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Snow Leopards Still Threatened by Consumer Demand for Skins and Body Parts

Today is International Snow Leopard Day, a global observance commemorating the signing of the Bishkek Declaration on the conservation of snow leopards in 2013.

The snow leopard has been listed on the IUCN Red List as "Endangered" since 1986, although it recently had its threat status downgraded to "Vulnerable."

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The Amur tiger is the extinct Caspian tiger's closest living relative. Mathias Appel / Flickr

After a Half-Century, Tigers May Return to Kazakhstan

Wild tigers may be on their way back to Kazakhstan.

This news is surprising for a few reasons. First, most people associate tigers with the jungles of India or Sumatra, even the snowy slopes of eastern Russia—not the dry landscapes of Central Asia. But Iran, Turkey and Kazakhstan were once home to thriving populations of Caspian tigers. Unfortunately, sometime between the 1940s and '70s, this subspecies went extinct due to widespread trapping, hunting, poisoning and habitat degradation.

Second, Kazakhstan isn't a nation that often comes up in conversations about conservation. In fact, if Americans recognize the world's largest landlocked nation for anything, it's probably the movie Borat.

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4 College Football Teams Take on 'Moral Responsibility' to Protect Wild Tigers

It's a good year to be a Clemson Tigers football fan, but a bleak time to be an actual tiger in the wild. A loss of habitat and population has pushed tigers to the brink of extinction.

Clemson, and three other universities with tiger mascots—including Auburn, Louisiana State University and the University of Missouri—are teaming up to save the world's remaining tigers.

Check out the video above from Newsy to see how the U.S. Tiger University Consortium is taking on "a moral responsibility" to protect and double the tiger population by 2022.

After all, having an extinct species mascot would be nothing to cheer.

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World's Last Remaining Tigers Live Under Severe Threat of Extinction

The world's last remaining tigers are living under severe threat of extinction, having lost 93 percent of their historical range and suffered a population crash of 95 percent during the past century.

The major threat to their continued existence on Earth is poaching to meet the high demand in Asia for their parts and derivatives.

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One of the 27 Siberian tigers known to range into northeastern China. Photo credit: Beijing Normal University

Tigers and Leopards to Get New National Park in China, 60% Bigger Than Yellowstone

China approved a new national park this month in northeast China in Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces to save two endangered species—the Siberian tiger and Amur leopard.

Only nine wild Siberian tigers were estimated to be living in this area in 1998, increasing to 27 by 2015 thanks to conservation efforts including a logging ban. The global population of Amur leopards was less than 30 in 2007, but almost doubled by 2015.

The sanctuary, to be completed by 2020, will border Russia and measure 5,637 square miles, an area 60 percent larger than Yellowstone National Park.

The current habitat for the Siberian tiger and Amur leopard is too small an area to provide enough prey for the carnivores, whose wide search for their usual elk, wild boar and deer has recently led them into residential areas. It has even been reported that tigers have been wandering into Jilin Province and eating dogs and cattle.

Governmental officials expect the national park to ease some of this conflict. "Local government plans to relocate some existing communities, factories from inside the national park area, so as to avoid conflicts between wildlife and human activities," a spokesperson for Jilin's Forestry Department told Xinhua.

China is using the success of Yellowstone, the world's first national park and one of the most popular U.S. destinations for recreational visitors, as a model for environmental and economic progress.

The Chinese government in 2015 declared its intention to develop a world-class national park system, and a partnership with the Paulson Institute. The self-described "non-partisan, non-profit 'think and do' tank" hosted Chinese government officials in 2016 for tours of U.S. national parks, trainings and advice.

China is seeking to evolve from what Science Magazine called a "mishmash of national reserves, semiprotected forests and provincial parks."

As reported by Mongabay:

"China boasts approximately 10,000 protected areas covering about 18 percent of the country, a proportion higher than the global average. But weak management and insufficient funding are threatening most of the protected areas' conservation efforts. To revamp the management of all of China's protected areas, in late 2013 Chinese President Xi Jinping included the development of a true national park system into the central committee's official plans for deeper reform. Nine pilot parks across the country were announced in June 2015."

The World Wildlife Fund calls the Amur leopard the "world's rarest cat" and describes the park's location, Amur-Heilong, as containing "one of the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world, vast steppe grasslands and the unbroken taiga biome."

The Jilin forestry department said it will set up a monitoring and rescue center for wild tigers and leopards, along with scientific and research facilities to complement the national park.

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100 Years Ago 100,000 Tigers Roamed the World, Now There Are Fewer Than 4,000

Discovery Communications and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced Wednesday a partnership to conserve nearly 1 million acres of critical tiger habitat in India and Bhutan in hopes of doubling the world's population of tigers by 2022.

The big cats are known to have once roamed much of Asia. Poaching and habitat loss slashed the 100,000 tigers that existed just 100 years ago by 96 percent and led to the extinction of four subspecies. As top predators, they are crucial to the ecosystems where they live. The current tiger population is estimated at under 4,000.

"Not on our watch will we let these beautiful animals disappear from the world," David Zaslav, president and CEO of Discovery Communications, said when making the announcement.

The effort, dubbed Project C.A.T. (Conserving Acres for Tigers), will improve security measures for this protected habitat and maintain land corridors for better wildlife movement. To reduce conflict between tigers and people, the project will provide community education and engagement. More camera-trap installations will increase tiger monitoring and assessment.

Just recently, a camera trap in the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary of Bhutan recorded a tiger in a forest where they have not been seen for almost two decades. "Tiger populations are rising for the first time in a century," said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of WWF. "We need even more of a movement to accomplish these goals."

Discovery plans to use its worldwide media platforms to reach 3 billion cumulative viewers. The network has put into development a new documentary on tigers from the Academy Award nominated producers of Virunga. The documentary is set to air globally in 2018. Discovery will also produce public service announcements and in-program content tied to Project C.A.T.

In a Facebook Live presentation hosted on Dr. Jane Goodall's Facebook page, John Hoffman, Discovery Channel's EVP of documentaries and specials, said, "In our core, we understand that we are not apart from our fellow species. I think that at the end of the day we as humans will do the right thing."


Discovery and WWF will also provide ways for viewers and those who care about tigers to get involved. Discovery's Saving Species page enables people to show their support for legislation to combat illegal wildlife trafficking, and WWF's Adopt a Tiger program accepts donations in support of the organization's work.

"The global movement to protect tigers just got 1 million acres stronger," said Zaslav.

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Horrific Video Shows Tigers Abused, Forced to Swim With Tourists at Florida Zoo

Armed with new video footage from an eyewitness investigation revealing that Dade City's Wild Things' (DCWT) staff jerked tiger cubs by the leash, dragged them by the neck, struck, grabbed and tossed them—even into a pool—among other instances of abuse and neglect, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has filed a lawsuit alleging that the roadside zoo is in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The Endangered Species Act prohibits harming and/or harassing protected animals, and a PETA eyewitness who worked and volunteered at DCWT in 2015 and 2016 found that tiger cubs were forced into "encounters" with customers multiple times a day, even as they resisted and cried out.

One cub struggled to keep her head above water during a training session as she was forced to swim for more than 10 minutes despite an apparent spinal deformity or neurological disease. Workers removed tiger cubs from their mothers within hours or days after birth. The eyewitness also documented that primates engaged in self-harm, several animals died suddenly and other animals were denied adequate veterinary care for longstanding illnesses.

"Dade City's Wild Things is churning out tiger cub after tiger cub to be manhandled and exploited as props in photo ops and then left to suffer in barren cages," said PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet. "PETA is calling on the public to refuse to support this cruel tourist trap's abuse and exploitation of endangered animals."

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that "animals are not ours to use for entertainment"—is taking aim at the captive tiger overpopulation crisis in the U.S., which is fueled by the huge demand for tiger cubs for photo ops and public encounters.

While wild tiger populations dwindle, there are untold thousands of captive tigers being held in facilities like DCWT, none of whom could ever be released into the wild. Tigers too old at DCWT to be used in "encounters" were kept in cramped, barren cages or sent to other roadside zoos and, on at least one occasion, to a private party. That cub was later found wandering loose in Texas.

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TripAdvisor Ends Bookings to Wildlife Attractions

TripAdvisor and its booking agency Viator will no longer sell tickets or generate booking revenue from tourism experiences where travelers come into physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species. This includes activities such as elephant rides, petting tigers and swimming with dolphins.

The travel giant has banned tickets sales to attractions where travelers come into physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species.Flickr

"TripAdvisor's new booking policy and education effort is designed as a means to do our part in helping improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections," said Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor president and CEO.

Animal rights activists and organizations have long campaigned against cruel wildlife tourist attractions that can cause intense suffering to animals.

In June, officials found tiger skins, charms made from tiger parts and frozen tiger cubs at Thailand's infamous tiger temple tourism destination. For some elephant ride attractions, the animals are forced through a horrific training process known as "the crush," that involves physical restraints, inflicting severe pain and withholding food and water, as the World Animal Protection describes. And while many people love the idea of swimming with dolphins, Hawaii's population of spinner dolphins is now at the center of concerns over how increasing interactions with humans are impacting their health and wellbeing.

Alongside the ticket sales ban, TripAdvisor has partnered with several conservation experts and animal rights groups to launch an "education portal" aimed at educating travelers about animal welfare practices in tourism. Partners include the U.S.-based Association of Zoos & Aquariums; animal welfare activist groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and World Animal Protection; and experts in tourism who have studied animal and wildlife issues like ABTA—The Travel Association, Sustainable Travel International and the Pacific Asia Travel Association. The portal will also provide opinions, research and insights on wildlife conservation, guided by Oxford University's WildCRU, Global Wildlife Conservation, Think Elephants International and Asian Elephant Support.

The idea behind the portal is that users will write more informed reviews about their experience at animal tourism destinations and, in turn, enable other travelers to make more informed booking decisions and to improve the standards of animal care in tourism worldwide. The portal will link to every animal attraction listing on the travel-review website.

Some animal-interaction destinations will cease booking through TripAdvisor immediately, while the educational portal and booking policy changes will be fully implemented by early 2017. By that time, every attraction listed on the website that involves animals will be identified with a "PAW" icon linking to the portal.

TripAdvisor's announcement is a big step for animal welfare in the tourism and travel industry. As the world's largest travel website, millions of people around the world visit the online hub for travel advice and for booking accommodations and activities. The website reaches 350 million average monthly unique visitors.

"TripAdvisor's leadership position in travel means we can help educate millions of travelers about the diverse opinions that exist on matters of animal welfare," Kaufer said. "We believe the end result of our efforts will be enabling travelers to make more thoughtful choices about whether to visit an animal attraction and to write more meaningful reviews about those attractions."

"At the same time, we want to celebrate those destinations and attractions that are leaders in caring for animals and those in the tourism industry who help further the cause of animal welfare, conservation and the preservation of endangered species," he said.

The company believes that its millions of reviewers "can serve as a check-and-balance on matters of quality, customer service and social issues such as how animals are treated in the tourism industry. For this reason, all animal attractions that meet our standard listing guidelines will continue to be displayed on TripAdvisor in order for travelers to review those establishments, regardless of whether they meet the company's criteria as a booking partner."

TripAdvisor's new policy has several exemptions, including:

  • Domestic animals, e.g. horseback riding, children's petting zoos with domestic animals like rabbits, etc.
  • Aquarium touch pools used for education purposes where tourists are under the supervision of zoo, aquarium and/or wildlife officials
  • Feeding programs where tourists are under the supervision of zoo and/or wildlife officials
  • Voluntourism programs for endangered species preservation at zoos, aquariums or sanctuaries where it is possible that there might be some level of physical interaction with an animal

PETA has applauded TripAdvisor's latest move.

"By refusing to sell tickets to businesses that treat animals as entertainment or playthings, TripAdvisor is making a precedent-setting statement about the use and abuse of animals for entertainment," PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said. "PETA looks forward to contributing to TripAdvisor's industry-leading education portal, which will empower people around the world to make better decisions when it comes to animal-friendly travel."

Other big names in animal conservation have endorsed TripAdvisor's new effort.

"The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) welcomes the actions taken by TripAdvisor, a much valuable Affiliate Member of UNWTO, to strengthen its social corporate social responsibility in the area of animal welfare," said Taleb Rifai, UNWTO secretary-general.

"We commend TripAdvisor for taking steps to improve the standards for interactions with wild and captive species in tourism," Wes Sechrest, chief scientist and CEO of Global Wildlife Conservation, said. "This will encourage people to visit destinations that promote the safe viewing of wildlife in the wild, such as national parks, as well as legitimate rescue centers and zoological facilities that support on-the-ground wildlife conservation efforts. We want people to connect with wildlife and feel inspired by wild places, and this will help provide a guide for how to do so without further endangering our planet's biodiversity."

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