Saturday, November 27, 2010

Vietnam commits to tiger conservation

Vietnam stands ready to cooperate with foreign countries and international organizations in improving tiger conservation on its own soil and the region as whole.

Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Bui Cach Tuyen made this commitment at a historic tiger conservation forum held in Saint Petersburg, Russia, from November 21-24.

The forum, hosted by Russian Prime Minister V. Putin, was the first international forum on conservation of an endangered wildlife species.

The event was attended by high-profile representatives from 13 countries home to wild tigers, namely India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, China and Vietnam. Also present were representatives of UN agencies and foreign non-governmental organisations engaged in biodiversity conservation.

At the forum, governments capped a year-long political process with about US$127 million in new funding to support the plan known as the Global Tiger Recovery Programme. The funding will include a large loan package from the World Bank to some tiger range countries and millions in additional grants from the Global Environment Facility.

The World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) committed US$50 million over the next five years on tiger conservation and set a goal of increasing that to US$85 million.

The Global Tiger Initiative was raised by the WB President in 2008 with tiger range countries committed to doubling the current wild tiger population of close to 3,200 individuals by 2022.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Protecting where the wild things are

IN MOSCOW The tale of the magnificent Siberian tiger, and its unfinished fight for survival, should be a compelling one for the 500 conservationists and world leaders arriving for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's tiger summit this weekend.

The summit on the fate of the tiger has been convened in St. Petersburg as the singular chance to keep the world's last 3,000 or so wild tigers from extinction, and the near-death experience of Russia's big, beautiful animals informs how they can be saved elsewhere.

"Russia was the first country to almost lose its tigers," said Dale Miquelle, director of the Russia program for the Wildlife Conservation Society, "and the first to bring them back. There's a long history of lessons in Russia."

Miquelle, who has been working in the Russian Far East since 1992, will attend the summit, and if asked, he knows what he would tell the dignitaries.

"Tigers need three things," he said Friday, from Vladivostok. "They need space. They need their habitat and prey protected - deer and wild boar. And they need laws against poaching vigorously enforced. It's a very simple formula. It's very doable."

Everyone seems to agree tigers - which numbered 100,000 worldwide a century ago - won't go on living unless people behave differently. But the world has never found it easy to agree on what to do about anything, and so it is with the tiger, which has inspired the imagination of humans everywhere, who see strength, fierceness and passion in the graceful cat.

In 2008, World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick organized the Global Tiger Initiative, targeting the summit in 2010 - the Chinese Year of the Tiger - as the time tiger countries would figure out a plan, now aimed at doubling the number of cats in the wild by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.

Each of the 13 tiger range countries is arriving with its own plans, and the summit - from Sunday through Wednesday - is meant to consolidate them, set a common agenda, attract financing and mobilize the political and popular will to carry them out. The United States, a major donor to tiger conservation, will be there.

So far, there's been polite disagreement about how far-reaching the plans should be, with much sentiment to go big and broad - engaging and educating communities, vastly expanding protected landscapes and restoring tigers to a much wider range than they now inhabit. Others argue that the situation is so dire that time and money should be concentrated on relatively few areas before declaring loftier ambitions.

"We want to see tigers living in large, healthy landscapes," said Barney Long, WWF tiger program manager, "not in small parks where they are vulnerable to outbreaks of poaching."

The Wildlife Conservation Society and Panthera, a conservation organization dedicated to wild cats, have proposed narrowing efforts, and WCS has suggested 42 sites where tigers should be protected.

Joe Walston, director of WCS-Asia, says that with 70 percent of the world's tigers fairly concentrated - including 18 "source sites" in India, eight in Malaysia and six in Russia - money should be aimed at monitoring and strengthening law enforcement to stop poaching in such areas.

Broader attempts are too risky, warns Luke Hunter, Panthera's executive vice president. "If you start talking about infrastructure and saying a dam can't be built unless it doesn't harm tigers, that's all good," he said. "The problem is we don't have time for it. Educating communities is a good thing, but by the time the children have grown up, the tigers will be gone."

Zoellick contends that those points of view are less contradictory than they appear. "We all agree that if you don't preserve the core population, there's nothing to talk about," he said, but at the same time those populations need room to roam.

Somehow, the WWF says, everyone will agree, because they must if there's any hope of saving the tiger. "The impediment will be financing," said Mike Baltzer, head of WWF's Tigers Alive initiative. "We're hoping donors will step up."

Strong anti-poaching laws and financing strict enforcement will be on Russia's agenda as it hosts the summit. Russia has watched tigers decline or prosper as laws and police weakened or grew powerful.

Its Siberian tiger - the Amur tiger - once roamed the forests and mountains of the Russian Far East by the hundreds. But hunting and trade destroyed them, and by 1940, when Lev Kaplanov, the director of a Russian nature preserve, did the first scientific count, he found only 20 to 30.

By 1948, the Soviet government had outlawed tiger hunting and there was little means or reason to violate the law.

Guns were strictly controlled, the border with China was very much closed, preventing trafficking, and the sale of tiger parts was prohibited. By the late 1980s, perhaps 400 were on the prowl.

"There was no incentive to poach," Miquelle said, "and it largely ended."

As the Soviet Union slowly crumbled into chaos, however, those controls disappeared, replaced by a poverty that encouraged hunting and a ready market in nearby China, where tiger parts are valued for folk medicine. Now 20 to 30 tigers are poached in Russia every year, and Miquelle fears for the future of the 500 Siberians thought to be left. Few die of old age.

Just Monday, anti-poaching police in the Russian Far East stopped a truck in the Khasan region near the border with China and North Korea. They found a tiger carcass inside and arrested four people on poaching charges.

Miquelle mourned the dead tiger but rejoiced in the arrests.

"If we can't protect the tiger, we can't protect the natural resources we rely on," he said. "If we can save the big cats, we can save ourselves."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

“Reduced to skin and bones” shows tigers under pressure

The WWF, based in Gland, near Geneva, says the world’s endangered tigers remain under pressure, with India, China and Nepal showing the worst poaching problems. In the past century the number of tigers worldwide has fallen from an estimated 100,000 to just 3,200. The WWF is a member of Traffic (wildlife trade monitoring network), whose “Reduced to Skin and Bones” report released 9 November shows that “from January 2000 to April 2010, parts of between 1,069 and 1,220 tigers were seized in 11 of the 13 tiger range countries—or an average of 104 to 119 animals per year.”

The report is published ahead of a meeting at the end of November of heads of government of tiger range countries to sign the Global Tiger Recovery Programme, a plan that aims to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022. The programme aims to push harder to reduce poaching and illegal trade, but also to reduce the demand for tiger parts.

Tigers are coveted for their use in traditional medicines, decoration, and as good luck charms.

Poachers sell “complete skins, skeletons and even whole animals—live and dead, through to bones, meat, claws, teeth, skulls, penises and other body parts,” says the WWF.

Pauline Verheij, joint Traffic and WWF tiger trade programme manager and an author of the report, says that “with parts of potentially more than 100 wild tigers actually seized each year, one can only speculate what the true numbers of animals are being plundered.”

India, which has the largest number of tigers, also accounted for the largest number of seizures, parts representing as many as 533 tigers, with seizures in China and Nepal accounting for nearly equal numbers of roughly 130 tigers in each country.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chinese habitats of wild Siberian tigers expand

After two oxen were eaten in Sandaowan Town, Yanji, Jilin province, experts from Beijing Forestry University have proved through DNA analysis that the predator was a wild Siberian tiger. This was the first signs of activity of Siberian tigers discovered in Yanji in nearly 10 years. Experts believe this implies an increasingly evident trend that the habitats of wild Siberian tigers are expanding from the China-Russia border areas to include China's inland areas.

It is known that wild Siberian tigers mainly live in Russia's Far East and China's Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces. Of them, 430 to 500 live in Russia and about 20 in China.

Located at the junction of China, Russia and North Korea, Jilin's Huichun is the most concentrated area of wild Siberian tigers and serves as an ecological passage for the free migration of wild Siberian tigers between China and Russia.

Lang Jianmin, director of the Publicity and Education Center of the Huichun Siberian Tiger Conservation Zone Bureau, said that thanks to China's intensified protection of wild Siberian tigers over the recent years, poaching activities have dropped considerably and the number of ungulates is on the rise. The living environment of wild Siberian tigers is improving and the annual frequency of discovering wild Siberian tigers has increased.

During recent years, the number of wild Siberian tigers in the Huichun Siberian Tiger Conservation Zone has grown to five or six from the original three or five. The signs of activity of wild Siberian tigers in Yanji perhaps imply the expansion of their habitats from the border areas to include China's inland areas.

Qiao Heng, vice director of Jilin Provincial Forestry Department, said that over recent years, Jilin Province has expanded the Siberian Tiger preservation areas based on the Huichun Siberian Tiger Conservation Zone to offer wild Siberian tigers more habitats.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tiger Habitat Saved From Logging

There are an estimated 350-500 Siberian, or Amur tigers, remaining in the wild. In captivity there are another 400 or so. In the late 1940s, that number was down to twenty, and the species was very close to extinction.
Various conservation projects, including captive breeding programs were successful in staving off extinction and growing the populations, however research last year uncovered an alarming fact. The Amur wild tiger population shows very little genetic diversity, due to their small numbers and isolation, which means in the future they could be subject to diseases caused by inbreeding. The effective population, or number of individuals with genetic diversity, was only 27 to 35 tigers for the main population living in Russia. A second population of twenty living in China was shown to have an effective population of 2.8 to 11.

The genetic diversity research is very important on its own, but a new development had threatened to put more pressure on wild Siberian Tigers. The Russian government announced plans to auction logging rights to begin cutting down trees in Siberian tiger habitat. Logging was also scheduled for Sredneussuriysky Nature Reserve, which was reported to be the last natural wild corridor of habitat for the tigers which links their populations in Russia and China. The World Wildlife Fund protested via a press conference, and the media ran news stories about the plan for logging in the endangered cat’s shrinking habitat. So far their pressure has kept the logging at bay. One never knows exactly in such cases, if the project has been halted temporarily or permanently as not much information has come out since the cancellation.

The halting of the logging is a victory for environmentalists and tiger supporters. Some of them will be traveling to Russia soon to attend the Tiger Preservation Summit in St. Petersburg. Officials from countries where the tigers live are planning to attend the conference in order to share information and strategize about how to continue protecting them. There has been some speculation fewer representatives of the countries will attend due to being offended by the near logging of the imperiled animals habitat.

Just this past August, China and Russia came to an agreement which created a protected area linking the two isolated tiger populations. “This agreement is a great boost for Amur tiger habitats in Russia and China. Since both countries play a crucial role in terms of global tiger recovery, a future transboundary network would represent a big step in WWF’s global tiger conservation effort,” said Dr. Sergey Aramilev, Biodiversity Coordinator for Amur Branch of WWF-Russia. (Source: