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Posts Tagged ‘tigers’

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  New York Times has a piece entitled “Save the Tiger, Ban the Tourists.”  In what’s sure to be a battle within and outside the tourism industry, the Indian government has banned tourists from many of the country’s most popular tiger parks.

A Royal Bengal tiger yawns at the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, in this May 26, 2011 file photo.Mahesh Kumar/Associated PressA Royal Bengal tiger yawns at the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, in this May 26, 2011 file photo.

It’s a tough decision.  Tourism can raise awareness, not to mention funds, on saving and protecting tigers.  And it might stop some poaching.  But the small number of tigers in India might be better off far away from humans, even well-intentioned ones.  I had hoped to see a tiger myself in the Sariska Reserve, but wasn’t surprised that I never actually saw one of the elusive animals (especially given that only a few actually were in the park the time I went in 2009).

Here’s the full article by Heather Timmons:

India’s Supreme Court banned tourists from large swathes of the country’s popular tiger parks on Tuesday, citing states’ inability to protect the endangered animals.

Until further instructions from the court, “the core zones or core areas in the tiger reserves will not be used for tourism,” a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled, according to the Press Trust of India. The ban goes into effect immediately.

The ruling could cost India’s tourist trade millions of dollars in income but might help preserve the dwindling number of big cats in India, supporters say. India is home to about half of the world’s tiger population, an estimated 1,700, down from 100,000 in the country at the turn of the last century.

Wildlife organizations estimate there are about 3,000 tigers left in the world, down from as many as 7,000 a decade ago.

The number of visitors to India’s more than three dozen tiger parks has skyrocketed in recent years as domestic tourism increased, bringing facilities like luxury lodges with swimming pools to the edges of parks, and tourist-friendly fare like jeep safaris and New Year’s Eve parties. No building is allowed in the core areas of the parks, and states have been instructed to create buffer zones around the parks to keep human noise and traffic away from animals.

A 2010 tiger census conducted by the World Wildlife Fund in India showed an increase in the overall tiger population from 2007, but the organization also found an “an alarming decline in tiger occupancy from 36,139 to 28,108 square miles outside of protected areas” and an “increase in human-tiger conflict around tiger reserves.”

Some wildlife experts in India have previously called proposals to ban tourism in the parks “a disaster,” saying that wildlife tourism helps to protects tigers from poachers.

Not surprisingly, tour operator groups are also against any ban. “Well managed tourism can have a positive impact on tiger populations,” the group Tour Operators for Tigers said last year. “Many areas in tiger reserves which are open to tourists display the best tiger concentrations including breeding tigresses, and there are instances of tiger presence having reduced in areas after they have been closed for tourism,” the group said.

This year, the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka banned scientists who had studied animals there for years. Officials said they were removing humans from the park to give the tigers more space.

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Maharashtra State in western India is going after tiger poachers. In a somewhat shocking but perhaps necessary move, the state will no longer consider the killing of poachers a crime.  Eight tigers have already been killed this year in Maharashtra.

Last year it was reported that Maharashtra had a population of approximately 169 tigers.  Given the precarious state of big cats in India (and elsewhere), more aggressive steps are needed to protect them.  All the more reason for India to support rights of nature in its constitution.

A 2011 census counted just 1,706 tigers in the wild in India.

Read more from The Guardian about this latest effort to protect India’s tigers and other species:

Indian state to let forest guards shoot poachers on sight

Associated Press

A western Indian state has declared war on animal poaching, allowing forest guards to shoot hunters on sight to curb attacks on tigers, elephants and other wildlife.

The government in Maharashtra says injuring or killing suspected poachers will no longer be considered a crime.

A tiger in India’s Corbett national park. Photograph: AP

Forest guards should not be “booked for human rights violations when they have taken action against poachers”, the Maharashtra forest minister, Patangrao Kadam, said on Tuesday. The state will also send more rangers and jeeps into forests, and will offer secret payments to informers who give tips about poachers and animal smugglers, he said.

India has about half of the world’s estimated 3,200 tigers in dozens of wildlife reserves set up since the 1970s. But illegal poaching remains a serious threat, with tiger parts sought in traditional Chinese medicine fetching high prices on the black market.

According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India, 14 tigers have been killed by poachers in India so far this year – one more than for all of 2011. The tiger is considered endangered, with its habitat range shrinking more than 50% in the last quarter-century and its numbers declining rapidly from the 5,000-7,000 estimated in the 1990s, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Eight of this year’s tiger poaching deaths in India occurred in Maharashtra, including one whose body was found last week chopped into pieces with its head and paws missing in Tadoba tiger reserve. Forest officials have also found traps in the reserve, where about 40 tigers live.

Tiger parts used in traditional Chinese medicine are prized on the black market, but dozens of other animals are also targeted by hunters across India. Rhinos are prized for their horns and male elephants for their tusks, while other big cats such as leopards are hunted or poisoned by villagers afraid of attacks on their homes or livestock.

Encounters are rare between guards and poachers, who generally hunt the secretive and nocturnal big cats at night, according to Maharashtra’s chief wildlife warden, SWH Naqvi.

“We hardly ever come face-to-face with poachers,” he said on Wednesday, predicting few instances when guards might fire at suspects.

Instead, he predicted that the state’s offer to pay informers from a new government fund worth about 5m rupees ($90,000) would be more effective in curbing wildlife crime. “We get very few tips, so this will really help,” Naqvi said.

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2 Bengal tigers

2 Bengal tigers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I put off reading the December 2011 issue of National Geographic until just the other day, even though it had a story on saving wild tigers.  I knew it would be upsetting.  That said, it is worth a read, with superb pictures, and a little bit of hope. There is also an excellent map depicting tiger strongholds in Asia.

Author Caroline Alexander writes about how, despite international conservation efforts, tigers in the wild face the “black abyss of annihilation”.   In particular, she says:

Less acknowledged are botched conservation strategies that for decades have failed the tiger. The tiger population, dispersed among Asia’s 13 tiger countries, is estimated at fewer than 4,000 animals, though many conservationists believe there are hundreds less than that. To put this number in perspective: Global alarm for the species was first sounded in 1969, and early in the ’80s it was estimated that some 8,000 tigers remained in the wild. So decades of vociferously expressed concern for tigers―not to mention millions of dollars donated by well-meaning individuals―has achieved the demise of perhaps half of the already imperiled population. 

It is thought that tigers occupy roughly 7 percent of their former range.  Between human encroachment, habitat destruction, poverty, and poaching, it’s a wonder there are any left in the wild at all.  Tigers are one of nature’s most magnificent creatures, and it is beyond me how anyone could kill one, especially just for a few “tiger parts”.  Same with sharks and their fins.  Senseless killings.

I posted earlier this year on India’s tiger protection force and I am currently doing some outreach to folks to find out what’s taking place on the ground in India’s tiger territories. I’ll report back what I find.

And recently, I came across a blog post by the International Fund for Animal Welfare that mentioned that the organization has published two Chinese language books for young readers on elephant and tiger conservation.

The tiger story is called Run Tiger Run – The Story of a Tiger.  It is told from the point of view of a young Bengal tiger who shares his story of growing up on the Indian subcontinent and the challenges and adversities he has had to face.

The books, reportedly endorsed by many popular Chinese celebrities, “aim to motivate Chinese readers to reject products using elephant ivory and tiger bone, to have concern for the welfare of wildlife and the desire to protect them in the wild.”

There are just 50 wild tigers in all of China.

In other tiger related news, India’s Economic Times reported that India’s forests are in serious decline, both in numbers and in health.  The paper found that the Forest Survey of India had flawed methodologies and definitions.  “It’s an expansive definition, says Harini Nagendra, a researcher studying how forests in India are changing. Under it, tea and coffee plantations, orchards, parks and timber plantations, among others, qualify as forests.”  Obviously wildlife, especially tigers, need native forests for survival, not urban forests.

And a bit of good news, India’s Green Tribunal suspended environmental approval for the Posco South Korean steel company project in the state of Orissa.  The long-delayed project has faced much opposition from environmentalists and forest peoples. The tribunal ruled that the project had been given approval without fully taking into account it effect on its surroundings.  I honestly don’t know what effect it might have on tigers in Orissa, given that there are only approximately 32 tigers in the state.  But given the impact of extractive industries on communities and the environment, surely it wouldn’t be a good thing for tigers or Orissa.

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photo: hdw-inc.com

India’s first anti-poaching tiger unit is now an official entity. Time will tell if it has any teeth (no pun intended).

This Special Tiger Protection Force has its work cut out for it. Stopping poaching and hunting is not an easy task. Poaching is probably a bigger threat to tigers than even habitat loss.

The BBC reports that “The 54-member force will patrol tiger reserves in national parks straddling the borders of Karnataka, Tamil Nado and Kerala states in the south.”

There are plans for a second tiger force to operate in the state of Orissa, in eastern India. The latest tiger census reports 32 tigers in Orissa, though the government disputes this number.

Officials say the unit will deal with poachers and hunters and that unit members have received training in jungle survival and weapons use, with a special course in combat training.

Overview of India’s Tiger Population:

  • India: 1,706 (estimated)
  • Karnataka: 300
  • Madhya Pradesh: 257
  • Uttarakhand: 227
  • Maharashtra: 169
  • Andra Pradesh: 72
  • Tamil Nadu: 163
  • Assam: 143
  • Kerala: 71
  • Rajasthan: 36

There were 100,000 tigers in India at the beginning of the 20th century. Today India has over half the world’s tiger population, found mainly among 102 national parks, 515 wildlife sanctuaries, 44 conservation reserves and 4 community reserves. Protecting and preserving wildlife corridors is also key to saving India’s tigers.

Demand for tiger parts – especially skins and tiger bones used in traditional medicines – comes mainly from China. The Environmental Investigation Agency reported last year that even though Chinese Premier Wen Jiaboao promised that his country would “vigorously combat poaching, trade and smuggling of tiger products”, China appears to have quietly reopened the trade in tiger and leopard skins.

What is needed is an all-out global effort to change consumer preferences and attitudes, promote education and awareness, and enforcement of anti-poaching laws to alter the situation.  Not to mention habitat preservation. The anti-poaching unit seems like a good start.  I wish it all the success in the world.

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