were killed due to poaching or in road-hits and other accidents, the other 28 were natural deaths,” said Rajiv Sharma, an assistant inspector-general with NCTA.  He reported that the maximum number of tiger deaths took place in Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

These deaths have brought down India’s tiger count to 1,706.  This includes 61 tigers at the Kanha reserve, 143 at Corbett National Park, 22 in and around the Tadoba reserve, 65 at Mudumalai and 40 at Ranthambore tiger reserve.  (However, in some good news, Sariska Reserve now has two new cubs, bringing its total number of tigers to seven.  This is something, since only a few years ago no tigers were at Sariska, due to poaching).

Minister of state for environment and forests Jayanthi Natarajan said  “The anthropogenic pressure on our forests and wildlife is much more than ever before due to the thrust on economic growth and creation of more jobs.”  That’s a bit of an understatement.

New guidelines on tourism have been proposed by the Indian government, which, if accepted, would see the ban relaxed, but India’s Supreme Court once again postponed its decision to review the proposed guidelines and determine whether they are sufficient to lift the ban.

The ban has so far had a limited impact, but this month marks the start of the tiger tourism season and the real pain of the ban could be felt.  The Supreme Court is due to hold another hearing on October 9th.  There are concerns, especially from those in the tourism industry, that a final court decision could be delayed, partly due to the complexity of the issues, and India’s convoluted legal system.

Personally, I’m concerned that nothing concrete is going to happen.  Tiger numbers will continue to decline, and people dependent upon tourism for their livelihoods will also suffer.

If you read the New York Times or National Geographic, you  might have seen several stories on the poaching of elephants for the ivory trade.  Much of it goes to China and Southeast Asia.  Same with tiger parts.

India needs to do a better job protecting its tigers, with support from the international community.  But as with the African elephants, education needs to be front and center where animal parts are sought after, especially in China. We know what needs to be done, though it may not be easy or cheap.  Poaching needs to end, there must be more enforcement, plus viable economic opportunities provided to poor communities, educational efforts in places where people buy poached parts, and more protected areas and corridors, to name a few.

Ultimately the tiger ban is a good thing, but as I’ve written before, it could  be in only certain parks, with some tourism allowed in others.  There needs to be a balance between people and nature, but nature needs to be given a fair chance.

The Rights of Nature movement is active in India, with Dr. Vandana Shiva and her organization Navdanya gathering over 100,000 signatures in support of these rights.  You can watch her presentation on rights of nature at this summer’s UN Rio+20 Earth Summit.

Conservation efforts alone aren’t enough.  It’s time to do more and take serious action for the sake of tigers and all species – including people – before tigers are poached out of India.

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The Indian Supreme Court has extended the ban on tourism in core tiger reserves until September 27th.

In the meantime, the Indian central government has been asked by the court to work with states and stakeholders (namely tour operators, hotels, and guides) to develop new guidelines on ecotourism in the tiger reserves.

The traditional start of the peak tourist season is October 1st.  The current ban affects more than 40 tiger reserves.

The Travel Operators’ for Tigers, an organization dedicated to responsible travel, said in a press release, “If nothing else, the ban has been an effective catalyst for everyone to debate the issues associated with wildlife tourism and conservation practices, and help bring it to much needed national attention – and action.”

Debate is good. The next month will most likely have many discussions on whether or not tourism deters poaching or can be detrimental to the tigers.  There are many examples of each.  And there are instances of things going to far. Ajay Dubey, the original petitioner of the ban, believes several Indian states have permitted the construction of hotels and shops inside the reserves, which shouldn’t be allowed.

Hopefully constructive talks will be held, and effective guidelines put in place.  The focus must be on how best to protect tigers.

Perhaps the idea of leaving some parks closed to tourism will be on the agenda; maybe it has already been discussed. Leave open some of the most popular and accessible parks, such as Rathambore and Corbett National Parks.  Continue the ban in others to see if it makes a difference.  And find ways to provide sustainable livelihoods for local peoples.

The battle to save tigers – not only in India but internationally – has not been all that successful, given the continued downward spiral in the number of wild tigers.  New approaches need to be undertaken.  Education is key, and also ways of making it more valuable to leave the tigers alone than to poach them out of existence.

Passing a Rights of Nature ordinance is another innovative approach.  Tigers and other species don’t exist for humans entertainment or use; we are all part of the same web of life and we disturb it at our own risk.

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