Tuesday, July 30, 2013

8 Reason Why Tigers are Dying and What You can Do to Save Them

A century ago there were 100,000 tigers roaming the world. Today, there are as few as 3,200 left in the wild. Only 7 percent of historic tiger habitat still contains tigers and of the nine subspecies only six remain after the Bali, Javan and Caspian tigers all became extinct in the latter part of the 20th century.

Here are some reasons why tigers are in peril and so close to extinction,

1. Tiger body parts used for traditional medicine

Demand for tiger parts is the biggest threat to survival of tigers. Poachers are killing these wild cats to get their bones, teeth, claws and skin so that they can be sold for thousands of dollars in the illegal wildlife market. Tiger parts are mostly used for traditional Chinese medicine and are said to be effective for a variety of ailments. According to the wildlife trade network, TRAFFIC, in the past 10 years, over 1000 tigers have been killed to meet consumer demand in Asia.

2012 was the Worst Poaching Year for India

What you can do – Science has not been able to prove if tiger part medicines are really effective cure to human ailments. Even if they were, there are many alternatives available. Best way to put end to the poaching is when you stop buying the so called medicines. A living tiger is much more precious to the planet than a pinch of its crushed bone.

2. Tiger skins and other parts sold as souvenirs

As per a 2006 survey one in 10 retail outlets in Sumatra were selling tigers parts like teeth, claws, skin, tail etc. to tourists and locals. These parts were being sold at antique shops, goldsmiths, medicine shops and in some cases general stores. Street vendors too were seen selling tiger parts.

Skins are usually bought for home d├ęcor or taxidermy by elite business class people. A single skin can cost $ 20,000 or more if the tail is intact. According to an undercover survey, skins are also being used for non-financial bribery within China.

What you can do – Don’t buy tiger body parts, even if it means a rug less at home to show off. If you are not buying but know shops that sell parts, inform local authorities.

3. Tiger Wine Sold as Exotic Drink

Why do poachers need to kill so many tigers? In some cases because their bones are steeped in distilled spirits in China to produce an elixir that’s as incomprehensible to Westerners as it is revered by locals in Southeast Asia – tiger bone wine.

At a secret factory in China, a reporter for the South China Morning Post found 600 tiger skeletons soaking in alcohol to produce 200,000 bottles of wine. In a February 2013 report, London-based Environment Investigation Agency (EIA) has uncovered evidence of a legalised domestic trade in captive-bred tiger products. China is allowing the sale of tonic wine made using tiger bones, despite the fact that the practice has been illegal in the country since 1993.

What you can do – The wine may or may not help raise your spirits but the crushed tiger bones will do nothing to extend your health as claimed. Tigers with their bones are best alive in their forests. Stop buying and encouraging others to drink these exotic wines.

4. Loss of Habitat

Tigers are known to survive in a vast variety of habitats. At one time, their territory stretched from eastern Turkey to the Russian Far East, extending northward to Siberia and southward into Bali. In a relatively short period of time, humans have caused tigers to disappear from 93% of their former range and destroyed much of their native forests.

Today they live in small islands of forests surrounded by a vast sea of humanity. With less space to live in, they automatically have less food, less water and less chance of survival.

What you can do – Urban push into forest boundaries is the reason why tigers are losing their forest homes. If you lead a sustainable life where natural resources are not wasted, some way you help the forests from being ravaged entirely for human needs and give a chance for tigers to live longer.

5. Loss of Prey Population

As forests are becoming lesser and lesser, the herbivores that tigers prey on, are reducing. In Sunderbans, the largest mangrove forests of the world and home to Royal Bengal Tigers, this decline in prey numbers has become such a challenge that the forest department has recently decided to start a prey breeding centre, just to keep the wild tigers from starving to death!

It is not just vanishing forests that is leading to vanishing prey like deer, antelope, wild boar etc. It is also humans competing for the same prey when many ungulates are hunted for food and trade.

A Man who made a Forest

What you can do – With just one tiger, we protect around 25,000 acres of forest. These ecosystems supply both nature and people with fresh water, food, and health. When the forest is saved, automatically the prey population increases too. Help local organisations, NGOs in spreading the word about importance of the forest. Save your local forested area from being converted to roads, industries or malls. The small patches saved can make a big difference. Discourage animal hunting too.

6. Man-Animal Conflict

Human habitats close to tiger habitats is increasingly becoming a problem. With diminishing prey population, livestock becomes an easy target for tigers. Also humans regularly venture inside forest for their own need of timber and other forest product leading to unnecessary clashes. Many tigers are killed as a result of this conflict.

What you can do – If you are living near a known tiger habitat, ensure that as a local you respect the privacy of the tiger. Forests are first the tiger’s home and then your source for daily needs. Simple measures like avoiding venturing into the forest during dawn and dusk when tigers are most active, and keeping livestock in protected areas away from tiger’s reach can ensure that tigers and humans can co-exist.

7. Global Warming

As the world becomes warmer, the rising temperature is causing many natural ecosystems to change. Greatest example is the Sunderbans forest that may totally submerge as the oceans rise, drowning the tigers as well. What is also alarming is that climate change makes tigers and other species more prone to diseases that were not earlier known so tigers are at a risk of becoming extinct due to a mass epidemic too.

By 2080 Climate Change may eat away most Plants and Animals

What you can do- Reduce your carbon foot print. Reuse products, recycle them. Use less electricity. Use energy saving products. The more you save natural resources ultimately helps in reducing the overall green house gas emissions and reduces global warming. If you love tigers, start today.
Poor Genes

8. Poor Genes

A recent research that compared genes of ancient tigers with modern ones found that the present day tigers are weaker in terms of their genes than their ancestors. What this shows that tigers are losing their strength, health and are more vulnerable to diseases. They are also not as fearsome enough as earlier to fight various environmental impacts.

Read here: Poor Genes a Threat to Tigers

What you can do - One reason for loss of genetic diversity among tigers is because they are now living in isolated forest patches with no connection or interaction with each other. If the wildlife corridors increase, tigers will automatically roam more and cross breeding will result in greater genetic diversity. Such forest corridors can only be made and saved when you as a citizen are concerned about the tiger’s welfare and object to any development work that neglects these crucial corridors.

Collaborate with local organisations, volunteer with them to know how you can play a more active role in conservation of tigers.

Image via cc/Flickr by Hafiz Issadeen

To read more about endangered species of India, visit are new website

Friday, August 3, 2012

India's Highest Court Bans Tiger Tourism

In a decision many are calling too harsh, the Supreme Court of India banned tourists from entering the core area of all tiger reserves in the country. With India being home to half of the global population of tigers, this means, India will be facing a major setback in number of travelers coming to the country to particularly see the tigers.
The court’s decision came after few of the tiger states failed to demarcate buffer zones and core areas even after the court ordered them to do so three months ago.
“Why tourism should be allowed in core areas of tiger reserves,” a bench of justices Swatanter Kumar and Ibrahim Kalifulla asked, while noting the tiger was on the verge of extinction.
The bench also warned of contempt proceedings and imposition of exemplary costs on states which failed to notify the buffer zones in their respective tiger reserves.
“We make it clear that till final directions are issued by this court, the core zones or core areas in the tiger reserves will not be used for tourism,” the bench said in its order.
The court slammed Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Maharashtra and Jharkhand for failing to have notified the buffer zones despite earlier directions.
The SC also imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 on each defaulting state. However Arunanchal Pradesh and Jharkhand informed that they were ready with the notifications and would submit it to the court.
The court also strictly warned the defaulting states that if they were not able to submit the required documents within three weeks, the principle secretary of forest of the respective states will have to hand out a fine of Rs. 50,000 each.
The Supreme Court’s concern on the commercialization of tiger reserves of India has been ongoing for quite a few months now, with the court also ordering recently a 10 percent of all commercial activity fee to be handed over for conservation of the tiger area.
During the last hearing on July 10, the SC had granted two more weeks “as last opportunity” to states which had defaulted in notifying buffer zones around tiger reserves.
Rajasthan’s counsel had told the court during the last hearing that the state had already notified the zone.
On April 4, the apex court had asked Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra to notify the zones within three months.
Under Section 38(b) and Explanation 1 & 2 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the states have to notify the list of core and buffer areas of tiger reserves in their respective jurisdiction.

What is a buffer zone

Any national park is set up primarily to protect a particular species and its habitat. In order to do so, the core area is the innermost area where the animal lives in its own terms without any interference from humans. The only personels allowed in this area are the forest officers. This core area is where the species live a truly wild existence.
Next outer periphery of the core area is the buffer zone which is spread upto a distance of 10 km. Here human activities are allowed. Villagers and tribals living within the forest range are allowed to gather resources of the forest from this area. But  the area is also frequented by the wild animals. If it basically this area where tourists too can come and observe wildlife.
The Indian tiger states have been not strictly demarcating the core and the buffer area allowing tourists to venture right into the den of the tiger. The Supreme court’s verdict therefore is to stop these kind of activites and allow the big cat to live the wild life it deserves.

Will the Restriction help?

Experts feel that the Court’s verdict is too harsh and it not only leads to loss of tourist revenue but also hinders conservation. Many feel that frequent tourist presence in forests ensures that the tigers are constantly spotted and kept safe. Forest guards too are more vigilant when tourists are around. Poachers are naturally discouraged to enter areas where chances of getting caught by tourists or officers are maximum.
With ban on tourism in core areas, the poachers might actually fearlessly venture into these areas.  The forest departments of many states are already in dire need of more forest rangers, and officers. Without the indirect help they get from observant travellers, their task to check the safety of tigers becomes a lot more challenging.
Conservationists feel that the strict regulation of tiger zones and tourism are definitely the need of the hour, but banning tourism altogether is core areas is not the solution.
Presently most of the tiger reserves in the country are closed down for the monsoon season and will re-open in Spetember end or October. The SC has scheduled a hearing on the present case again, before October, so hopefully the decision will be re-evaluated.
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Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Man who Made a Forest

Nothing is simpler than planting a tree and yet not many really pick up the spade to toil under the sun and nurture a plant. That is why what Jadav Payeng has been doing for the past 30 years is incredible. He has not only made tree plantation a life time hobby but converted a barren land into a lush green 550 hectare forest in Assam which is now home to five tigers.

Jadav was 16 year old when he first realized the need to plant a tree. A flood had left hundreds of reptiles dead in his sandbar and the teenager was grief stricken.

“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage . I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested,” he recalls.

The teenager was so moved that he left home and his school and started living in the sandbar in middle of the great river Brahmaputra. The indifference of others did not deter Jadav. He had true faith in his belief that one tree at a time could save the snakes and other animals he had began to love so much. He watered the plants morning and evening and pruned them. After a few years, the sandbar was transformed into a bamboo thicket.

“I then decided to grow proper trees. I collected and planted them. I also transported red ants from my village, and was stung many times. Red ants change the soil’s properties . That was an experience.
“After 12 years, we’ve seen vultures. Migratory birds, too, have started flocking here. Deer and cattle have attracted predators.”
The best reward Jadav received for his 30 years of nature nurturing was when predators began getting attracted to the forest he had created. Because of the abundant population of prey like deer and cattle, Tigers found Jadav’s forest very inviting. Presently five tigers have been known to visit the man-made ecosystem

Late Recognition
It was not until a herd of elephants paid a visit to the sandbar in 2008 that the forest department finally sat up and took notice of the incredible work Jadav had done for Mother Nature.

Assistant conservator of forests Gunin Saikia met Payeng for the first time.

“We were surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar. Locals, whose homes had been destroyed by the pachyderms, wanted to cut down the forest, but Payeng dared them to kill him instead. He treats the trees and animals like his own children. Seeing this, we, too, decided to pitch in,” says Saikia. “We’re amazed at Payeng. He has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other country, he would have been made a hero.”

But the department is now supporting him with their experience and knowledge. Congressman Bijoy Krishna Handique too is keen to convert the area into a protected forest region under India’s Wildlife Protection Act.

The forest has been named “Molai’s Woods”, after Payeng’s pet name.

He has a simple message to share,

“Nature has made a food chain; why can’t we stick to it? Who would protect these animals if we, as superior beings, start hunting them?”

India’s Endangered salutes this lone eco-warrior.

Visit Molai’s Woods
If you would like to help or pay a visit to Molai’s Woods the place lies in Jorhat, some 350 km from Guwahati by road. At one point on the stretch, a smaller road has to be taken for some 30 km to reach the riverbank. There, boatmen will ferry you across to the north bank. A trek of another 7 km will then land you near Payeng’s door.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Asia's First Dolphin Research Centre to come up in Bihar

The Gangetic River Dolphins, one of the four only surviving freshwater dolphins of the world, is soon to get more protection, thanks to the conservationists who plan to set up India and Asia’s first dolphin research centre in Patna in Bihar.

The man behind this initiative is RK Sinha, more popularly known as the dolphin man. Sinha has played a pivotal role for many years now in highlighting the depleting number of Ganga river dolphins, or Gangetic dolphins in India and has been working tirelessly for the protection and conservation of the species.

Sinha is the chairperson of the working group for dolphin conservation set up by the central government and said that the planning commission proposed the idea of the research centre which has been approved by the state government.

India’s national aquatic animal

Not many know that Gangetic dolphins are India’s national aquatic animal. They once were found in thousands swimming across Ganga and Brahmaputra and their tributaries. But poaching and habitat destruction have led to decrease in number of the dolphins in the last few decades.

Presently the dolphin population in India is estimated to be merely 2000 with a major chunk present at the Vikramshila Dolphin sanctuary in Bhagalpur distirct of Bihar. Spread across 50 km over the Ganges, the sanctuary is doing well in restoring the population of the unusual blind dolphins.

Gopal Sharma, a scientist with the Zoological Survey of India here, said the centre would carry out research activities on the dolphin and also conduct a census in rivers in Bihar.

Carcasses of the dolphin are regularly found along the river bed. It is believed that poachers kill these mammals for their oil used for fishing and for medicinal purposes.

The Gangetic river dolphin is one of the four freshwater dolphin species in the world. The other three are found in the Yangtze river in China, the Indus river in Pakistan and the Amazon river in South America.
With the research centre, the dolphin’s future might not be extinction after all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Road Block for Tigers

The tussle between environmentalists and urban developers is in the forefront once again in the state of Maharashtra where the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) is keen to widen the National Highway NH-6 but the expansion might ruin the forest and crucial corridor of the Tigers.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) recently rejected the plan of the NHAI for mitigation of damage to wildlife due to the expansion (four-laning) of NH6.

The NHAI though has already started the expansion work and the only hindrance in their path, so to speak, is the 85 km stretch through the critical Nagzira – Nawegaon Tiger Corridor.

This tiger corridor connects nine crucial tiger reserves in central India and may itself soon be declared a protected tiger habitat. The corridor connectivity presently remains as two narrow strips of forest running almost parallel to each other, connecting Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary in the north and Nawegaon National Park in the south. The corridor’s contiguity is broken by NH 6 crossing East-West.

“This is one of the more important landscapes for tigers, supporting about one-sixth of the world’s tiger population,” said Dr MK Ranjitsinh, Chairman – Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).
WTI’s state facilitator Prafulla Bhamburkar while working in the Vidarbha Tiger Corridor Securement Project was the first to bring the issue to notice about how the road expansion project was posing threat to tigers as well as other forest animals.

Assisting the Forest Department, WTI with the help of renowned wildlife lawyer – Ritwick Dutta, then approached the Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee (CEC), which eventually directed the NHAI to stop the work and put in place valid mitigation measures.

The NHAI then recommended formation of underpasses that could be used by the animals and chain-link fencing other areas to compel the animals to use these underpasses, and stop them from crossing the highway in other areas to prevent road hits.

“This recommendation was literally amounting to narrowing down the corridor further and leaving only a few small passes for the animals,” said Bhamburkar.
Now the Widlife Institue of India has been asked to intervene and come up with a plan that does not harm the crucial animal corridor.

What Bhamurkar also adds is that even the present expansion violates regular norms.

“The FCA necessitates clearance by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) for any developmental activities within 10-km radius of the country’s protected areas. This was not adhered to,” said Bhambhurkar.
Mining, highways, industries, agriculture, the growing list of man’s needs is eating away precious land from animals. The present situation from the tiger’s point of view is like someone sawing up its home in half and not allowing it to go from one side to the other. Let us wait and see if the beast looses its right to live once again in the name of development.

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Reference: Wildlife Trust of India