Cat News Nr 43


Beyond the tiger task force

Vivid photographs of Tibetans wearing tiger and leopard skins smuggled from India (p.12) have highlighted the crisis which India is facing because of failures in its tiger conservation programme. Early in 2005 it was discovered that all the tigers in the Sariska Tiger Reserve, only 200 km from the capital, Delhi, had been poached in a matter of months, and that tigers were missing from other reserves, including the world-famous Ranthambhore Reserve. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh established a Tiger Task Force (TTF), which has published a report (p.4 et seq.) that, for the first time, discloses the weakness in implementation of what should have been a model programme. Recommendations for reform now lie on the Prime Minister’s desk, calling for major changes in organisation, management, administration and methodology,

The Prime Minister and his colleagues face a great challenge in tackling the tiger crisis, but that is just part of a need to protect India’s whole wildlife heritage, which provides so many important benefits. India has some 600 protected areas, and tigers live not only in the 28 designated Project Tiger reserves. All the protected areas, in forests, grasslands, arid lands, wetlands and coastal areas, contain a vast spectrum of fauna and flora, a web of life that is threatened, like the tiger, with habitat fragmentation, poaching, industrial development, and other pressures from a human population numbering over a billion and still growing. Many of the TTF recommendations need to be applied, or adapted, to all these regions and species.

A major issue in the TTF report concerns the right of some 325,000 tribal people to live in the 28 tiger reserves. About 3,000 were moved from core areas of reserves in the past 30 years. The Tiger Task Force recognises that more may have to be moved to relieve pressure on tigers in breeding areas. But those who dwell in the reserves are just a small percentage of 68 million tribals who inhabit forests and wild lands throughout India. Most tribal people live primitive lives, lacking modern facilities, including education and health care, and there has long been concern about their condition, and recognition that the nation has an obligation to improve their lives.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government came to power in 2004 pledged to tackle the situation, and earlier this year, while the TTF was at work, a draft Tribal Forest Rights Bill was presented to Parliament for discussion. It proposes that nuclear families living in the forests since before 1980 should each have legal ownership of up to 2.5 ha of land. The bill has aroused bitter arguments between those supporting the bill and conservationists, who fear that it could lead to extensive fragmentation of the remaining forests and thereby contribute to extinction of the tiger. In fact, it would affect all forest fauna and flora, including many threatened species.

The bill is currently under suspension, but in the near future it will have to be debated, revised and passed into law. There would then be a lengthy period to establish the legitimate land rights of each tribal family. It is hard to see how recommendations for relocation of tribals from tiger reserves by the TTF could be implemented until the bill becomes law, hopefully to the benefit of tribals, tigers and the rest of India’s wildlife heritage.

Peter Jackson

India's Tiger Crisis

Early in 2005, it was found that Sariska Tiger Reserve, only 200 km from Delhi, had lost all its tigers, poached during the monsoon months in 2004. Many tigers had also vanished from the world famous Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. The shock news led Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to order the establishment of a Tiger Task Force to review the management of India's tiger reserves; to suggest measures to strengthen tiger conservation; and to deal with related matters.

Joining the Dots but Missing the Cats? by K. U. Karanthi

The Prime Minister of India appointed the Tiger Task Force (TTF) recognizing that wild tigers are in serious decline. This recognition was triggered by a huge public outcry over the extirpation of tigers in the high-profile Sariska reserve. The task force was headed by environmental activist Sunita Narain, and, had as its members; Madhav Gadgil (evolutionary biologist and human ecologist), Hemendra Panwar and Samar Singh (former directors of Project Tiger, and, of Wildlife Preservation, respectively), and tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar. It submitted a 206-page report titled "Joining the Dots” (TTF 2005) on August 5, 2005. The report includes a dissent note by Thapar and its rebuttal by Narain. I have analyzed some key aspects of the TTF report here.

Persian Leopard Photographed in Armenia by I. Khorozyan and A. Malkhasyan

On 9 March 2005 at 01:54, one of our TrailMaster® camera photo-traps placed on the Ernadzor trail in the Meghri region of southern Armenia captured a large and healthy Persian leopard Panthera pardus saxicolor.

Distribution and Status of Lions and Leopards in southern Guinea Bissau and Western Guinea by D. Brugiere, I. Badjinca, C. Silva, A. Serra and M. Barry

As in many West African countries, the current distribution and conservation status of  large carnivores, in particular lions Panthera leo and leopards Panthera pardus, in Guinea Bissau are poorly known. No specific studies have been carried out on these two cat species in Guinea Bissau and consequently partial data are scattered in a number of unpublished reports.

First Ocelot Tracked via Satellite Telemetry by A. Haines, L. Grassman and M. Tewes

The ocelot population within the United States has been listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service since 1982.  Only two known breeding populations of ocelots occur within the United States. One in Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge located in Cameron County, Texas and the other on two adjacent conservation easements located on a private ranch in Willacy County, Texas. Both of these populations reside within the lower Rio Grande valley of southern Texas. 

Snow Leopard Sighting on Top of the World by S. B. Ale and R. Boesi

Sightings of snow leopards Uncia uncia in the wild are rare. This is because snow leopards occur in low numbers and are very elusive.Snow leopards may be sparsely distributed, but they may not, however, be very elusive in the world’s highest park, Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park in Nepal.

Iberian Lynx ex-situ Conservation Program Update by A. Vargas, F. Martinez, J. Bergara, L. Díez Klink, J. Rodríguez and D. Rodríguez

The Iberian lynx ex-situ conservation program is a multidisciplinary effort integrated within the National Strategy for the Conservation of the Iberian Lynx and carried out in collaboration with autonomic, national, and international organizations. The first phase of the ex-situ program is presently taking place in El Acebuche Breeding Center, Doñana National Park, Southeast Spain.

New Record for the Bornean Bay Cat by E. Meijaard, B. Bayu Prakoso and Azis

The Bornean Bay Cat (Catopuma badia) is an endemic of Borneo. It is most closely related to the more widespread Asian Golden Cat (Catopuma temminckii), although the two species diverged several million years ago and are thus rather distant relatives. The Bornean Bay Cat was once thought to be restricted to parts of northern and eastern Borneo, because the majority of museum specimens originate there.Here, we report a recent encounter of this species in a timber concession in the upper Mahakam River area, East Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Flat-headed Cat Record in East Kalimantan by E. Meijaard, D. Sheil, and Daryono

The Flat-headed Cat (Prionailurus planiceps) is restricted to Peninsular Thailand and Malaysia and the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, and thus an endemic of the Sundaic subregion. Together with Asian Leopard Cat (P. bengalensis) and Fishing Cat (P. viverrinus), the Flat-headed Cat forms a strongly supported clade in a DNA-based phylogeny; these 3 species diverged from a common ancestor some 3.95 million years ago. The Flat-headed Cat is classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, based on an observed, projected, or inferred continuing decline in numbers of mature individuals and no subpopulation estimated to contain more than 1,000 mature individuals.Records for this species are rare, and little is known about its ecology. We recently observed this species during surveys in East Kalimantan.

Status of the Chinese Mountain Cat in Sichuan Province (China) by N. Chen, L. Li, S. Shan, Y. Yufeng and J. Sanderson

In an effort to locate free-ranging Felis bieti, the so-called Chinese mountain cat, we undertook an expedition to Ganzi Perfecture in western Sichuan Province, China. We searched skin shops, interviewed former hunters, and local pastoralists to determine the existence of this little-known small felid. We found five skins of F. bieti for sale in three towns along our route. Former hunters and townspeople we interviewed were either unfamiliar or confused regarding the cat’s existence. Local pastoralists provided excellent information however. F. bieti is restricted to high elevation steppe grassland and does not occur in true desert or heavily forested mountains. Perhaps F. bieti should henceforth be commonly referred to as the Chinese steppe cat. A better understanding of the ecology, behavior, and threats to F. bieti is needed.

Spatial Ecology of Geoffroy’s Cat in the Pampas by M. Lucherini, C. Manfredi, L. Soler, E. Luengos Vidal, D. Castillo and E. B. Casanave

The Geoffroy’s cat (Oncifelis geoffroyi) is a small-sized felid found from sea level up to 3,300 m in the Andes and from southern Bolivia, northwestern Argentina, southern of Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay to southern Patagonia and Chile). It has recently been updated to the Near Threatened category, because of lack of knowledge and concerns for the impact of human-related habitat changes upon its populations. While cat research has increased In Argentina in the last decade, attention, the only published information on the spatial behaviour of this cat comes from the southernmost portion of its distribution in Chile.