Cat News Nr 44


Tibet and Tigers

When the Indian government pioneered tiger conservation by launching Project Tiger in 1973, no one could have dreamt that the fate of India’s tigers was likely to rest in Tibet. On the Roof of the World, Tibet had been a closed country for centuries. Then, in the early 1950s the Chinese Communist government sent troops to take over Tibet; China had long claimed it was part of its territory, despite its inability to rule it. Faced with Chinese power the Tibetans were helpless, and the rest of the world only expressed its concern.

Concern was particularly strong in neighbouring India, which had had ties with Tibet, and found it no longer had a buffer against China. A diplomatic battle arose over the validity of India’s frontier with Tibet, which stretches 3,000 km from Kashmir to the frontier with Myanmar. It erupted into war in 1962, in which the Chinese army quickly defeated the Indian forces. The dispute has simmered ever since, despite diplomatic negotiations.

In 1959, the Dalai Lama, the revered spiritual leader of Tibet, fled to exile in India, and thousands of Tibetans followed him, settling in India and Nepal, close to the frontier with Tibet. That rugged frontier through the highest mountains in the world was impossible to police effectively, and exiled Tibetans maintained contact with those who had stayed. To the annoyance of the Chinese, the Dalai Lama, living close to the frontier, retained his authority over most Tibetans. That annoyance is now threatening India’s tigers as the Chinese seek to combat the Dalai Lama’s efforts to end the Tibetan trade.

In the mid-1980s, suspicion arose that India’s tigers were being poached to provide bones for traditional Chinese medicine. Vivid proof came in 1993 when 400 kg of bones were found in a part of Delhi where Tibetans had settled. They were destined for China via Tibet. In following years more seizures of bones occurred both in India and Nepal. Curiously, skins, which had long been smuggled out of India to many parts of the world, were often discarded by the poachers when they collected the bones.

With the turn of the century, however, seizures showed that skins were once more in demand, although it was not clear exactly where they were going. Leopards were now also under pressure, with up to 10 skins being seized for every tiger skin. Hundreds of otter skins were also found. Truckloads of professionally-treated skins have been found en route for Nepal and points near the Indian frontier from which they were being shipped to Tibet. Similar seizures by Chinese police occurred in Tibet itself of shipments enroute to China. Signatures of Tibetans known to be active in India, but evading arrest, were on the skins.

In 2002 the British-based NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) published a report which revealed the extent of the trade (Cat News 41 p.21). But it was in 2005 that photographs of Tibetans draped in tiger and leopard skins at horse fairs showed the full extent (Cat News 43, p.12), and that when India was already gripped in a crisis over missing tigers.

The Dalai Lama had several times deplored Tibetan involvement in wildlife trade since the bone seizure in 1993, but without much apparent effect. After the dramatic photos he addressed a religious meeting in India, which was attended by thousands of Tibetans, many from Tibet, calling on them to “never use, sell, or buy wild animals, their products or derivatives”. Tibetans started to burn tiger and leopard skins. This alarmed the Chinese authorities who saw the power the Dalai Lama still held over his people in Tibet.

Although the Chinese had announced collaboration with western NGOS to publish posters condemning the illegal trade, they sent troops in to stop the burning. Nevertheless, reports indicate that skin burning still occurs.

And now two Chinese government authorities, the Information Centre and United Front Department, have ordered TV presenters in Amdo, where skin burning started, to wear animal skins when presenting the news, and provided funds for them to buy skins. It appears to be an attempt to combat the Dalai Lama’s influence.

China has proclaimed that it is cracking down on illegal trade, but now seems to be acting in a manner that could encourage it for wider political reasons. This could turn tigers and leopards into pawns, and threaten the majority of the world’s last tigers, which are in the Indian subcontinent.

Peter Jackson        

A Wild-to-Wild Translocation of Cheetahs from Private Farmland to a Protected Area in Zimbabwe (1994-2005) by G. Purchase, G. Vhurumuku and D. Purchase

In Zimbabwe, the legal status of the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is that of a specially protected species (Parks and Wildlife Act 1996), but on the ground the cheetah is often regarded as a problem animal. Since the early 1980’s reports of cheetahs killing cattle on private ranches increased. It is thought in hindsight that this increase in cheetah reports was due to the eradication of lion and spotted hyaena on private land, the increase in game populations as many farmers switched from cattle to game, and a series of drought years. Conversely, in protected areas, cheetah numbers appeared low. .

Alarm over Tiger Data by Prerna Singh Bindra

The first phase of this all-India estimate was to indicate the presence and absence of tigers in reserves, national parks, sanctuaries and even outside protected areas; and the presence, abundance or lack there of prey species and habitat quality. This first phase was completed in most cases by January 2006. Four months on, none of the 17 states has sent a report to the Wildlife Institute of India. In fact, at a meeting of Chief Wildlife Wardens from across India, pressure was put on the states to submit their initial findings, but to no avail.

Determination of Prey Hair in Faeces of Free-ranging Namibian Cheetahs with a Simple Method by B. Wachter, O. Jauernig and U. Breitenmoser

Namibia is thought to host the largest population of freeranging cheetahs Acinonyx jubatus and the majority of this population inhabits commercial farmland (Morsbach 1987). Some farmers consider that cheetahs prey on both livestock and wild herbivores that are valuable for trophy hunting, and this perceived offtake has generated conflict leading to the indiscriminate elimination of cheetahs from some farms (Marker et al. 1996). To help assess the economic cost of cheetahs on commercial farmland, information on the proportion of different prey species in their diet is required.

The Lion in Gabon: Historical Records and Notes on Current Status by P. Henschel

Little is known about the historical distribution of lions (Panthera leo) in Gabon, and until recently it was unclear if lions still existed in the equatorial country. In this article, I provide a summary of available historical reports from many sources, including some records not previously published. I also collate recent (since 1995) reports of lions in Gabon including fresh evidence that the species might still be extant in the Batéké Plateau region in south-eastern Gabon.

Update on the Iberian Lynx ex-situ Conservation Program by A. Vargas, F. Martínez, J. Bergara, L. D. Klink, J. M. Rodríguez, D. Rodriguez and A. Rivas

In the evening of 23 March 2006, Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) female Saliega gave birth to two healthy cubs. This is her second litter. The cubs were born in the El Acebuche Conservation Breeding Centre, where she gave last year birth to the first litter of the Critically Endangered Iberian lynx ever born in captivity (see Cat News 42).

African Lion Conservation Strategies by K. Nowell, L. Hunter and H. Bauer

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.

Reintroduction of the Chinese Tiger by U. Breitenmoser, R. Tilson and P. Nyhus

On 17–18 December 2005, the Department of Wildlife Conservation of the State Forestry Administration (SFA) of the P.R. China, supported by the non-governmental organisation Save China’s Tigers, organised a workshop on the rehabilitation and reintroduction of the South China Tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis). The South China tiger is listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List. There may be some tigers left in the wild, but there is a good possibility the in situ population is extinct. The tiger is not only an ecological umbrella species, but has an outstanding cultural significance, and the Chinese are dedicated to saving it.

Range Size and Den Use of Gordon’s Wild Cat in the Emirate of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates by P. Phelan and A. Sliwa

The first radio-tracking study on two Gordon’s wildcats Felis silvestris gordoni (Harrison 1968)  revealed several results important for the conservation of the wildcat in the region (Phelan & Sliwa 2005).

The Leopard Controversy in South Africa: Common Cat or Conservation Concern by B. Daly and Y. Friedmann

Fundamental to the effective management and conservation of any species is a reasonable estimation of population sizes, distribution and trends. Much of this information is unknown for the leopard Panthera pardus, and leopards have been referred to, by eminent carnivore researchers Luke Hunter and Guy Balme, as the world’s most persecuted big cat. Despite the fact that accurate knowledge of the status of this species is lacking, decisions regarding its future are frequently taken and the species continues to be hunted, persecuted and forced out of its natural territories.

Jaguar Study in Paraguay by R. T. McBride Jr.

The Gran Chaco of Paraguay contains the largest population of arid land jaguars Panthera onca left in the Americas. The Chaco varies in rainfall from west to east from 250 mm annually to 1,200 mm annually with corresponding habitat transition zones. Land clearing in eastern Paraguay serves as a grim reminder of how rapidly the cumulative effects of fragmentation can result in the deforestation of an entire region. Jaguars in eastern Paraguay have been reduced to isolated populations that are heavily persecuted and approaching extinction.

A Comparison of Detector Dogs, Hair Snares, Cameras, and Scent Stations for Detection of Bobcats by R. Harrison

Adequate monitoring and detection of populations of small and medium-sized felids has been difficult to achieve with traditional methods. However, new detection methods have been developed. To compare survey methods for bobcats Lynx rufus, I examined the rate of detection, cost, and time required for automatic cameras, hair snares, scent stations, and a detector dog trained to find bobcat feces (scats). This dog produced nearly ten times the number of bobcat detections as the other methods combined.  Although the detector dog was the most expensive method and, depending upon weather and number of scats required, took more field time than the other methods, its use required only one visit to each survey site. Use of detector dogs has the potential to achieve detection rates consistently high enough to provide useful indices for the population monitoring of bobcats.  Detector dogs may also be used in a laboratory setting to identify bobcat scats within a sample set collected from the field.

Fishing Cat on India’s East Coast by S. Kolipaka

The mangrove forests spreading over the 240 km2 of Coringa sanctuary on the coast of Andhra Pradesh state are one of the only surviving fishing cat Prionailurs viverrinus habitats of any considerable size on the east coast of India.

First Camera Trap Photos of the Andean Cat in the Sajama National Park and Natural Area Integrated Management, Bolivia by T. Barbry and G. Gallardo

The Sajama National Park is one of the 8 Bolivian protected areas located in the potential range of distribution of Oreailurus jacobita, the Andean cat. It is also the second National Park in Bolivia where the species presence is officially confirmed. The last indication of the presence of the Andean cat in Sajama National Park was a skin found in 2002. The Andean cat is classified in the category “Endangered” in the 2004 IUCN Red list and in the Appendix I of the CITES convention and it is therefore considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Andean Cat in Mendoza, Argentina - Furthest South and at Lowest Elevation Ever Recorded by L. E. Sorli, F. D. MArtnez, U. Lardelli and S. Brandi

The Andean cat Oreailurus jacobita is one of the least-known and perhaps the least common of the South American felids. Previously it has been found only in arid and semi-arid habitats at altitudes between 3,000 and 5,000 m above sea level in the Andes of Perú, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. This new record extends the known distribution of the Andean cat by at least 500 km, and to an altitude previously not considered in evaluations of the distribution and conservation status of the species.

The Tigrilladas in Colombia by E. Payan and L. A. Trujillo

The jaguar Panthera onca and the tigrillos, - the ocelot Leopardus pardalis, the margay L. wiedi and the oncilla L. tigrinus - are the four spotted cat species indigenous to the Colombian Amazon basin. The cat skin boom of the 1960s and 1970s is well known, but details of how these skins were produced remain obscure. The tigrilladas is the name is given to the hunting missions that used to go after jaguars and tigrillos to cater for this fashion craze. Here we detail how these operated and discuss the significant implications for conservation.