Tiger skin trade in China exposed (snow leopard skins noted)

Tiger skin trade in China exposed By Jody Bourton
Earth News reporter

An undercover investigation has revealed the continued trade in tiger skins in China. Covert filming by the Environment Investigation Agency shows traders selling skins of tigers and other rare animals such as snow leopards. The skins are sold as luxury items and are used for clothes and home decor. The campaigning group has published its investigation a few days before an international summit on big cat conservation in Kathmandu, Nepal. Buying and selling big cat skins and body parts is illegal in China. People are buying them for prestige, skins are very expensive and tend to cost around 20,000 US dollars each
Alasdair Cameron Environmental Investigation Agency
However, a team from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), based in London, UK and Washington DC, US says its investigations reveal the trade in big cats still occurs in many parts of the country, including Tibet. Between 25 July and 19 August 2009 the EIA carried out investigations in markets in five cities in western China. Skin sale In just 21 days the team was offered four full tiger skins, 12 leopard skins, 11 snow leopard skins and two clouded leopard skins as well as associated bones and teeth from the species. “It’s really quite significant,” says EIA spokesperson Alasdair Cameron. “What’s interesting is the market has changed. Previously the market was for skins amongst the Tibetan community, that market has largely collapsed and what we’re seeing now is skins bought for decoration and taxidermy amongst Chinese businesspeople,” he says. “People are buying them for prestige, skins are very expensive and tend to cost around 20,000 US dollars each,” Mr Cameron explains. “We’re also being told skins are being used for non-financial bribery within China, so the demand is increasing outside of the Tibetan areas.” The EIA says the animals are being smuggled into China from various places including Tibet, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Covert operation The team captured the illegal trade on film using a hidden camera while they enquired about animal skins on sale. What surprised the team was how easy it was to find and purchase the endangered animal products. “There is some law enforcement in China, in a few regions, but there are whole swathes of the country where this trade is allowed to carry on with almost no fear of detection,” Mr Cameron says. “Some of the places we have been to, skins are openly displayed in shop windows while police cars drive past.” Debbie Banks, lead campaigner of the EIA, believes not is enough is being done by the Chinese authorities to combat the trade. “If China can put a man into space, they can do more to save the wild tiger,” she says. Tiger meet On the 27 October a summit is being held in Kathmandu, Nepal to discuss how best to save wild tigers from extinction. The Kathmandu Global Tiger Workshop will bring together tiger experts and conservation organisations from around the world to further efforts to protect the animal, especially running up to the Chinese calendar’s year of the tiger in 2010. However, Mr Cameron has mixed feelings about the forthcoming year of the tiger. “We’re hoping to use the year of the tiger as a way to highlight the threats faced by the animal but traders in China are actually saying that next year is going to be great because people will want to get a piece of the tiger in the year of the tiger.” “There could actually be a spike in demand.” Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/10/23 12:51:09 GMT


DNA could offer captive-breeding alternative to snow leopard studbook

Oct 16, 2009 11:03 AM in Scientific AmericanBy John PlattCaptive breeding of endangered snow leopards (Panthera uncia) has relied since 1976 on an international studbook that matches animals at zoos around the world for purposes of keeping the big cats from becoming too inbred.

Breeding via studbook, however, is a slow process that does not offer many benefits to an endangered species with small populations, such as the snow leopard. Now a team from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif., hopes to come up with an alternative breeding program that will rely on DNA instead of family trees.

Principal investigators Margaret Barr, Kristopher Irizarry and Janis Joslin have received a $100,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to develop a strategy for using genetic analysis to maximize the breeding of snow leopards to enhance species diversity and robustness.

The existing snow leopard studbook is “slow and cumbersome,” Barr says. “It relies on demographic information and traditional observational genetics in deciding on which animals might be assets to the breeding program. The individual animals are bred and observed to see if the offspring survive, thrive and successfully reproduce free of diseases of concern. Zoos need a faster way to determine that they are correctly identifying the best individual animals for breeding for the long-term success of the program.”

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, worldwide populations for the cats are estimated at 4,000 to 6,000 animals. About 550 live in captivity in zoos. The species’s limited genetic range has weakened the animals’ immune systems and left them susceptible to a variety of diseases, such as pneumonia, enteritis from salmonella, and two different papillomaviruses, “which cause them to develop squamous cell carcinomas on their skin and in their mouths,” Barr says. The big cats also have problems similar to those in overbred domesticated animals, like hip dysplasia and colobomas (eye lesions).

As part of its research, the team will collect and store DNA samples from up to 100 snow leopards from North American captive populations. “Some of these samples will be used to generate a sequence of the snow leopard genome and to begin to identify genes that might play a role in the snow leopard’s increased susceptibility to some diseases,” Barr says.

Before that, the team plans to organize a workshop for several groups interested in snow leopard conservation, including “zoo curators and veterinarians involved in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums‘ Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP); key members of some SSPs for other endangered animals; geneticists and experts in genomics; immunologists; and reproductive physiologists,” Barr says. The team will use the workshop to come up with a “comprehensive strategy for applying functional genomics to animal conservation issues.”

The team hopes its results will also be applicable to other endangered species. “There are many other species of endangered cats such as the cheetah, Pallas’s cats, sand cats and Asiatic lions that have medical problems that could be evaluated using this same process, and breeding programs could be managed using the approach developed in this research,” Barr says.

The team’s yearlong project begins this month. http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=dna-could-offer-captive-breeding-al-2009-10-16 

From PlanetSKI: Discover more about snow leopards

Sunday October 11, 2009

They are one of the most beautiful animals on the planet, but they are an endangered species. Here on PlanetSKI we set out to discover a little bit more about them.

We first wrote about snow leopards when we found they were being bred in captivity in a zoo in Wales and that this was part of a much wider breeding programme across the globe.

Without this there is a genuine fear they may become extinct.

Its estimated there are 3,500 left in the world and a recent survey in Nepal revealed the numbers have dropped to 300 – 400 in the area; a fall of 25% on the previous year.

Snow leopard habitatThe animals live in the mountains of Central Asia and Russia.

They have evolved to be able to cope with the cold, snowy conditions with thick fur, a stocky body, wide feet and small ears.

They also have a long tail, the same size as the rest of their body, that helps with balance as they walk over snow; they also wrap it round themselves like a blanket when asleep.

They live 15-18 years and can bring down and kill an animal three times bigger than itself. They can leap an incredible 14m when they ambush their prey.

Recently a camera trap caught a rare photo of a snow leopard in the wild in north-east Afghanistan.

For further video of these animals see this video section on the BBC wildlife web site that has some quite stunning footage of these rare animals.

For further news on the breeding programme in Wales and video of the new born cubs see this story.


Rodney Jackson Nominated for the 2010 Indianapolis Prize

October 7, 2009

Acclaimed animal conservationist vies for $100,000 award

INDIANAPOLIS — Rodney Jackson, Ph.D., is one of 29 animal conservationists nominated
to receive the Indianapolis Prize, the world’s leading award for animal conservation. Jackson,
a San Francisco Bay Area resident and founder-director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy,
has been nominated for his groundbreaking radio-tracking study of snow leopards in the 1980s
and his subsequent dedication to building the capacity of indigenous herders and farmers as
key players in conserving the species. Jackson’s grassroots approach to research, conservation,
and education is helping to transform this magnificent big cat from a potential livestock
predator to an economic asset throughout much of its 12-country range.

The Indianapolis Prize nominees’ work spans the globe, representing a range of species from
insects to mammals, and includes amphibians, elephants, bats, wolves and sharks, among
many others. The Nominating Committee will review the applications and select the six
finalists, who will be announced in the spring of 2010. The Prize Jury will then determine the
winner who will be announced in mid-2010 and honored at the next Indianapolis Prize Gala,
to be held Sept. 25, 2010, in Indianapolis.

In addition to receiving the $100,000 Prize, the recipient is also awarded the Lilly Medal, an
original work of art that signifies the winner’s contributions to conserving some of the world’s
most threatened animals. The 2008 Indianapolis Prize was awarded to legendary field
biologist George Schaller, Ph.D. Schaller’s accomplishments span decades and continents,
bringing fresh focus to the plight of several endangered species – from tigers in India to
gorillas in Rwanda – and inspiring others to join the crusade.

“Following in Schaller’s footsteps will not be easy, but we believe the current nominees are
exceptional,” said Michael Crowther, CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo, the organization
responsible for initiating the conservation award. “These conservationists are all living an
adventure that battles the odds, achieves great victories and builds a future worth living in.”

The biennial $100,000 Indianapolis Prize represents the largest individual monetary award
for animal conservation in the world and is given as an unrestricted gift to the chosen
honoree. The Indianapolis Prize was initiated by the Indianapolis Zoo as a significant
component of its mission to inspire local and global communities and to celebrate, protect and
preserve our natural world through conservation, education and research. This award brings
the world’s attention to the cause of animal conservation and the brave, talented and
dedicated men and women who spend their lives saving the Earth’s endangered animal
species. It was first awarded in 2006 to Dr. George Archibald, the co-founder of the
International Crane Foundation and one of the world’s great field biologists. In 2008, the
Indianapolis Prize went to Dr. George Schaller, the world’s preeminent field biologist
and vice president of science and exploration for the Wildlife Conservation Society. The Eli
Lilly and Company Foundation has provided funding for the Indianapolis Prize since 2006.

For more information see

Update on 2008 Indianapolis Prize winner Dr. George Schaller

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE from Indianapolis Zoo  

September 24, 2009

Indianapolis Prize Winning Conservationist
Fights for Snow Leopards’ Survival

INDIANAPOLIS — As Vice President of Panthera and Senior Conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, George B. Schaller, Ph.D., is relentless in his pursuit to save endangered species across the globe. The winner of the second Indianapolis Prize credits the award with helping him reach some important milestones in his work to save snow leopards in 2009.

Generous with his time and resources, Schaller used a portion of the $100,000 Indianapolis Prize to visit China’s Qinghai Province in May 2009 to  help initiate snow leopard programs supported by Panthera, an organization whose mission is to conserve the world’s 36 species of wild cats. Most of Schaller’s work was conducted in the Sanjiangyuan Reserve (“Source of Three Rivers Reserve”—Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong), which covers nearly 58,000 square miles, primarily at elevations above 11,800 feet.  In addition to assessing snow leopard presence and threats, the trip provided Peking University Ph.D. student Li Juan with the training she needs to start a snow leopard study this year. Schaller and Juan traveled more than 2,600 miles to evaluate potential study areas for the student’s research project, and Schaller will continue to mentor Juan as she pursues her Ph.D.

While in Asia, Schaller met with representatives from the Snow Leopard Trust and Shan Shui, one of the leading conservation organizations in China, to create a new collaborative snow leopard research and conservation program. These organizations signed a long-term agreement that will bring much needed expertise and funding to efforts to save snow leopards in China, where as much as 50 percent of the remaining wild population exists. 

“George Schaller’s extensive research, fieldwork and training have been essential to saving snow leopards in regions of China,” said Tom McCarthy, Director of Snow Leopard Programs for Panthera. “I can’t think of a better use of the Indianapolis Prize funds than teaching future generations the urgency and necessity of wildlife conservation.”

“The important aspects of this project for me,” added Michael Crowther, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo, “are its collaborative and long-term nature.  It’s George’s innate ability to bring people together and to forge alliances that overcome the short-term problems of political or geographic conflicts in order to serve the greater good that makes him a hero for me, and for the world.  It seems he has again worked his magic for the snow leopards.”  The nominees for the 2010 Indianapolis Prize will be announced on October 7, 2009. To learn more about Panthera’s efforts to save snow leopards and how to become involved, visit www.panthera.org. More information about the Indianapolis Prize is available at www.indianapolisprize.org  
# # # The biennial $100,000 Indianapolis Prize represents the largest individual monetary award for animal conservation in the world and is given as an unrestricted gift to the chosen honoree. The Indianapolis Prize was initiated by the Indianapolis Zoo as a significant component of its mission to inspire local and global communities and to celebrate, protect and preserve our natural world through conservation, education and research. This award brings the world’s attention to the cause of animal conservation and the brave, talented and dedicated men and women who spend their lives saving the Earth’s endangered animal species. The Eli Lilly and Company Foundation has provided funding for the Indianapolis Prize since 2006.  

If you are interested in using a photo of Schaller or the Indianapolis Prize logo, please see the following links: www.indyzoo.com/pdf/GeorgeSchaller-WCS.jpg and www.indyzoo.com/pdf/IndianapolisPrizeLogo.jpg.

Bhutan: only livestock killed by snow leopards and tigers is covered by government compensation

Layaps livid with leopards
 A trio of tamzees is attacking livestock at will with no fear of consequence 28 September, 2009 – The Layaps are paying what they call the “price of the government’s conservation effort” as their cattle fall prey to wild animals. This time, it’s the tamzee (leopard) that is killing domestic animals.

A lone tamzee has killed 11 horses in the gewog since February this year, according to villagers. “Four of them fell prey to the leopard in just one month in Pazhu and Langothang,” said a farmer, Lhaba Situb from Toko village.A royal hunter, in Tsarijathang, Tshering, said that the leopard entered the three huts belonging to yak herders and took away the calves and a dog. Farmers said they are encountering tamzee at close range. “Last year, we only saw two leopards wandering, but this year three of them are attacking at different places,” said a villager from Pazhi, Rinchen.Villagers said there was little they could do as protective measures against the leopard. “We want the government to kill the predator or give us the permission to kill them,” said an angry villager. “The rule says we can kill if wild animals are within 200 m, but they’re killing our cattle in our sheds.” Others said that, even if the rule allowed them to kill, there was no use killing since they can’t consume the meat. Laya falls in the Jigme Dorji national park (JDNP), a government protected area. Forest guard Thinley Dorji said that farmers approached him asking to shoot down the leopards or give them the permission to kill them. He said that leopard attacks are common at this time of the year.The people of Laya have been requesting the government to bring down the numbers of leopards, but they are not permitted to kill. Laya gup Kinley Dorji told Kuensel that they get half the cost of their animal from the government as compensation if either tigers or snow leopards killed their animals.“If government could pay half the cost of the animal as compensation, we’ll be happy as we aren’t allowed to kill the animal,” said Phurba Tshring, a farmer from Pazhi, who lost his best mule to a leopard. “ I bought it recently for Nu 28,000.”Thinley Dorji said the villagers would not get any compensation from the government for livestock killed by a common leopard like the tamzee. “Until 2006, there was compensation, but now it’s only for livestock killed by tigers and snow leopards,” said the forest-guard. “There’s nothing we can do,” he said.Mangmi Lhaba Tshering told Kuensel that the issue of bear and leopard attacks on animals in the gewog was discussed in the dzongkhag yargye tshogdue (DYT). “Farmers are allowed to retaliate if the animal is within 200 m of their homes, but most of us don’t have the weapons or equipment to do anything,” he said. “All we did so far was inform the dzongkhag and JDNP. Someone should do something.”By Gyem Thinley http://kuenselonline.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=13552