Tag Archives: tigers

Hydroelectric dams are taking over jaguar and tiger habitats

Over one in five tigers (Panthera tigris) worldwide have been affected by the expansion of hydroelectric dams around the world, a new study concludes. To a lesser extent, jaguars (Panthera onca) are also displaced by dams, and researchers say the problem can get much worse as more dams are planned near the habitat of jaguars and tigers. 

Image credit: Flickr / Eduardo Merille.

Large-scale dams have become a major driver of habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation worldwide — and as the world uses more and more electricity, many more dams are under work. There are 3,700 dams currently under development, especially in tropical developing countries with high levels of biodiversity. Although previous research has shown that dams can impact freshwater biodiversity, their impact on land animals has been less studied.

Now, a new study suggests that large predators on land could also be affected.

Biting their habitats 

Jaguars have seen population declines of up to 50% in some areas and are currently classified as near threatened. Tigers have disappeared from over 90% of their original range and are now classified as endangered. Both play a critical role in ecosystem functioning and face similar threats, mainly in the form of habitat loss and poaching. 

Hydropower expansion has been identified as a driver of habitat loss of jaguars and tigers, but the magnitude of this hasn’t been thoroughly examined until now. In the new study, researchers calculated the area of habitat loss and the number of individuals of both species affected by dams – using previously published data on population distribution. It was a painstaking process of piecing data together but in the end, they were able to draw a comprehensive conclusion.

Luke Gibson, a tropical biologist at the Southern University of Science and Technology in China, and his colleague Ana Filipa Palmeirim, identified a total of 164 dams overlapping the distribution of jaguars and another 421 dams intersecting the range of tigers. Of those, 282 dams intersect areas where tigers are resident, 90.7% of which are in India.

“Although jaguars and tigers are primarily affected by habitat loss and poaching, here we show that hydropower development constitutes an important driver of such habitat loss. This elevates the overall importance of preserving terrestrial habitats required to sustain populations of apex predators,” the researchers write in the study. 

Future impacts

While the scenario is already bad for both species, it could get even worse. The researchers found 10 times more dams planned within the jaguar range compared to within the distribution of tigers. Most will be built in the Amazon, the Cerrado forest, and the Andes-Amazon frontier, with 319 dams planned near jaguar habitat in Brazil. 

Hydropower dams intersecting the distribution of jaguars and tigers. Image courtesy of the researchers.

These future projects could derail recent biodiversity commitments, the researchers argue. In 2010, government ministers from 13 countries with wild tiger populations signed the St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation through which they committed to implementing actions to double the number of wild tigers by 2022. The declaration, as well as other similar conservation plans, are seriously jeopardized under current dam-building plans.

The researchers called for strategies to mitigate the impacts of dams. These include expanding protected areas and carrying out further environmental impact assessments, with a group of independent experts. National legislation should be adapted so as to incorporate these recommendations and act on them, they argue.

“Planned hydropower projects should minimize the trade-off between biodiversity loss and electricity generation,” the researchers conclude. “Considering the potential of hydropower to meet future energy demands, we recommend a more cautious balance between electricity generation and the conservation of terrestrial habitats.”

The study was published in the journal Communications Biology. 

Humans have killed 60% of all animals since 1970

A sobering report concludes that mankind has driven a worldwide massacre of all life forms. Directly or indirectly, we’ve wiped out more than half of all living animals since 1970 — here are the main takeaways.

Tigers are just one of the species currently on the brink of extinction due to human activities.

A new WWF report based on the work of 59 scientists shows that increasing pressure from human population is disrupting virtually all environments on the planet, annihilating ecosystems and threatening all types of creatures.

“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. “If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”

The Living Planet Report 2018, WWF’s comprehensive study of the health of the planet, serves as a grim reminder of the pressure we exert on nature. The main finding is that the population of vertebrates (which are what we typically consider ‘animals‘) have, on average, declined by 60% in just over 40 years; that’s a rate of decline of 13.6% per decade.

Some countries have a higher impact than others. How is your country faring? Depicted here, Image credits: WWF.

It’s not all bad news, though — there are several examples of successful conservation efforts. Tiger numbers in India have gone up, the river dolphins in the Amazon are finally being studied and protected, and in Ethiopia, public awareness has led to a stabilization of the Ethiopian Wolf habitat. There is a ton of evidence that conservation funding works and that science, and a that proper understanding of the science and the environmental situation can pave the way for successful conservation initiatives. Yet overall, the planetary-wide view gives a lot of reason for concern.

South and Central America have seen an 89% drop in vertebrate populations, largely driven by the felling of vast areas of wildlife-rich forest. But it’s not like those areas alone have to account for this — for instance, much of the cleared areas is used to grow soy, which is exported largely to Europe and the US.

“It is a classic example of where the disappearance is the result of our own consumption, because the deforestation is being driven by ever expanding agriculture producing soy, which is being exported to countries including the UK to feed pigs and chickens,” he said.

The biggest cause of wildlife loss is the destruction of natural habitats — typically, to create farmland. Killing for food is the second most prevalent cause — with over 300 mammal species being eaten into extinction. The oceans aren’t doing much better either: the vast majority of fish stocks are overfished, and many populations are already starting to collapse.

Image credits: WWF.

Chemical and plastic pollution are also major aspects, and global trade creates a perfect gateway for invasive species and diseases to spread.

Because the problem is so complex, there’s no simple, straightforward, and unique solution — no silver bullet. We need a systemic change to address all these issues, and many more. It won’t be easy, but if we don’t do it, we will fail, too.

Save the animals? No, let’s save ourselves

The fact that we are destroying ecosystems is not new by any stretch. It’s been discussed for decades, and while some action has been taken, mankind is still accentuating its impact rather than reducing it. But researchers stress that even if we don’t care about saving animals and ecosystems, we should still do so — because our skin is also on the line.

This Living Planet Report joins an ever-increasing number of research and policy papers building the case that our planet’s natural systems are fundamental to our society. We depend on pollinators for agriculture, we depend on trees for stabilizing soils, and we depend on a myriad of animals which offer countless environmental services. If they fall, it could take a while, but eventually, we will fall too.

The report urges policymakers to understand how pressing the situation is and to take immediate action.

“Yet, the future of millions of species on Earth seems not to have captured the imagination or attention of the world’s leaders enough to catalyse the change necessary. We need to radically escalate the political relevance of nature and galvanize a cohesive movement across state and non-state actors to drive change, to ensure that public and private decision-makers understand that business as usual is not an option.”

It remains to be seen whether the right people will heed this warning, or if we will continue “business as usual.” In a way, the choice belongs to all of us, because we all elect people to develop policies, but it’s easy to see why so many people feel completely powerless in the face of such a gargantuan problem.

The report ends with a call for an international agreement — something in the lines of the Paris Agreement, perhaps — to curb the rate of biodiversity loss. The WWF considers the next two years as crucial if we want to achieve this goal.

“The evidence becomes stronger every day that humanity’s survival depends on our natural systems, yet we continue to destroy the health of nature at an alarming rate. It’s clear that efforts to stem the loss of biodiversity have not worked and business as usual will amount to, at best, a continued, managed decline. That’s why we, along with conservation and science colleagues around the world, are calling for the most ambitious international agreement yet – a new global deal for nature and people – to bend the curve of
biodiversity loss.”

How humans are bringing tigers to the brink of extinction

Tiger ABC

Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) at the Buffalo Zoo. Image credits: Dave Pape.

Tigers are the largest Asian cats in the world. Belonging to the genus Panthera, they are found in different habitats like rainforests, grasslands, savannas and even mangrove swamps across the Asian countries of Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Bhutan, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, China, Malaysia, Russia, Nepal, and Myanmar. These ferocious cats rely on their vision and hearing abilities rather than smell when they hunt. Tigers are big eaters and can consume up to 88 pounds of meat at one time. Female tigers give birth to litters of two or three cubs every two years. The average age of a tiger, when living a healthy life, is 26 years. The average weight of a tiger is between 220-660 pounds.

 

At the start of the 20th century, it is estimated there were over 100,000 tigers in the wild, but the population has massively dwindled. Optimistically, there are approximately only 3980 tigers remaining in the world, which means that the species is highly endangered — and it’s mostly our fault. Here are 3 major reasons why the population of tigers in the worlds has reduced drastically over the few decades.

  • Humans are destroying the natural habitat

Tigers are territorial creatures and are extremely dependent on their environment. As civilization takes up more and more space, forests began to shrink. In the name of progress, for building new retreats and making commute shorter, we have invaded the jungle with our hotels and roads. Many trees have been cut down to accommodate the ever-growing human population. Even though there still are some forests in Asia, it is difficult for tigers to move to another location as they are extremely territorial. Although they might not be in their territory all the time, they will make it a point to visit it every few days or weeks to mark their domain.

  • The body parts of a Tiger are very valuable

Face on with wild tiger in Sumatra. This animal didn’t like camera traps and destroyed three over a weekend. Image via Wikipedia.

Illegal hunting and poaching of tigers are one of the major reasons that these ferocious creatures have become an endangered species. People hunt them for their meat, skin, and different body parts. In China, tigers are hunted specifically for their bones as these are used to create different Chinese medicines. Demand for tiger parts for use in traditional Chinese medicine has soared and shows no sign of stopping. There’s a good chance that this black market will completely eliminate tigers from some areas of the world.

  • Tigers are unable to produce the desired number of offspring

The number of tigers has decreased rapidly and the population had dropped to only 40 tigers at one point in time in the 1930s. These numbers will not increase quickly as the lower the number of female tigers in the world, the more difficult it will be for them to reproduce. Even though they give birth to cubs every two years, half of these do not survive beyond the age of 2. This is likely connected to their dwindling habitats. A female is only receptive for three to six days, making it a very small timeframe in which tigers can generate a new litter.

There are a lot of efforts that have been put towards saving the lives of tigers and as a result, after a decade of declining numbers, the statistics are changing. Although the numbers are finally on the rise, there is a lot more that still needs to be done to save endangered tigers.

This is a guest contribution from WWF India.

Yorkshire’s endangered Amir tigers cubs celebrate their first birthday

A young trio of Amur tigers celebrated their first birthday at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park in style on Tuesday. Hector, Harley and Hope were filmed on their journey from adorable cubs to adorable ferocious predators and, to mark the landmark occasion, the park released an adorable video showcasing how they’ve grown.

The park posted the video on YouTube on Tuesday with the message “Happy 1st birthday to our very special (not so little anymore) tiger cubs, Harley, Hector and Hope!” And indeed from helpless newborns, totally dependent on their mother Tschuna, the trio grew into fearsome cats.

Since their birth in March of 2015, the cubs have been one of the park’s greatest hit with visitors, as “they are always up to mischief,” Yorkshire Wildlife Park’s website reads. The cubs live alongside their mother, Vladimir their father and another tiger named Sayan. And as much as it saddens me to see animals in zoos, it might be for the best.

I say this because Amur (or Siberian) tigers are a dangerously endangered species, threatened by poachers, illegal wildlife trade and habitat destruction from illegal loggers, conservation nonprofit World Wildlife Fund for Nature reports. There are only an estimated 540 of the regal beasts still living in the wild, in their native forests of the Russian Far East.

 

A beautiful Sumatran tiger. (c) www.zoo.org.au

Asian tigers now at risk from virus normally affecting domestic dogs

A beautiful Sumatran tiger. (c) www.zoo.org.au

A beautiful Sumatran tiger. (c) www.zoo.org.au

As reported earlier on ZME, as little as three thousand tigers are currently alive today in the wild from six subspecies, or thirty times fewer than 100 years ago. Loss of habitat and poaching are the main drivers that brought these majestic cats at the brink of extinction. Now, a new threat might put tigers at an even greater risk: a virus that typically affects domestic dogs has mutated and is seemingly affecting big cats as well.

Canine distemper virus (CDV), closely resembling measles, was first described at the beginning of the 20th Century and has been cited as contributing to the demise of the thylacine, commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger. In the past few decades, however, the virus has evolved and apparently it can now infect marine mammals like seals and big cats.

John Lewis, director of Wildlife Vets International, recently spoke to the BBC and recollected his findings working with Indonesian vets who have been reporting several cases of CDV infected tigers in the area. The news is extremely startling, considering the precedents. In the mid-1990s, in the Serengeti, Africa, about 30% of the lions died from CDV, which came from dogs in surrounding villages. Dr. Lewis speaks of other known cases of infected big cats:

“It has also been recognised in the Asian big cat populations,” he added.

“Since 2000, in the Russian Far East, there have been a few cats reported as behaving strangely and coming into villages, apparently not showing much fear towards people.

“In the past few years, tissue from at least a couple of those cats have now been confirmed as showing the presence of CDV infection.

“There have not been too many cases at the moment, we think about three or four, but we think there could have been more that have gone undiagnosed.”

Lack of fear, especially of humans, is one of the number of symptoms CDV infected animals exhibit. These include other neurological disorders like seizures and respiratory problems, such as pneumonia, that often lead to death. Although it was assumed the cause of CDV infection in tigers was a result of coming into contact with dogs carrying the virus, Dr Lewis said that a research project was under way to look at the source of CDV in Amur tigers (also known as Siberian tigers) in the Russian Far East.

After speaking to Indonesian vets in the island of Sumatra, where a distinct population of tigers that only live here and number a mere 700 individuals, Lewis reckons CDV could already be present in the population of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger. They told him that they had seen strange behaviour displays by tigers, such as the big cats coming into villages and losing their fear of people.

“To me, that suggests that distemper is already beginning to have an impact on tigers in Sumatra,” he warned.

“But before you say ‘yes, that is definitely the result of CDV’, you need diagnostic testing of brain tissue.

“The big threats facing tigers are habitat loss and degradation and poaching, but I think the third big threat now is likely to be disease, particularly one like CDV.”

In September, Lewis plans to return to Sumatra with a team of vets where they’ll sample tigers and dogs alike for the virus.

“We also need to thrash out what samples need to be taken from domestic dog populations.

“We need to work out where we can send these samples for laboratory testing. We need to work out how we are going to store and move these samples.

“Once we have got that nailed down then we start work and try to design some sort of mitigation strategy, and that won’t be easy.”

13 countries make a plan to save tigers

Just a short while ago, I was telling you about the extremely worrying decline of the Siberian tigers (and not just them). It’s obvious that if nothing changes, the odds are they’ll be going extinct, perhaps even during our lifetime (which is the case for numerous mammals, actually. Russia and a dozen other Asian countries had a meeting and signed a pact to double tiger numbers by 2022, and keep them growing. That includes fighting harder against poaching, preventing building of roads and bridges that harm their habitat.

tiger-info0

However, as fantastic as this sounds, I do have my reservations. The signed plan includes no money, but instead suggests approaching interntional institutions like the World Bank for money, or tap into resources such as eco tourism and carbon financing.

“This is a historic meeting. Before this, not many people paid attention to tigers,” Thailand’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Suwit Khunkitti said after the three-day meeting in Hua Hin. “Stopping the depletion of tigers is a very important issue for all of us.”

tiger-regal

Along with protectinc and increasing the numbers, the major goal is to save their habitats, which have been drastically reduced. Alas, this is the best news tigers have got in quite a lot of time. We can only hope they will carry out this plan; and let’s hope China does something about trading tiger body parts (sounds brutal, but that’s exactly how it is) – this is another dangers the felines have to face.

“This is excellent news for tiger conservation,” said Michael Baltzer, who heads the WWF Tiger Initiative and attended the meeting. Simply, there never has been a high-level government commitment to take forward tiger conservation,” Baltzer said. “The fact the governments committed to doubling the numbers of tigers shows they have high ambition. They are setting the bar at a high level.”