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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.

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.

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."

Wildlife Advocates Celebrate: Romania Bans Trophy Hunting

By Alicia Graef

In a surprise move that has wildlife advocates cheering, Romania's government has taken action to protect its large carnivores from trophy hunters.

Last week, the Environment Ministry announced a total ban on trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx and and other wild cats, which is expected to save thousands of animals from being killed.

Romania's government has taken action to protect its large carnivores from trophy hunters.iStock

These species are protected under both Romanian law and the European Habitats Directive, but loopholes have allowed for the killing of dangerous animals who have caused damage, or threaten humans and livestock.

Unfortunately, deciding how many dangerous animals there are is up to those who stand to make a lot of money from the continued killing of wildlife.

The Guardian explains that every year, hunting associations would submit two numbers, including the total population of each large carnivore species and the total number which they believed to be likely to cause damages. The second number is used to set quotas for each species, which are then sold by hunting outfitters as permits to the public.

"Hunting for money was already illegal, but it was given a green light anyway," environment minster, Cristiana Pasca-Palmer, told the Guardian. 'The damages [clause in the habitats directive] acted as a cover for trophy hunting."

The system used raises a lot of questions about a serious conflict of interest, yet hunters have taken advantage of it, spending thousands to take home a trophy and the number of animals killed has continued to grow over the years.

In 2016 alone, the quotas set allowed for the killing of 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats. ZME Science puts that in perspective by likening it to killing "the entire brown bear population in Slovakia, the population of wolves living in France, Norway, and Sweden, and four Poland-worths of lynxes—in one country, in a single year."

Now, the animals will be getting a much-needed reprieve. The decision is expected to divide rural and urban dwellers, but supporters hope other measures will help reduce potential conflicts with wildlife. So far this includes creating a special unit that will deal with conflicts and animals who have caused damage individually, in addition to setting up a working group of experts to study populations of wildlife and come up with solutions for effectively managing them.

For now, it's an epic step in the right direction when it comes to protecting large carnivores from being needlessly killed for sport and entertainment, and it's hopefully one that will send a message to other countries that continue to allow this deplorable practice.

Not only are these species vital to maintaining healthy ecosystems, but studies continue to show that the science being used to justify killing them isn't good, and in many cases continued slaughter has backfired and caused more conflicts, instead of reducing them.

For more information on how to help large carnivores in the U.S., check out organizations including Project Coyote and Predator Defense.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

200 Farms in China Breed Tigers for Slaughter for Body Parts, Luxury Goods

In legal tiger farms across China, some 6,000 caged cats are kept in filthy conditions and will be killed for dubious medicinal uses and as home decor for the country's newly-rich elite. The sordid business is mostly legal, but hides behind carefully-worded agreements and pretensions of conservation. The issue is expected to be addressed at this week's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Johannesburg.

Tiger breeding cages at Guilin Tiger Farm in China.Belinda Wright / Wildlife Protection Society of India

It is estimated that 60 percent of China's 1.4 billion people use so-called traditional medicines made from tiger bones, rhinoceros horn, bear gall bladder and other exotic animal parts. As China has grown in recent decades, creating a larger middle class and many newly rich entrepreneurs, demand for tiger parts has grown.

"The use of endangered tiger products and their medicines is seen as a symbol of high status and wealth," states Tigers in Crisis.

China signed on to CITES, but maintains about 200 tiger farms, where tigers are bred to serve this growing market. Claiming that these tiger parts are for domestic consumption, and therefore not subject to the treaty on international trade, China also defends the tiger farms as a captive breeding program that actually helps the species.

However, in 1993, China banned trading in tiger bone, and a 1988 wildlife law that purports to protect endangered species sets forth a policy of "actively domesticating and breeding the species of wildlife."

"What we didn't understand until very recently is that ban in 1993 did not supersede China's wildlife protection law, which was crafted in the 1980s and actually mandates the farming and consumption of tigers and other endangered species," author and wildlife activist Judith Mills told Yale Environment 360 in an interview last year.

Small pens house tigers.Environmental Investigation Agency

Among the luxury products made from these farmed animals is tiger bone wine, which can sell for $257 per 500 ml (about 17 ounces). But almost every part of the tiger is alleged to have some medical use: the brain, whiskers, eyeballs, nose, penis, tail and feet. Tiger skins and whole stuffed tigers are a status symbol in wealthy Chinese homes.

Far from saving the species, tiger farms promote demand for these body parts that makes poaching wild tigers even more lucrative.

"The problem with tiger farming is that it stimulates demand for tiger products, which stimulates poaching of wild tigers because products from wild tigers are considered superior, more prestigious and they're exponentially more valuable," Mills said.

The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) counts the number of tigers in the wild at 3,890.

Historic and current range of tigers in Asia.World Wildlife Federation

A February 2013 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency concludes that "wild Asian cats are being poached to supply the market demand stimulated by China's legal domestic trade in skins of captive-bred tigers at a time when the international community has agreed that demand reduction is essential to save wild tigers."

The report also notes that tiger farming and trade has spread to other Southeast Asia countries including Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Recently, Laos announced its intention to phase out tiger farms.

In July, the Environmental Investigation Agency called on CITES to adopt concrete measures to end tiger farms. Even if adopted, it remains to be seen if China will abide by the regulations or find another loophole. The Guardian reports that a farm in northeast China is cross-breeding tigers with lions, thus creating a "liger" that the Chinese say is not covered by its own 1993 law.

Poaching to Palm Oil: Tigers at Risk of Extinction

Actor Leonard DiCaprio made news last fall for his conservation work when his foundation awarded $3 million to the World Wildlife Fund for an initiative to help Nepal double its population of wild tigers by 2022, the next Chinese Year of the Tiger.

As DiCaprio explained, “Time is running out for the world’s remaining 3,200 tigers, largely the result of habitat destruction and escalating illegal poaching.”

International Tiger Day is celebrated annually on July 29. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

While conservation groups and foundations have for years been doing important work to save these animals in the wild, tigers remain an endangered species.

Threats faced by these cats include poaching for their pelts, illegal rainforest destruction for palm oil production and habitat loss due to climate change, such as coastal erosion due to sea level rise.

International Tiger Day is celebrated annually on July 29 to bring attention to the perils faced by these fascinating animals.

According to Defenders of Wildlife, there were an estimated 100,000 tigers living in the wild in the early 1900s. The range of these animals has also diminished and they are now only found in Southeast and South Asia, China and the Russian Far East. The following is a breakdown of tiger numbers by subspecies:

Bengal tiger: Less than 2,000
Indochinese tiger: 750-1,300
Siberian tiger: Around 450
Sumatran tiger: 400-500
Malayan tiger: 600-800
South Chinese tiger: Extinct in the wild
Caspian tiger: Extinct
Javan tiger: Extinct
Bali tiger: Extinct

This short video offers some facts about tigers:

And here are some, perhaps surprising, bonus facts from OneKind:

  • Like its ancestor, the sabre-tooth cat, the tiger relies heavily on its powerful teeth for survival. If it loses its canines (tearing teeth) through injury or old age, it can no longer kill and is likely to starve to death.

  • The roar of a Bengal tiger can carry for over 2km at night.

  • Tigers use their distinctive coats as camouflage (no two have exactly the same stripes).

  • Like domestic cats, all tigers can purr. Unlike their tame relatives, however, which can purr as they breathe both in and out, tigers purr only as they breathe out.

  • Unlike other cats, tigers are good swimmers and often cool off in lakes and streams during the heat of the day.

How can you help these endangered animals? Consider symbolically adopting a tiger to help save animals in the wild or take action by sending a message to government leaders.

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Smart Green Infrastructure Takes Center Stage at Malaysia Tiger Forum

World Wildlife Fund Global

As the infrastructure growth in the “Asian Century” shows no signs of slowing down, Malaysia has taken a first bold step in addressing how this growth will affect tigers and tiger habitats by holding a leadership forum on including priority tiger habitats into land and infrastructure planning. The meeting, entitled Cross-Sectoral Executive Leadership Forum on Mainstreaming Priority Tiger Habitats, is being held in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 20—22. At the forum, the Government of Malaysia is announcing the construction of viaducts that will promote safe passage for tigers and other wildlife along a busy East-West Highway.

“Smart Green Infrastructure is a vital component of any initiative to save tigers and recover their numbers,” said Mike Baltzer, head of WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative (TAI). “As we strive towards TX2—doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022—we must immediately engage governments, international institutions and our partners on the ground to ensure that Asia’s rapid growth leads to opportunities, as opposed to increasing pressure, for tigers and their habitat.” At the forum, the TAI will present Designing a Conservation Landscape for Tigers in a Human Dominated Environment.

Malaysia plans to take its viaduct project one step further by integrating an ambitious forest plan, the Central Forest Spine (CFS) Master Plan, into its national spatial plan. The CFS plan will use smart green infrastructure such as viaducts to create forest linkages, which will lead to a contiguous network of forest through the country’s backbone, or spine. Malaysia’s implementation of the CFS plan and its National Tiger Conservation Action Plan will lead to further integration with plans at the state and local levels.

In addition to poaching and the illegal tiger trade, habitat loss and degradation represents the most serious threat to tigers. The pressures on the pockets of habitat where tigers are still holding on will only increase as the growth boom in Asia continues push outward, reaching formerly pristine tiger and wildlife habitat. As wildlife and park authorities look to stem the rising tide, they will need new solutions backed by robust government participation.

Northern Peninsular Malaysia’s Banjaran Titiwangsa Landscape, which includes the Belum-Temengor Priority Tiger Landscape, is one of the Tigers Alive Initiative’s 12 priority landscapes, and where some of the viaducts will be built. The area, which includes Peninsular Malaysia’s longest mountain range and largest national park, also harbors the country’s largest tiger population. Of the 3,200 wild tigers remaining in 13 countries in Asia and the Russian Far East, Malaysia contains a significant percentage of the population, currently standing at approximately 500.

The forum is hosted by Malaysia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, World Wildlife Fund partners the Global Tiger Initiative and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and will also include presentations from the tiger range countries of Indonesia and India

For more information, click here.

Group Clears Tiger Snares in China

Wildlife Conservation Society

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced Jan. 31 that a group of volunteers working in northeast China have cleared 162 illegal wire snares in an ongoing effort to protect the nation’s remaining population of critically endangered Amur (Siberian) tigers.

The group, which concluded their campaign Jan. 13, braved freezing temperatures and deep snow as they searched the northeastern province of Heilongjiang to clear snares set by poachers. Fifty-nine volunteers, including doctors, computer engineers, public servants and college students, worked side by side with WCS staff in the six-day event.

“It's heartening to see a new generation of environmentally committed young Chinese willing and able to volunteer their time to do something challenging but important for their country's natural heritage,” said Joe Walston, WCS director of Asia Programs. “Tigers need our help whether it’s from grass roots efforts like these or governments putting more funding toward enforcement.”

The snares are set to catch animals like rabbits and roe deer, but they sometimes catch tigers. Last October, a tiger was found dead in a snare near the city of Mishan in Heilongjiang Province.

The snare removal campaign was organized by WCS, Harbin Newspaper Company, the Forestry Department of Heilongjiang Province, and the Forestry Industry Bureau of Heilongjiang Province.

Amur tigers exist in very low numbers in China, though conservationists are encouraged by increasing signs of these big cats as they venture from the nearby Russian Far East where several hundred remain. This region is critically important in stemming the poaching and illegal trade of tiger parts. Several U.S. government agencies have played a vital role in supporting those efforts, including the U.S. State Department, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Latest reports by WCS suggest that fewer than 3,500 tigers remain in the wild—1,000 are breeding females.

For more information, click here.

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