Cat News Nr 41


Skin and Bones

Nearly 20 years ago suspicion arose that tigers were being poached in India for bones for use in Chinese medicine. In the early 1990s that was confirmed by seizures in the world-famous Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, when many of its well-known tiger disappeared. The skin trade, which was at its height in the 1960s, before India’s tigers were protected, appeared to have died down (but not ended) as a result of the launch of Project Tiger, and the impact of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which cut demand in the western world for skins for carpets and wall hangings, as well as for coats. For illegal traders it was more difficult to indulge in clandestine trade in skins rather than in bones, particularly because tiger bones can be concealed in the legal trade in animal bones for fertiliser and other uses. The new emphasis on bones was shown when tiger remains found in forests often included skins, while bones had been taken.

Seizures in recent years, however, have increasingly included skins of tigers and leopards. In fact, skins of leopards, of which there is a thriving population in India, far outnumbered those of tigers. For some time it was a mystery where they were going.But in recent years truckloads of professionally-treated skins have been found en route for Nepal, from which illegal trade to Tibet flourishes. The report from the London-based Environment Intelligence Agency (EIA), which is briefly summarised in this issue of Cat News (p. 21), provides a vivid picture of the end-use of the skins in Tibet and China. It also shows how much of the illegal trade goes on, from tanning factories, sometimes almost under the eyes of the police, and by transport to the primary routes on which they are taken into Tibet.The Wildlife Protection Society of India and the Wildlife Trust of India have done excellent work in assisting the authorities to track down poachers and traders, and to bring them before the courts. But the courts tend not to take the offences very seriously; according to the EIA 748 cases involving skins resulted in only 14 convictions. The accused easily get bail – and are sometimes found continuing their illegal activities while temporarily free – and sentences are inadequate. One notorious trader, Sansar Chand, who has had over a dozen charges filed against him since 1972, has been freed on bail after being sentenced to five years’ imprisonment earlier this year. A member of a tribe which has traditionally specialised in wildlife trade, Sansar Chand has prospered. A few years ago he arrived, smartly dressed, in a five-star Delhi hotel to be interviewed by an American TV network. He has been able to engage some of India’s leading lawyers to fight the cases against him.

Despite pressure from the CITES Secretariat on India, Nepal and China to strengthen control on poaching and illegal trade, progress has been limited. There is little cooperation and inadequate exchange of information between India, Nepal and China that would enable them to be more effective. Tibetans are an important factor in the trade. Thousands took refuge in Nepal, and also in India, to escape Chinese domination. Many still have links across the frontier, and they turn up among the arrested. After Tibetans were found involved in the first large seizure of tiger bones (400 kg in Delhi in 1993), the Dalai Lama issued a statement drawing attention to Buddhist reverence for life, and calling on his community to refrain from the illegal wildlife trade. His call does not seem to have had much effect. The EIA recommends that India, Nepal and China should establish, and fully support, effective multi-agency enforcement units to fight the illegal trade, and cooperate to track down trade networks and prosecute the bosses; that China should sweep markets and confiscate all tiger, leopard and otter skins and garments made from them; and that the international community should provide technical and financial assistance to the three countries.

It is clear that China, with its economic advance and growing wealth, is becoming more and more of a drain on its Asian neighbours’ wildlife, using it for gourmet foods and luxury goods. India’s wildlife is being drained. Seizures of skins in China in the past 18 months have shown that the authorities are taking some action, but unless the Chinese government stamps more severely on the trade it will be difficult for India to halt the drain. Nepal, sandwiched between the two great countries, poor, and the main channel for illegal trade, is, unfortunately, weakened by the Maoist insurgency, and may have difficulty in providing the necessary support to combat the trade. 

Peter Jackson

New Photographs of the Andean Cat in Argentina: Have we Found a Viable Population? by Mauro Lucherini, Juan Carlos Huaranca, Simona Savini, Gabriela Tavera, Estela Luengos Vidal and María José Merino

Since its study was included in the list of priority projects of the Cat Specialist Group Action Plan in 1996, the Andean cat Oreailurus jacobita has been the subject of an increasing research effort. Its presence has been confirmed, mainly through genetic analysis of faecal samples and skins in possession of local people, in a number of new sites of the high-altitude Andes of Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Chile, and the first data have been collected on its natural history (Sanderson 1999, Lucherini & Luengos 2003, Perovic et al. 2003).

Lions, Leopards, Hyaenas and Man With his Livestock by Fumi Mizutani

Despite decades of habitat loss, the East African region is still unrivalled in its diversity and abundance of large mammals. There is therefore great potential for mutually damaging conflicts between wildlife and people. This potential has often been realised in the form of competition for grazing and wildlife predation of domestic livestock. And as pressure for land becomes more intense it is sure to increase.

Life-long Identification Microchips in Leopards Caught in Conflict Areas in Maharashtra, India by Aniruddha V. Belsare, Vidya R. Athreya, Sanjay T. Thakur and Sujoy Chaudhuri

Incidences of conflict between humans and carnivores are likely to increase in the years to come because of increasing human pressure on natural habitats. Junnar, a human-dominated region in western Maharashtra, India (Athreya et al., 2004 for map), faced severe man-leopard conflict in 2001. About 50 people were attacked and 80 leopards were trapped in this region between 2001 and 2003 (Junnar Forest Department records).

First Record of Leopard in Kazakhstan by Vladimir Shakula

Between 3 and 5 January 2000, an old male leopard (Panthera pardus tullianus Valenciennses, 1856) was killed by a local hunter in a chance sighting in a forest on the banks of the Talas river, near the town of Toguskem (43o55’N/70o25’E). This area is in the Mujunkum desert. The carcass had been stripped, the fangs broken, the head discarded and the hide given to the regional administrator.

Distribution and Status of the Sri Lankan Leopard – A Short Report By Anjali Watson and Andrew Kittle

The leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) is the largest of four wild cat species recorded in Sri Lanka, where it is the island’s only big cat and its top predator. This population has evolved geographically separated from the mainland species P.p. fusca and is now recognized as one of the nine subspecies of Panthera pardus currently extant in the world (Miththapala et al. 1996; Uphyrkina et al. 2001). This isolation and subsequent subspeciation further heightens the endangered status of this island.

Amur Leopard Conservation Update by Michiel Hotte

Encouraging results from Amur leopard population monitoring During the 2003/2004 winter season the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Institute for Sustainable Use of Natural Resources carried out a second camera-trapping survey in the Amur leopard range in southwest Primorye in the Russian Far East. Although the area covered this time was smaller than during the previous survey, the results were very encouraging: a total of 13 different individual leopards appeared on the photographs, whereas only 10 different individuals were identified in the same area the previous year.

Spate of Tiger and Leopard Skin Seizures by Belinda Wright

Between 21 June and 10 July this year, 10 tiger skins, 25 leopard skins, four sacks of fresh tiger bones, and the claws of 31 tigers and leopards were seized in 11 cases throughout India and Nepal. The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) was instrumental in five of these cases and we have been stretched to our limit working with enforcement authorities.

Saving Snow Leopards in Pakistan Should local communities be involved? by Brad Rutherford

One of the most effective ways to protect wildlife is by giving local communities a “say” in the development of conservation programs. A new animal husbandry program in Chitral, Pakistan, provides a great example of how combining good science and community ideas can lead to a new approach to saving snow leopards.

Miandasht: New Hope for Cheetahs in Iran by Mohammad Farhadinia and Hossein Absalan

Located near the city of Jajarm in North Khorasan province, north-eastern Iran, Miandasht Wildlife Refuge is a recently confirmed cheetah habitat in Iran. Since 1973 Miandasht (85,000 ha) has been under protection to conserve its rich biodiversity, particularly the Asiatic cheetah Acinonyx jubatus venaticus, Persian gazelle Gazella subgutturosa and Asiatic wild ass Equus hemionus onager.

A New Approach to Cheetah Identification by E.V.Chelysheva

The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is considered to be one of the most threatened cat species in Africa (IUCN Red List status: C2a(i); CITES: Appendix I). The total number in sub-Saharan Africa has been estimated at 9,000-12,000 (Nowell & Jackson 1996). The two largest meta-populations are now believed to occur in eastern Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) and southern Africa (Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia). (Nowell & Jackson 1996).

The Oncilla in Amazonia: Unraveling a Myth by Tadeu G. de Oliveira

The oncilla or little spotted cat (Leopardus tigrinus), with an average weight of 2.4 kg (Oliveira & Cassaro 1999) is slightly larger than the guigna/kodkod (Leopardus guigna) and is the smallest cat found in Brazil and tropical America. Although the subject of some recent studies, the species still remains one of the least known cats in Brazil and South America, along with the Andean cat (Oreailurus jacobita)and pampas cat (Oncifelis colocolo) (Nowell & Jackson 1996, Oliveira in press A). This felid is one of the species locally known in northern Brazil as gato-maracajá, or maracajá-í, gato-do-mato (Portuguese) or maracaiápuí and iauamaracaí, by the Ka’apor and Awa-Guaja Indians, respectively. Even though the oncilla presents a broad geographical distribution in South America, it has been the subject of several pre-conceptions due to the limited knowledge available. One of these is the questioning of its occurrence in the Amazon basin (e.g. Nowell & Jackson 1996, Emmons & Feer 1997). In this report present evidences of the oncilla’s presence in Amazonia.

Human Consumption of Wild Cats in Eastern Ghats of India by Shekhar Kolipakar

The Eastern Ghats are located between 11o30‘ & 22°N and 76o 50‘ & 86o 30‘ E in a north-east to south-west strip. They are spread through three states of India: Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu and cover an area of about 75,000 km2, with an average width of 200 km in the north and 100 km in the south. They extend over a length of 1,750 km between the rivers Mahanadi and Vaigainal along the east coast. (Pullaiah T., Muralidhara Rao D., 2002).

The Cat Specialist Group at CITES CoP13 by Kristin Nowell

I attended the 13th Conference of the Parties to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), held in Bangkok, Thailand, from 2 to 14 October 2004, as part of the IUCN delegation, to represent the SSC Cat Specialist Group.

Endangered Classification for West African Lions by H. Bauer & K. Nowell

The lion species (Panthera l e o ) i s  c l a s s i f i e d  a s  vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species*, but recent surveys have shown that the lions of West Africa are in serious decline, and so they have now been classified as endangered in the Red List. Details of the classification are as follows:

Lion (Panthera leo): Regional population of West Africa

Assessment (2004): EN C2ai

Assessors: Hans Bauer & Kristin Nowell (Cat SG RLA)

Evaluators: Urs and Christine Breitenmoser, Peter Jackson