From Yellowstone to the Karakorums: A journey to understand conflicts with large carnivores

Written by SLN member Tanya Rosen, NRCC Research Associate.

Reprinted from: NRCC News (Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative) annual newsletter: bridging science and policy to advance conservation. Fall 2010, issue 23(1). 12-13.

It is a warm July evening and the bus of the Northern Areas Transportation Company has just pulled into Skardu, after a 29-hour exhilarating drive along the Karakorum Highway from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Mesmerized by the unearthly beauty of the Karakorum mountains, I step off the bus with Rich Harris of the University of Montana. We are greeted with a warm smile by Ghulam Mohammad, the manager of Project Snow Leopard of the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO).

In 1999, Shafqat Hussain, a conservationist and anthropologist, founded Project Snow Leopard (PSL), focused on creating incentives for snow leopard conservation in villages in Gilgit- Baltistan. Ghulam soon joined the organization. Whereas in the past farmers would normally retaliate against livestock losses by killing snow leopards, Shafqat proposed that farmers set aside a
collective pool of money equal to the value of the average annual loss rate. In his words, “The loss of livestock would then be a mild setback for the entire community rather than a devastating
loss for a farmer alone.” That idea led to the development of an insurance-like scheme with two components: a collective insurance fund managed by the community’s Snow Leopard Conservation Committee (SLCC) and a second fund managed by BWCDOPSL that is ideally funded by income from an eco-tourism venture focused on snow-leopard viewing called Full Moon Night Trekking. !e premiums are relatively low and the compensation that is disbursed when the animal is lost to snow leopards is subsidized with money from the second fund.

Snow leopards are beautiful cats that use their thick fluffy tail for balancing. They are agile hunters of the ungulates that inhabit the Karakorums: ibex and markhor. But a decrease in wild prey due to hunting and poaching has varied their diet. A diet that now includes domestic livestock. They are very hard to spot in the wild where they blend in well with their surrounding landscape; but when they come in villages or summer pastures to attack livestock, they are easier to catch, especially in instances of surplus killing when they kill more than they need for food and surprisingly don’t always flee the killing scene.

Eleven years later, the Project has expanded into 9 villages. I am excited to be here, to help in the expansion of the project and to learn as well. Since I am working on similar conflicts for Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Yellowstone, I have a feeling that the work that Shafqat and Ghulam do here can help back home.

After a night in Skardu, we leave with Ghulam for Hushey in Ganche District, where we will join Shafqat and engage in community dialogues to assess their satisfaction with Project Snow Leopard’s insurance scheme. We drive for six hours, stopping to take in more of the landscape and basking in the dramatic contrasts of light and height.

Hushey is a small village in the shadow of Masherbrum. Many trekkers and climbers come through on their way to climbing the largest concentration of 8000 metre-and-up peaks in the world. Boys and girls are running around and happy to practice their English learned from Oxford University Press books in the private school subsidized entirely by the village and their families.

We sit on a small veranda sipping chai tea and eating chapatti bread. People come to greet us and we begin to talk. In my extremely modest Urdu vocabulary I rely on my hands and eyes to
express how happy I am to be with them, how inspiring to know what they are doing for the snow leopard. I look up…and wonder if hidden and camouflaged in the rocks there is one just staring at
me now.

That night, sitting outside my tent, I look at the contours of the mountains in the dark: it’s Lailat ul Bara’h, a holiday when Muslims seek forgiveness for their sins and believe that on this night one’s destiny is fixed for the year ahead. I sense Hushey is a place I will be coming back to for years to come.

The following morning, we meet with the members of the Snow Leopard Conservation Committee. Shafqat starts the meeting by introducing Rich and me. He explains that we are here to understand the work that has been done, help make it sustainable, and identify research opportunities that can produce data to show that the hard work and commitment of Hushey is paying off: namely that conflict has decreased and snow leopard and ibex populations have increased. I also add that I am here to learn for my work back in Yellowstone, where the social tolerance for carnivores is dropping dramatically. Given how precarious livelihoods are in this region, I am still amazed that people here would want to do conservation.

With my experience in Yellowstone, I have been thinking more and more that conservation is for wealthy people. It is easy to love and care for wildlife that does not threaten your life and your
economic activities. So I was surprised to hear one of the elders say that “the decision to take proactive measures to protect the snow leopard” was a decision “taken by the community and not a tall order coming from a conservation organization.” As the leader of the village Snow Leopard Conservation Committee tells me, with Shafqat and Ghulam translating, Hushey “wants to protect the snow leopard because it is proud to have an animal that so many people care about.”

Clearly not everyone feels that way…and if that was not the case I would probably not believe it. However, the combination of peer pressure, coupled with the calls of the mullah of the local mosque that deeds against the snow leopard would not go unpunished, tell me that Hushey has a true conservation success story to tell. I listen carefully. As people get more comfortable, with the conversation turning from a question-and-answer session to a free flowing dialogue, everyone chimes in with tales, views and feelings about experiencing livestock losses. Even with the insurance scheme in place, these people still take an incredible economic loss, as the compensation paid does not fully compensate the cost of the animal lost. The village has a very small economy with agriculture and livestock activities carried out only to meet local needs.
!ere is a relatively successful trophy hunting program that brings some cash and, since Hushey is en route to K2 and other peaks, there are some income opportunities for guides, porters and cooks, but the economic opportunities remain small. It was incredible that such a powerful conservation lesson came from such a place.

I turn to Shafqat, who started the whole program, but maintains an impressive modesty. He does not talk about himself or the awards he’s received for the project. In Hushey, he blends in. But when he talks, his narrative is magical and persuasive. He cares about the people and the snow leopard, not the renown he might get from it. Ghulam is the same; the species and the people are the most important thing about the project for both of them.

!e next stop is Baisha, a neighboring valley where the economic opportunities are even more limited. Thanks to the expert hands of driver Mansour, we safely negotiate narrow roads, some washed out by roaring streams or blocked by massive boulders that luckily decided to tumble down before or after we passed. Many villages in Baisha are accessible only on foot or via cable over the river. Because of their location and access difficulties, places like Sibiri, Zill, and Doko are more cut-off from income generating opportunities, like portering or trophy hunting. Development aid has not arrived there yet either, at least not as visibly as in Hushey. In one of the villages, the teacher of the local government school shows up only one day out of every four.
!e private school is expensive for the farmers, and families choose to educate their sons first, which leaves 67 girls out of school.

Talking about snow leopard conservation in the context of such problems with the education system and a lack of primary healthcare is really hard. We learn that the need to protect their
limited economic resources has driven people in this valley to poison snow leopards. The demand for snow leopard fur has exacerbated this practice. But, once again, surprisingly the people from Sibiri choose to protect the snow leopard.

Back in Skardu, hell has broken loose. The Karakorum Highway is closed. The angry and dark Indus River we saw on the way up to Skardu, full and seemingly in a hurry to reach the plains, was not the norm. Bridges have collapsed — once again either before or after we arrived, but we are stuck. We scout the sky and hope for the clouds to open up enough for a plane to land to take us back to Islamabad. I am not ready to leave though. I have learned so much from the way people live here, and I hope to come back soon, perhaps this spring. !e warmth of the people I talked to cut through barriers of culture, gender, and religion and went straight to the core. You talk about wildlife and the hardships of life and you see that where you come from does not matter: nature, in this case in the shape of a wild cat and the challenges it poses, unites us.

Initial hearings take place in the argali hunting case (Altai Republic)

http://www.gorno-altaisk.info/news/10884

13 Jan 2011

The rare species argali hunting case will begin on January 26. This decision was taken at a hearing held on 13 January presided over by Nikolai Lubenitsky, chairman of the Kosh-Agach Rayon court, which is hearing this case.

The subject of these preliminary hearings (generally used for hearing processual questions, evidentiary issues, etc.) is not known. All of the accused traveled to Kosh-Agach to participate in these hearings – businessman and former vice-governor of Altai Republic Anatoly Bannykh, general director of Ineko Boris Belinsky, and vice director of the Moscow’s Institute of Economics and Law Nikolai Karpanov.

They stand accused under Part 2, Article 258 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (collusion to illegally hunt by a group for animals whose killing is completely forbidden, with the infliction of gross harm and the use of airborne transport), the penalty for which ranges from a fine up to two years’ imprisonment. The accused in the case are pleading not guilty to the charges.

[….]

Translation by Jennifer Castner

Snow leopard sighting/poaching increase in Kazakhstan 2010

In Russian-language newspapers, there were accounts of a snow leopard sighting in the Dzhungarian Alatau area of Kazakhstan earlier this year. It was reported in an October 26 2010 article by reporter Aliya Akhmedieva at www.centrasia.ru for Radio “Azattyk” and also in Guns.Kz- a website for gun clubs in Kazakhstan. The person who saw and photographed the snow leopard was Renat Minibaev and it was Jan. 11 2010. He took several impressive photos of the cat. Both articles expressed concern that poaching was increasing in the area.

Here is a paragraph in Russian with the account from Minibaev and the link to the ecological page with a photo: http://ekocenter.kz/news/2010-10-23-211 .

№ 196 (17068) от 22.10.2010
Лариса ШТОППЕЛЬ, Алматинская область
Одна случайная встреча с редким животным сделала текелийца Рената Минибаева знаменитым на весь мир. Уникальные фото снежного барса он выложил в Интернет, и его тут же приняли во Всемирный фонд дикой природы, а потом и в казахстанский фонд Snow Leopard Fund, созданный год назад ученым-биологом Олегом Логиновым.
Ренат Минибаев приехал в январе этого года на юбилей Георгия Михайловича Чупринова. Этот старичок-боровичок много лет живет на пасеке в Коринском ущелье, напрочь позабыв про цивилизацию.
– Мы с собакой Дружком решили прогуляться. С собой я взял только фотоаппарат и на всякий случай петарду, – говорит Ренат. – Вдруг справа от меня легла тень. Рядом стоит шикарный зверюга с огромным пушистым хвостом. Пес залаял, а барс тихо зарычал, оскалившись. Я испугался, конечно, и зажег петарду. Когда понял, что зверя я не интересую, то вспомнил про фотоаппарат. Начал снимать. Ирбис лег под елкой на солнышке, развалившись, как домашний кот. Несколько кадров отлично получились, остальные – мимо. Когда стали возвращаться на пасеку, увидели его следы. Он шел за нами почти от самой речки!

P.S. Численность ирбиса в Казахстане в среднем составляет около ста особей.
http://www.express-k.kz/show_article.php?art_id=44776

Another page that has Minibaev’s photos of the wild snow leopard is: http://bigcats.ru/index.php?bcif=irbises-vstrecha.shtml. The link at the end of this paragraph in Russian is to another article that claims there are about 100 snow leopards left in Kazakhstan.

Ренат Минибаев приехал в январе этого года на юбилей Георгия Михайловича Чупринова. Этот старичок-боровичок много лет живет на пасеке в Коринском ущелье, напрочь позабыв про цивилизацию. – Мы с собакой Дружком решили прогуляться. С собой я взял только фотоаппарат и на всякий случай петарду, – говорит Ренат. – Вдруг справа от меня легла тень. Рядом стоит шикарный зверюга с огромным пушистым хвостом. Пес залаял, а барс тихо зарычал, оскалившись. Я испугался, конечно, и зажег петарду. Когда понял, что зверя я не интересую, то вспомнил про фотоаппарат. Начал снимать. Ирбис лег под елкой на солнышке, развалившись, как домашний кот. Несколько кадров отлично получились, остальные – мимо. Когда стали возвращаться на пасеку, увидели его следы. Он шел за нами почти от самой речки!

P.S. Численность ирбиса в Казахстане в среднем составляет около ста особей.
http://www.express-k.kz/show_article.php?art_id=44776

Myanmar a gateway for wildlife trade to China: report

(AFP) – 11 hours ago
15 March 2010

DOHA — Demand in China is stoking a black market in neighbouring Myanmar in tiger-bone wine, leopard skins, bear bile and other products made from endangered species, a report released on Tuesday said.

“China’s border areas have long been considered a hotbed for illegal trade, with remote locations often making surveillance difficult in sparsely populated areas,” Xu Hongfa, top China investigator for environmental group TRAFFIC, said in the report.

Enforcement efforts within China appear to have curtailed the open sale of many animal parts and products taken from species banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), he said.

Market surveys in 18 Western Chinese cities in 2008 found only two sites where tiger and snow leopard skins were on sale, far less than in previous years, said Xu.

But transactions may have simply moved underground and onto the Internet, and Myanmar has emerged as a fast-growing supply node.

“There is clearly ongoing demand for leopard and tiger products, but the trade appears to be becoming less visible year-on-year,” Xu said.

“The current trade is more covert, organised and insidious, making it harder to detect and crack down on.”

TRAFFIC said that in December 2008, its investigators checked three markets on the Chinese side of the border in Yunnan Province, and one in Mongla, a town in Special Region 4 of Myanmar’s Eastern Shan state.

Markets on the Chinese side were legal, but one and a half kilometres (a mile) across the border they found a grim range of wildlife products sold by Chinese merchants.

These included a clouded leopard skin, pieces of elephant skin, batches of bear bile extracted from live animals, a dead silver pheasant, a monitor lizard and a bear paw, which is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine.

Nearby, another shop specialised in “tiger-bone wine” costing 88 dollars (64 euros) for a small bottle.

The shop owner said buyers were mostly Chinese tourists, and customers could order the supposedly health-boosting tonic by phone for delivery to Daluo, a river-port town in China.

Like China, Myanmar also had national laws forbidding trade in endangered species.

“But enforcement is non-existent in Special Region 4 as it is an autonomous state… controlled by the National Democratic Alliance Army,” a rebel group, said Xu Ling, the China programme officer for TRAFFIC, who did the survey.

The 175-member CITES, meeting in Qatar’s capital Doha until March 25, will review measures to boost enforcement of wildlife bans already in place, as well as proposals to halt or limit commerce in species not yet covered by the Convention.

Copyright © 2010 AFP.
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gB0MdZmzsWlmivZrIQkEixDG1A3A

China herdsmen jailed for killing snow leopard

 China herdsmen jailed for killing snow leopard
 
  Page last updated at 05:56 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010 
Two herdsmen have been sentenced to eight and 10 years in prison for killing a snow leopard in northwest China’s Xinjiang region.
 China‘s state news agency Xinhua quoted local authorities saying the men had set a trap after wild animals had been preying on their sheep.  When a snow leopard was trapped, they stoned it to death and gave its fur, bones and internal organs to others.  It is estimated that there are just 4,000 snow leopards left in the wild.  The wildlife protection office of Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture confirmed that the animal they killed was a snow leopard, said Yang Jianwei, a publicity official of Manas County Committee of the Communist Party of China, where the men were convicted.  Xinhua reported that five suspects who had allegedly killed two snow leopards were arrested in January this year by the Public Security Bureau of Luntai County, Xinjiang.  Four people were sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing and selling four snow leopards on 19 November 2008.  Snow leopards live between 3,000 and 5,500 metres above sea level in the rocky mountains in central and south Asia
.
 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/north_west/8554879.stm
 
Herdsmen Get Imprisonment for Killing Snow Leopard
 
Two herdsmen were sentenced to eight and 10 years in prison respectively for killing a snow leopard in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, said local authorities Sunday.
 The two men were convicted of illegally catching and killing rare and endangered wild animals and fined at Manas County People’s Court on Feb. 28, said Yang Jianwei, a publicity official of Manas County Committee of the Communist Party of China.  The two men set an animal trap after their sheep had been preyed on by wild animals. When a snow leopard was caught by the trap, they stoned it to death and gave its fur, bones and internal organs to others.  The wildlife protection office of Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture confirmed that the animal they killed was a snow leopard, Yang said.  In January 2010, five suspects allegedly killing two snow leopards were arrested by the Public Security Bureau of Luntai County, Xinjiang. Four people were sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing and selling four snow leopards on Nov. 19, 2008.  Snow leopards live between 3,000 and 5,500 meters above sea level in the rocky mountains in central and south Asia. It is estimated that only four or five thousand exist in the wild. In China, they can be found in Xinjiang, Qinghai Province and Tibet Autonomous Region.
 http://english.cri.cn/6909/2010/03/07/1821s554798.htm

Villagers in Badakhshan, Afghanistan trapped snow leopard for sale but will be released once cat has recovered

Afghanistan protects newly rediscovered rare bird
By KAY JOHNSON (AP) – 1 day ago
KABUL — Afghanistan’s fledging conservation agency moved Sunday to protect one of the world’s rarest birds after the species was rediscovered in the war-ravaged country’s northeast.
The remote Pamir Mountains are the only known breeding area of the large-billed reed warbler, a species so elusive that it had been documented only twice before in more than a century.
A researcher with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society stumbled upon the tiny, olive-brown bird during a wildlife survey in 2008 and taped its distinctive song. Later, a research team caught and released 20 of the birds — the largest number ever recorded.
On Sunday, Afghanistan‘s National Environment Protection Agency added the large-billed reed warbler to its list of protected species, which was established only last year.
Mustafa Zahir, the agency’s director-general, acknowledged the difficulties of trying to protect wildlife in a country preoccupied with the Taliban insurgency. On Friday, suicide attackers killed 16 people in Kabul, the capital, and thousands of Afghan and NATO forces are fighting to root out the hard-line Islamists from their southern stronghold.
But Zahir, who is the grandson of Afghanistan‘s former king, said the discovery of the large-billed reed warbler provided some welcome positive news.“It is not true that our country is full of only bad stories,” Zahir said. “This bird, after so many years, has been discovered here. Everyone thought it was extinct.”
The bird’s discovery in Afghanistan kicked off a small flurry in conservation circles.
The large-billed reed warbler was first documented in India in 1867 but wasn’t found again until 2006 — with a single bird in Thailand. The Pamir Mountains, in the sparsely populated Badakhshan province near China, is now home to the world’s only known large population of the bird.The Afghan environmental agency also added 14 other species to the protected list on Sunday. It now includes 48 species including the rare snow leopard, the Asiatic cheetah and the markhor, a type of wild goat with large spiral horns.
While conservation efforts are in their infancy in Afghanistan, there have been some recent successes. Authorities in Badakhshan last week seized a snow leopard from villagers who had trapped it and planned to sell it. The snow leopard — one of an estimated 150 left in the wild — will be freed once its injuries from the trap are healed, Zahir said.Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jX2YfnI6k7kVgsWt1NsjBzQVtdOwD9E54HJ80

George Schaller helped with snow leopard cub in 1984

Birdman Of Pokhara
  Nepal has been my second home for more than 30 years. During that time I have written several books set in Kathmandu and authored dozens of articles about conservation and development projects – from the first micro-hydel project in Namche (1983) to the post-war plight of Chitwan’s tigers.During the past month, I have been following closely what seems to be a campaign against Scott Mason, who for nine years has been operating a parahawking business in Pokhara. The writers in Republica were outraged that Mason is keeping endangered Himalayan vultures— even alleging animal abuse. A public outcry has followed these accusations. Quite suddenly, laws that prohibit parahawking – a sport that Mason originated – are allegedly coming to light.

At the risk of taking up a bit more space than is usual, let me share with you a story. In 1984, in Lhasa, Tibet, I encountered two nomads with a cardboard box. Inside the box was a baby snow leopard, which they had captured after shooting its mother (who, during a particularly hard winter, had attacked their livestock). It was the intention of the nomads to sell the snow leopard to the highest bidder: Either a pharmacist, who could sell its bones as a Chinese aphrodisiac, or to a carpet merchant, who could sell the animal’s skin.

I bought the leopard from the nomads myself – an act of compassion that instantly made me a criminal, in possession of an endangered species. Unfortunately, I was in no position to rehabilitate this animal, much less release its progeny (if breeding were possible) into the wild. If I had been, I would have done so without hesitation.

By the greatest good luck, I was introduced to another traveler visiting Lhasa at that time: The renowned zoologist George Schaller, immortalized in Peter Matthiessen’s “The Snow Leopard.” Schaller assured me of one thing: An injured predator – like a snow leopard or a Himalayan raptor – can almost never be returned to the wild. Unable to hunt, they will slowly starve and die. But even Dr Schaller had few alternatives. He acted as an intermediary, and made it possible for me to hand the animal over to the Chinese authorities without penalty. The snow leopard died some years later, in captivity in the Beijing zoo.

Scott Mason has spent nine years rescuing and caring for crippled, poisoned or displaced Himalayan raptors (for an indirect commentary on habitat destruction, please see your own article of Feb 18, ”35 New Hotels in Pokhara”). Locals often bring Mason injured birds, which he nurses back to health. To the best of his knowledge, there are no effective alternatives in Nepal for raptor rehabilitation.

Over the past nine years, Mason has worked with about 25 birds. Whenever possible, they are returned to the wild. Some of the rescued chicks have been “imprinted” in the care of human hosts. They cannot hunt on their own, are trained to fly with paragliding pilots and receive rewards of meat. Like the falcons of Mongolia they remain noble creatures, navigating the thermals above some of Nepal’s most beautiful mountains.

But not all Mason’s birds are suitable for training—and some arrive with broken wings or torn tendons, too damaged to ever fly again. These birds are cared for, fed, and exercised by Mason daily.

It is true that Mason is a paragliding pilot, and that he makes a living from his parahawking business. This, in turn, helps support his conservation efforts. But anyone who has seen Mason caring for his raptors –often for 12 hours a day – appreciates his incredible love for, and commitment to, these birds. Like the Jane Goddall or the late Dian Fossey, his vocation transcends business.

I support all laws which prohibit the keeping or selling, for exploitive purposes, of any endangered species. But Mason is not exploiting Himalayan vultures; he is saving them from extinction. Mason has continually supported international efforts to bring international attention and aid to the plight of these birds – including a project, with Bird Conservation Nepal, to launch a “Vulture Restaurant” in Pokhara which will help fund further raptor rescue efforts.

Without these efforts, and the facilities that Mason has developed, rescued vultures would likely share the fate of my Tibetan snow leopard.

The most sensible course from here would be to accord Mason the well-deserved status of an exemplary conservator and teacher, fully empowering him to work with local authorities and students to publicize the plight of the raptors. He deserves not censure, but the full support of Nepal’s people and government.

I love Nepal, and admire many things about the Nepali people. But I find the tendency to target successful foreigners, and distort their efforts at building a strong infrastructure, enormously troubling. There are many grievous problems that we—Nepalis and visitors together—must address in Nepal. Attacking an internationally respected pilot and conservationist is perhaps not the best use of our energies.

 
This news item is printed from myrepublica.com – a sister publication of Republica national daily.
© Nepal Republic Media Pvt. Ltd. Kathmandu Nepal.

http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/printable_news.php?news_id=15542

The dragon devours the tiger: Environmental Investigation Agency report includes snow leopard

<By Indrajit Basu
UPI Correspondent
Published: February 01, 2010 Kolkata, India — The year 2010 may be an auspicious year in the almanac of the Chinese. But as China enters the “Year of the Tiger” on Feb. 14, tiger conservationists have renewed their fears on the future of this fast-dwindling wild animal. No animal holds more fascination for the Chinese than the tiger, which is identified with progress, luck and charm, while its body parts are believed to hold high medicinal properties. Consequently, even as the demand for its body parts is already high, it is slated to go up dramatically in the Year of the Tiger. Conservationists fear that the burgeoning demand in the Middle Kingdom will not only increase illegal poaching in Asia, particularly in India, but it also threatens to push tigers to the brink of extinction. “The findings of our most recent investigation in China, concluded around the end of last year, revealed that illegal trade in Asian big cats in China and the availability of tiger skin, bone and teeth, leopard skin and bone, and snow leopard skin is going on unabated despite many efforts to curb that since 2004,” said Debbie Banks, head of the Tiger Campaign of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency. “During these investigations we had encountered traders in China selling tiger parts, and those involved in the illegal trade said that they were anticipating an increase in profits in 2010. They said everyone will want a tiger skin in the Year of the Tiger.” Banks added that all countries in the region – including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal and Myanmar – that have wild tigers are targeted by poachers having connections with Chinese traders. But since India has the largest number of wild tigers, it is at the center of poaching. “There is a well-established network operating in the trans-Himalayan region,” she said. Chinese traders, allege investigators, are buying tiger parts from poachers in the region at exorbitant prices, and have particularly established extensive contacts and well-organized smuggling routes along the porous India-Nepal- Myanmar border. According to Peter Pueschel, the Germany-based wildlife trade program manager of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Asian tigers are not the only ones under threat. “Chinese demand is also increasing the poaching of tigers in the eastern Russian region which shares its borders with China,” he said. Wild tigers face unprecedented threats today, including reduction of habitat, depletion of prey and continued poaching. Recent reports have found that areas occupied by tigers have shrunk by as much as 41 percent in the last 10 years. Much of this is due to the doubling of the human population since 1965 in Asia’s 14 tiger-range countries. The biggest reason for the alarming reduction of the tiger population, however, is the explosive demand for tiger parts from the Chinese. Sixty years ago over 100,000 tigers roamed the wild; now the global population has dwindled to less than 3,200. India, with about 1,400, has the largest share of wild tigers, but this population is also fast depleting. India’s national tiger census figures released last year recorded a 60-percent drop since 1997, when there were 3,508 tigers. The New Delhi-based Wildlife Protection Society of India recorded 85 cases of tiger mortality in 2009. Of these at least 32 tigers were killed by poachers; 12 were found in the field and parts of 20 others were seized. In the first few weeks of this year six tigers have been found dead already. “Wild tigers must also die from natural circumstances, but the poaching and seizure figures account for 38 percent of the tiger mortality in India for 2009, which is simply unsustainable for a species which is already in dire straits,” said Belinda Wright, the founder-director of WPSI. WPSI started tracking the mortality rate of Indian tigers in 2008, but the poaching and seizure figures for years 2008, 2007 and 2006 were 29, 27 and 37 respectively. “There is a certain demand for tiger bone medicines in some mainly Asian countries but the rampant demand comes from China, which is the only country that processes tiger bones,” said Wright. This is not to say there is no awareness of the threat to tigers in China. In fact, following a total depletion of its wild tigers, China banned trade in wild tiger parts and started seizing and arresting “tiger criminals” from 1993. However, conservationists say that tiger parts are so central to Chinese culture that enforcement officials are often willing to turn a blind eye to trade in tiger parts and products. “Although China has laws prohibiting the import and export of Asian big cat parts and there is a domestic trade ban as well, there isn’t the commitment, investment and also enforcement to stop the trade. We find there is big gap in China’s enforcement efforts. Our concern is that the basic elements of investigation and enforcement in China are not happening. They may react to information but there is no proactive effort to control trading of tiger parts,” said Grace Gabriel, the Beijing-based Asia Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. That may be due to the typical attitudes of Chinese toward the consumption and conservation of tigers. According to a study released in July 2008 by a group of researchers from Save the Tiger Fund and other groups, most Chinese said they continued consuming tiger parts despite the local ban. “We surveyed 1,880 residents from a total of six Chinese cities to understand urban Chinese tiger consumption behavior, knowledge of trade issues and attitudes towards tiger conservation. We found that 43 percent of respondents had consumed some product alleged to contain tiger parts. Within this user group, 71 percent said that they preferred wild products over farmed ones,” the study said. The other reason why enforcement is lacking in China is the existence of large tiger farms that currently rear close to 7,000 tigers in captivity. “These farms are owned by very influential people who would like to see the trade ban lifted and tiger trade legalized, since those people have invested large sums of money in the farms. They are almost waiting for the wild tiger to be extinct so that they can make a killing on their stock pile. They are also lobbying the Chinese government to change the law,” said Banks. Conservationists say driving wild tigers to extinction actually serves the tiger farmers’ economic interests because, while it takes between US$7000 and $10,000 to raise a farmed tiger to the size where it is worthwhile to kill it, killing and smuggling in a wild tiger costs no more than $3,000. The Chinese government too is sending mixed signals. “China is not backing down from the tiger farming issue, and does not intend to follow the wishes of the international community on the total banning of tiger farms and tiger parts trade. By allowing breeding and the stockpiling of tiger parts, they are sending a clear message – to the world, to the tiger farm industry, to consumers in China, and to enforcement authorities – that tiger bone trade will one day be legalized,” said Wright. Worldwide bans on tiger trade have helped Russia‘s tiger population recover and other wild tiger populations to persist. Similarly, stopping the tiger trade and the farming of tigers in China can also save wild tigers, say conservationists. “We have been urging the Chinese government not to legalize trade in farmed tiger products because that can only expand opportunities to sell parts and products from wild tigers,” said Grace Gabriel. “As a Chinese I think it is important that we use the Year of the Tiger as an opportunity to educate other Chinese that we do not want the tiger to be the dragon, the only animal in the Chinese zodiac that does not exist anymore,” she added. http://www.upiasia.com/Economics/2010/01/29/the_dragon_devours_the_tiger/2223/

China Steps Back From Tiger Trade Ban Lift

January 27, 2010 China (ChattahBox) – After announcing that they were considering lifting the ban on the sale of tiger parts, China has backed away from that debate, instead saying they will be increasing attempts to protect the now endangered animals. The government had been considering removing the ban that had been placed in 1993 after increased pressures from tiger farmers with overstock started to create some sway. But in the end they chose to uphold the ban, and have promised to increase efforts to protect those few tigers that remain in the wild in China. But many say that the efforts being put forth against poachers now are not enough. “We have been offered tiger, leopard and snow leopard parts in China. These are things that China should have been doing for the last ten years,” Debbie Banks of the Environmental Investigation Agency said. “By allowing breeding and the stockpiling of tiger parts they are sending a clear message that the trade in tiger bones will one day be legalized.” There are now only 18-24 tigers left in China, down from the 4,000 living there in the 1950’s. Tiger parts, such as claw, penis, whiskers, and skins are used in traditional medicine, and as decoration. http://chattahbox.com/world/2010/01/27/china-steps-back-from-tiger-trade-ban-lift/

Foreign Policy: A Beary Good Surprise In Kashmir

November 18, 2009 Kashmir are one group that is pleased by all the conflict there. Authorities estimate that their population has gone from 800 in 1990 to 3,000 now. They (and other endangered species in the area, presumably) are benefiting it seems from lingering fear of violence, which stops poachers and hunters, as well as the dearth of hunting rifles after the Indian authorities confiscated them as an attempt to quell the separatist revolt that started twenty years ago. press reports worried about the impact the army and paramilitary troops deployed in the area has on endangered species such as the Snow Leopard. And others are talking about a “man-animal conflict” across the region, with some articles talking about 5 deaths and 80 humans injured this year. One bear even joined the human conflict and killed a couple of militants earlier this month. Not that the humans are staying above the fray, as one bear found out when he was burnt to death by a frenzied Kashmir mob in 2006.80 percent of the armed conflicts between 1950-2000 took place in these areas important to maintaining plant and animal diversity. Detrimental effects on population and habitat, such as those suffered by the DRC’s gorilla population are well known.Kashmir bear evidence and the Korean DMZ, seems to be that when conflict pauses, the animals benefit as well as the humans. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120529712