Cat News Nr 42


Has the Tiger a Future in India?

India is suffering its third tiger crisis. Once again there is fear that the largest surviving tiger population in one country could face decimation, even extinction. Estimates in the late 1960s and early 70s that the tiger population had fallen to about 2,000, or less, was the first crisis, and it prompted Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to launch Project Tiger in 1973 and to ban hunting and the export of skins.

Project Tiger was a success. It was clear that the tiger population was recovering. But it led to widespread complacency until, in the early 1990s, tigers disappeared in the famous Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. A raid on a Tibetan house in Delhi uncovered 400 kg of tiger bones (possibly from some 30 tigers) ready for despatch to China for medicinal use. That provoked the second crisis. Action to control poaching was strengthened, and again the tiger population recovered.

Now the third crisis. Tigers are again missing from Ranthambhore, and have completely disappeared from the nearby Sariska reserve since mid-2004. A research scientist has declared that 30 tigers have also disappeared from the Panna reserve, a claim rebutted by Project Tiger officials.

This current crisis crisis has prompted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to call on the Central Bureau of Investigation to bring poachers and illegal traders to book, and to summon a meeting of the Indian Board for Wild Life to review the situation.

Frequent discovery of tiger bone shipments in India, Nepal and China in recent years has overshadowed a revived trade in skins; and it is now clear that tigers, and even more leopards, are being poached to meet a high demand in China. In October 2003, Chinese customs officers stopped a truck heading for Lhasa with the skins of 31 tigers, 581 leopards and 778 otters. Last year, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) listed 29 seizures from July 1999 to July 2004 in which 80 tiger skins, 20,000 tiger claws, and 1,200 leopard skins were recovered. Most seizures were in India, four in Nepal, and five in China. (see Cat News 41).

Exactly how many tigers there are in India is not known. Official statistics from tiger pugmark censuses put the number at 3,600 in 2001-02. But Indian tiger experts, including a former Director of Project Tiger, believe there are many fewer, perhaps only about 2,000 - as when Project Tiger was launched in 1973.

The tiger population is fragmented across India like an archipelago. According to official figures, only Corbett, Kanha and the Sundarban, out of the 27 Project Tiger reserves, have over 100 tigers. Nine reserves have 50-100 tigers; and the rest fewer than 50, one in the north-east reporting only four. But these estimates are based on Project Tiger's pugmark censuses, which scientists have declared unreliable and with exaggerated results.

It is not only poaching that threatens the tiger, leopard and other wildlife in India. The human population has topped one billion - nearly twice as many people as when Project Tiger was launched. The population continues to increase, leading to heavy pressure on protected areas and other wild habitats for living space and development.

In booming India, industrialisation rules; the senior official in the Ministry of Environment and Forests declared in a World Bank Journal that environment legislation and processes are causing risks for investors and need reforming. Senior judges in the Madras High Court said that environmental protection is only incidental in industrial development.

Many Indian reserves contain rich mineral deposits; mining, often illegal, has already been encroaching on reserves. Central and state governments have a growing interest in promoting "eco-tourism" centres or theme parks at popular reserves. Ranthambhore's director has complained that he faces constant demands from tourist organisations to increase the already excessive number of tourist vehicles daily entering its small area.

Fortunately the Supreme Court has been supportive of conservation and has now called on central and state governments to reply to a call for constitution of a body to oversee the functioning of national parks and sanctuaries.

The future of the tiger is in the balance, but it can be improved by serious action. The tiger can recover quickly from low numbers because it is highly reproductive. To give it that opportunity it is essential that the government of India and all authorities involved, demonstrate political will and take effective action to save the tiger. And not only India; that applies to all other tiger range countries. The tiger is part of their heritage and the flagship of wildlife conservation; its extinction would bode ill for the natural world.

Peter Jacckson    

Tigers Vanish From Indian Reserves - Prime Minister Intervenes in National Crisis by Peter Jackson

Tigers completely vanished from Sariska Tiger Reserve, the closest to the capital, New Delhi, since mid-2004. Several arrested men have reportedly confessed to killing 10 tigers there. Tigers are also missing in the world-famous Ranthambhore Reserve, while 30 are said to have disappeared in the past three years from the Panna Tiger Reserve.

Molecular Genetic Analysis Reveals Six Living Subspecies of Tiger, Panthera tigris by Stephen J. O'Brien, Shu-Jin Luo, Jae-Heuoup Kim and Warren E. Johnson

Tigers historically inhabited much of Asia and likely numbered near 100,000 as recently as a century ago (Fig. 1). Today's tiger census is much lower, and is estimated by various sources to be around 7000 individuals in the wild (Nowell & Jackson,1996; Dinerstein et al 1997; Kitchener & Dugmore 2000). Tigers have been traditionally classified into eight subspecies (Fig. 1), three of which (P. t. sondaica - Javan tiger; P. t. balica - Bali tiger and P. t. virgata - Caspian tiger) were lost to extinction in the mid to late 20th century. The challenge to preserve the existing tiger populations has become a major goal of conservation efforts throughout their range.

A Preliminary Survey on the Presence of Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) in Yunnan Province, China by Tie Su and Endi Zhang

This paper describes the status of wild Indochinese tigers (Panthera tigris corbetti) in Yunnan Province, China, in the past 10 years. From December 22, 2003, to January 19, 2004, a survey was conducted in eight sites, including five nature reserves and one county that were identified by the provincial wildlife management authorities as the areas most likely to contain tigers, and two additional prefectures that we consider may also contain tigers. Interviews were conducted with the villagers, reserves staff, and officials of local forestry bureaus for information on the presence or absence of wild tigers. Except for some possible sites that may have been missed during the interviews, we conclude that there might be a few tigers in Nangunhe National Reserve, Xishuangbanna National Reserve, Huanglianshan National Reserve, the Baoshan-part of Gaoligongshan National Reserve and Menglian County, which are all adjacent to the country's borders. Nangunhe and Xishuangbanna had frequent tiger occurrences, while Nangunhe is perhaps the only one that has resident wild tigers. The survey also leads to the recommendation that more detailed surveys should be conducted in Nangunhe Reserve.

Too Little Too Late - Can India's Tigers be Saved ? by Belinda Wright

India's wildlife criminals are bold and ruthless. And why shouldn't they be? Nobody seems particularly interested in catching them. It is now over 11 years since the huge seizure in Delhi of 400 kg of tiger bones, eight tiger skins, and 59 leopard skins gave a clear signal that wildlife crime had come of age in India. Yet little was done - until, in the last few weeks, the elimination of tigers from Rajasthan's Sariska Tiger Reserve awakened the authorities to a problem that has been crucifying all of the country's tiger areas for years.

Status of the Leopard Panthera pardus fusca in India By H. S. Singh

In Asia, isolated and threatened populations of the leopard occur in other countries but the animal survives well throughout India. Since the beginning of the conservation era in India in 1970, the population has consistently improved. No other Asian countries have populations in thousands.

First Documentation of Melanism in a Jaguar from Northern Mexico by Vladimir Dinets and Paul J. Polechla Jr.

Popular literature and folklore is replete with references to melanistic jaguars (Panthera onca) and this coloration has been documented in Central and South America (Meyer 1994, Brown & Lopez 2001), but there is no scientific documentation confirming the existence of a melanistic jaguar in the north of the range (Brown & Lopez 2001).

Camera-Trapping of Snow Leopards by Rodney M. Jackson, Jerry D. Roe, Rinchen Wangchuk and Don O. Hunter

Solitary felids like tigers and snow leopards are notoriously difficult to enumerate, and indirect techniques like pugmark surveys often produce ambiguous information that is difficult to interpret because many factors influence marking behavior and frequency (Ahlborn & Jackson 1988). Considering the snow leopard's rugged habitat, it is not surprising then that information on its current status and occupied range is very limited.

Photographing the Snow Leopard in Chitral, Pakistan by Ahmad Said

Chitral is a mountain province in the far north of Pakistan. It was here, in the early 1970s, that Dr George Schaller obtained what is thought to be first photograph of a snow leopard in the wild. Since then, there have been fears that the mystery cat might have become locally extinct. Fortunately, that has not happened.

Cheetah Census Technique Development Workshop 1-3 June 2004, Ndutu Safari Lodge, Serengeti by Sultana Bashir, Sarah Durant and Yolan Friedman

Cheetahs once used to be widespread across Africa and Asia. Today, cheetahs are extinct in much of their former Asian range and the vast majority of surviving populations are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. It is thought that there may be only some 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild, but there are no reliable estimates of the global population. Namibia is believed to hold the largest population, while Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa also have significant populations.

II International Seminar and Workshop on the Conservation of the Iberian Lynx 15-17 December 2004, Córdoba, Spain by Agnieszka Olszanska and Urs Breitenmoser

Two years after the first seminar on the conservation of the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) in Andújar, Spain (29-31 October 2002), a follow-up meeting took place in Córdoba on 15-17 December 2004. The main objectives of this meeting were to review the status of the remnant populations and the progress made since the first conference, and to discuss the future challenges to conserve the Critically Endangered Iberian lynx. The goal was that GOs, NGOs and scientists working on the conservation of the Iberian lynx would inform each other on their approaches and activities, discuss problems and possible solutions, and hence work towards a comprehensive conservation strategy for the Iberian lynx.

Rusty-spotted Cat in India: New Distribution Data by Kunal Patel and Peter Jackson

In October 2004, a small cat was sighted in the eastern, dry-deciduous forests of Gujarat, (22°31'N/73°56'E), 80 km north-east of Baroda. The cat, which was sitting on a large sandstone rock, probably to ambush rodents, was thought to be a jungle cat (Felis chaus). But after photographing the cat (cover page), Kunal Patel was able to note its small size and striped forehead, showing it to be a rusty-spotted cat. It was outside a protected area in a place surrounded by human activities.

Workshops on the Conservation of the Balkan Lynx by Urs Breitenmoser

The lynx occurrence in the south-western Balkans has been identified as the most threatened autochthonous Eurasian lynx population. Although the critical status has been known for long, no specific conservation actions were taken so far. The population ranges over western Macedonia, eastern Albania and the southern rim of the Kosovo (Serbia and Montenegro).

Ecology of the Oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus) at Serra do Tabuleiro State Park, Southern Brazil by Marcos A. Tortato and Tadeu G. de Oliveira

Of the eight species of Neotropical cats found in Brazil, the oncilla, also called the little spotted cat or gato-do-mato (Leopardus tigrinus) by its Portuguese name, is the smallest and one of the least known species (Nowell & Jackson 1996, Oliveira in press A). Most aspects of this felid's natural history remain unknown. As a consequence, it has been the subject of a series of preconceptions regarding its biology, such as its occurrence in the Amazon basin and at lower altitudes (see Cat News 41).

Pampas Cat Photographed in High Southwest Bolivia by Lilian Villalba and Eliseo Delgado

While tracking the first radio-collared Andean cat (Oreailurus jacobita) in the Khastor region of south-western Bolivia, we came upon tracks which we suspected were of a pampas cat (Oncifelis colocolo). Shortly afterwards, Eliseo spotted a pampas cat and then a photo of the cat was obtained by a camera-trap.