April 2012 Newsletter

Study Reveals First Ever Camera Trap Photos of a Tiger in Remote Northeast Indian Reserve

New York, NY – New data from a camera trap survey have revealed the first ever photos of a tiger (left), and images of more than 30 other mammal species from India’s Namdapha Tiger Reserve. While Namdapha is located on the remote and wild border with Myanmar, it has been impacted over the years by poaching for the illegal wildlife market and has even been declared an ‘empty forest,’ making these recent findings all the more surprising.

In early 2012, 80 camera traps (the majority provided by Panthera) were set up in a 300km2 reserve by teams of scientists from Aaranyak (an Assam-based wildlife conservation organization) supported by Panthera, the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the Arunanchal Pradesh State Forest Department and the Namdapha National Park Authority. These camera trapping efforts are being carried out through Panthera’s Tigers Forever program to collect baseline data on tigers and their prey, and to monitor tiger populations over time. One of six teams led by Panthera Technical Consultant, Sahil Nijhawan, placed camera traps that snapped four photos of a large, male tiger in the southern region of the reserve. They also found pugmarks (tiger footprints) of tigers, along with tiger scat (fecal matter).

The field director of the Namdapha Reserve, S.T. Jongsam, told The Telegraph, "The consistent efforts of the team finally paid off when tiger pugmarks were sighted. Scat samples, suspected to be of tiger origin, have been sent for analysis to the genetic laboratory of Aaranyak in Guwahati.” He also stated, “A permanent tiger protection force is essential in the park to tackle the [illegal] activities.”

Namdapha Tiger Reserve

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Panthera’s Tiger Program Director, Dr. Joe Smith, stated, “We’re thrilled that this latest study, which was a major collaborative effort, has confirmed that tigers are still present here and that the reserve has a good diversity of wildlife.” Smith added, “These photos are signs of hope for the tiger and can help garner the support required to protect this rich and unique place from the threats it faces.”

Setting a new record, camera traps also documented leopards, clouded leopards, golden cats, marbled cats, and leopard cats in the Namdapha Tiger Reserve. Wild elephants thought to have been extirpated from the park 15 years ago were also recorded, along with two potentially new frog species.

View a camera trap photo gallery and map of the Namdapha Tiger Reserve.

A camera trap photo of a clouded leopard.

Aaranyak’s Senior Wildlife Biologist, Dr. M. Firoz Ahmed, stated, “These findings are rare and exciting. We didn’t imagine that there could be such an incredible diversity of animals in this landscape. This camera trap survey has demonstrated that Namdapha has potential for the recovery of tigers as well as for other big cats and mammals.”

Learn more about Panthera's Tigers Forever program.

Learn more about Aaranyak.

Download this press release.

Honduran Government Makes Historic Commitment to Protect Jaguars

A significant victory was made for the future of the jaguar in Honduras due to the government's recent establishment of the country's first ever National Jaguar Conservation Plan in partnership with Panthera.

On March 1st, Panthera’s CEO and jaguar expert, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, and the Minister of Honduras' National Institute for the Conservation and Development of Forests, Protected Areas and Wildlife (ICF), José Trinidad Suazo Bulnes, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), launching the National Jaguar Conservation Plan and initiating a stronger commitment to conserving jaguars in Honduras and securing the Jaguar Corridor. Located in the heart of Central America, Panthera’s scientists recently confirmed that Honduras serves as a crucial link in the Jaguar Corridor, which seeks to connect and protect jaguar populations from Mexico to Argentina, to ensure their genetic diversity and future survival.

At the ceremony, after a two-week tour of Panthera’s jaguar conservation projects in Honduras, Dr. Rabinowitz stated that, “Today’s signing signifies Honduras’ commitment to the jaguar, recognition of the country’s role within the Jaguar Corridor, and a significant step forward in conserving their incredible natural heritage.” Attendees of this historic event included a representative of the office of Honduras’s Vice President, Victor Hugo Barnica, and representatives from the United Nations, World Bank, USAID, PROCORREDOR, CATIE, and Proyecto ECOSISTEMAS. 

Through this new partnership, Panthera and the Honduran government will collaborate to strategically influence the sustainable development of land in and around the Jaguar Corridor that benefits both the country’s economic growth and the connectivity of the Corridor, including the use of wildlife underpasses and forest protection in areas of agricultural development, like oil palm plantations.

“The Jaguar Corridor Initiative is a plan for how the America’s largest and most iconic cat, the jaguar, can live within a human-dominated landscape,” said Panthera’s Jaguar Program Executive Director, Dr. Howard Quigley. ICF Minister Suazo also stated that, “With the help and support from key allies such as Panthera, the Honduran Government is already moving forward with the goals and actions contemplated in the National Plan. We visualized a plan that is alive and whose results will soon be evident and reflected on a better life quality for our people and better use of our natural resources.”

Panthera’s jaguar scientists, including Country Program Director Franklin Castañeda, will continue to define the Corridor in Honduras using camera traps, field surveys, and interviews with local people that identify key populations of jaguars and connectivity between these populations. Bridging partnerships with local communities, Panthera’s Honduran team will also continue to train ranchers in human-jaguar conflict mitigation techniques and assess the vulnerability and threats facing the country’s jaguars. This conservation work is being carried out in three critical regions of Honduras’ Corridor, including Jeanette Kawas National Park (where Panthera's work has been supported by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service), Pico Bonito National Park, and the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve.

See a map of Honduras.                             See videos of jaguars in Honduras.

Dr. Quigley, also stated, “This is the third MOU Panthera has signed with a Latin American government, and embodies a call to action for all other Central and South American countries to join with Panthera to ensure a future for this far-ranging species. Jaguars don’t observe political boundaries – their future will rely on us and all of the 18 jaguar range states to work together and to make a commitment, like Honduras has just done, to conserve them.”

Today, Panthera is partnering with governments, NGOs and local communities in 13 of the 18 jaguar range states. Learn more about the Jaguar Corridor Initiative.

Where Science and the Human Element Collide

While snow leopards are extremely rare and are seldom seen in the wild (only 3,500-7,000 exist), local people who share their home with this big cat consider it to be one of the major threats to their livelihoods, by killing and feeding off livestock, including cattle, goats, and other domesticated animals. One of the biggest threats to snow leopards is retaliatory killing by people who have lost livestock. And often times, their fears may be real. A survey conducted in four regions of Mongolia revealed that 14% of livestock owners admitted to hunting snow leopards as retribution for loss of their livestock [*1]. A separate study found that 38% of the total livestock losses in Ladakh, India could be attributed to snow leopards [*2]. Similarly, local livestock was found to make up 40–58% of the snow leopard's diet in two regions of India [*3].

Panthera’s Executive Director of Snow Leopard Programs, Dr. Tom McCarthy, collects snow leopard scat with Nadia Mijiddorj of the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation.

In order to investigate how much snow leopards are truly feeding on domestic livestock, Panthera’s field scientists recently carried out a snow leopard diet study using a new, cutting-edge analytical tool – DNA bar-coding. A total of 81 snow leopard scats, or fecal samples, were analyzed from the Panthera-Snow Leopard Trust study site in South Gobi, Mongolia. Interestingly, the scat analyses revealed up to five different prey species in the snow leopards’ diets, including the wild Siberian ibex, which made up the majority of the diet (70%), followed by domestic goat (17%) and the endangered argali sheep (8%).

This study revealed that while some domestic animals were being preyed upon, the majority of the snow leopards' diets were wild prey (the ibex). However, the loss in domestic goats was not insignificant, and actions need to be taken to help protect people’s livestock from being eaten by snow leopards.

Regardless of the level of conflict, or how much (or little) domestic animals make up the diet of a snow leopard, science alone won’t save this species, or any other for that matter. Using results like these, however, Panthera’s snow leopard scientists can better shape conservation initiatives and more accurately assess the level of conflict between snow leopards and local pastoralists, but the key is to continue to work with local communities, and together find and implement effective mitigation tools. In the South Gobi region of Mongolia where this study was carried out, Panthera has provided solar-powered electric fencing in a pilot project to see if portable predator-proof livestock corrals can help mitigate future conflicts.

The new DNA-bar coding technique will also be used to determine where snow leopard populations have the highest chance of increasing. Data on the composition of the snow leopard's diet combined with studies on the availability of snow leopard prey species could indicate if adequate wild prey is available to support an increase in snow leopard populations (a key determining factor for the long-term future of any big cat population). These data would then help to avoid situations where increasing snow leopard numbers may result in an escalating conflict with humans due to livestock depredation.

Panthera is always searching for new and improved methods to collect the best possible data to improve conservation. Scientific advances like this recent DNA-bar coding technique are helping pave the way for the snow leopard's future, but we will also work with and depend on the collaboration of local people who share their homes with wildlife.

Read a scientific publication co-authored by Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program Executive Director, Dr. Tom McCarthy, on this study - Prey Preference of Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) in South Gobi, Mongolia

Learn more about Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program.

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*1 Allen P, McCarthy TM, Bayarjargal A (2002) Conservation de la panthe` re des neiges (Uncia uncia) avec les e´leveurs de Mongolie. Paris, France.
*2 Namgail T, Fox JL, Bhatnagar YV (2007) Carnivore-caused livestock mortality in Trans-Himalaya. Environ Manage 39: 490–496.
*3 Bagchi S, Mishra C (2006) Living with large carnivores: predation on livestock by the snow leopard (Uncia uncia). J Zool 268: 217–224.

Vital Evidence: A Jaguar Camera Trap Photo

Costa Rica, ‘the Rich Coast,’ is often rightly associated as a highly desired vacation hub, distinguished by its beautiful beaches, ecotourism operations and tropical jungles that are home to thousands of animal and plant species, including multiple healthy populations of the Americas’ largest cat – the jaguar.

The Barbilla-Destierro SubCorridor, located in the core of Costa Rica, is one area where these jaguar populations are currently thriving. Due to its central location, this SubCorridor forms a critical link for jaguars travelling in Costa Rica, and those moving throughout the Jaguar Corridor, which extends from Mexico, directly through Costa Rica to Argentina and preserves the genetic diversity of the species.

Jaguar Corridor Map

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As part of Panthera’s jaguar conservation efforts in this region, nine camera traps were placed in the Barbilla Corridor by field scientist, Daniela Araya, in December 2011 to study possible road crossing points for jaguars. The cameras can also detect the abundance of jaguar prey species, which can sometimes be overhunted by local communities. While one camera trap was stolen, Panthera’s Costa Rica team was thrilled to recently discover that one camera snapped Panthera’s first photo of a jaguar in a deforested area in the middle of the SubCorridor.

Watch a news clip on this story from Costa Rica Channel 11 News (En Español).

This photograph immediately made national news (see video clip above) and is particularly significant because of the location at which it was taken – along a gravel road just 2.7 kilometers (approximately 1 mile) from the site of a large dam project being developed in the heart of the Jaguar Corridor – the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity’s (ICE) Reventazón Hydroelectric Project. This road will be paved as part of the mitigation actions ICE will perform related to the hydroelectric project. Results of camera trapping, interviews, and track records will be shared with ICE representatives in the SubCorridor committee so that wildlife passage through the area can be maintained. While Panthera’s field scientists have previously found evidence of jaguars in other parts of the Barbilla-Destierro SubCorridor, this new photo of a male jaguar is the first visual proof that jaguars are using a non-forested area of the Corridor, close to the Reventazón dam project.

Panthera has been meeting with government officials and the electric company responsible for the dam, advising on monitoring activities and actions to mitigate the dam's impact on jaguars and their habitat, without hindering the economic development of the region.

Panthera’s Mesoamerica Jaguar Coordinator, Roberto Salom Pérez, explained that, “The presence of this jaguar validates the efforts of organizations, government agencies, universities and communities that have been working for over three years to ensure the connectivity of jaguars and their habitat, and to improve the quality of life for people living in and around the Barbilla-Destierro SubCorridor.” Mario Coto Hidalgo, the National Program Coordinator of Costa Rica’s National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), also stated, “This type of research initiative is the fundamental key to coordinate with government institutions responsible for developing large-scale infrastructures that could decrease the chance of passage of the species or groups of wildlife.”

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Read a press release in Spanish from Costa Rica’s National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC).

Learn more about Panthera’s work in Costa Rica and other jaguar range states through the Jaguar Corridor Initiative.

Visit the Panthera Costa Rica website in Spanish.

Learn about the Felines in Costa Rican Archaeology: Past and Present exhibit held at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum in San José, Costa Rica through September.

To Save a Lion, Rescue a Cow

Mokoi, one of the Lion Guardians involved in the search and rescue, is shown here carrying the calf back to its owner

The Lion Guardians Program is the perfect model of having local people, in this case the Maasai warriors (or murrans), be the champions for conservation. Maasai are trained and employed by the program to monitor lions, and work with their own communities to prevent their peers from retaliatory and preemptive hunting of lions that is often a result of conflict arising from lions preying on livestock. A single cow has tremendous worth for the Maasai, and any loss can be detrimental to their livelihoods. Lion Guardians have become the powerful and effective spokespeople for lion conservation and are helping their own communities by informing them where lions are (to avoid conflict) and how to protect and corral livestock, they even go out into the bush to recover lost livestock which reduces the number that are killed by wild carnivores.

Case in point: recently a Maasai member reported to the Lion Guardians that one of his favorite, and heavily pregnant, cows had been lost in the bush. As this cow was particularly susceptible to an attack by local predators in her condition, the Lion Guardians immediately set out to locate the cow, spending the next several hours searching for her through dense vegetation. After spotting hyena tracks alongside cattle tracks and fearing the worst, the Lion Guardians were relieved to finally find the cow…and her newborn calf! (See photo above).

Not only were they able to recover this highly-prized cow and her calf, the Lion Guardians were able to convince the community not to retaliate and the conflict situation was avoided. Panthera is working with Dr. Leela Hazzah and her team to take the Lion Guardians model to scale to other sites and lion-range countries because it is a winning model. This is a story about relevant and actionable solutions, where people are employed to keep lions alive rather than kill them, and where middle ground in the battle between humans and lions has been delineated and preserved.

Learn more about the Lion Guardians program.

Read the Lion Guardians blog.

Learn more about Panthera's Project Leonardo.

Video from the Field: Unruly Snow Leopard Cubs in Pakistan

Today, as many as 400 snow leopards are believed to exist across the two northernmost provinces of Pakistan, and recently, scientists from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF), whom Panthera partners with in the country, were lucky enough to capture two of these extremely elusive cats on camera. After retrieving digital images from camera traps set up in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, the researchers were amused to find a series of photos showing a snow leopard cub sniffing and then upending an SLF camera trap! While the movement of the camera trap during this snow leopard cub’s “inspection” left SLF’s scientists with photos of the sky, rather than passing wildlife, it also confirmed the presence of another snow leopard cub, pictured above, innocently watching its sibling playing with the camera trap.

Camera trap photos like these are what allow Panthera and our partners in the region, including the SLF, Snow Leopard Trust, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, to assess the status of snow leopards living in Pakistan, and shape our collaborative conservation initiatives on behalf of these elusive cats. Today, through Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program, our field scientists are also working with our regional partners in Pakistan to survey snow leopard territory, assess the key threats facing the species and implement community-based conservation projects, such as livestock vaccination and insurance programs.

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The snow leopard conservation work carried out in this area is particularly significant as this region of Pakistan, where the Hindu Kush and Karakorum mountain ranges merge, provides a corridor between Ladakh, India, and Kashmir, China, Central Asia and Afghanistan through which snow leopards can travel and breed. Panthera’s work to secure Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan corridor and other corridors in the region will help to ensure the genetic diversity of the snow leopard, and its long-term survival.

Learn more about Panthera’s snow leopard conservation work in Pakistan.

Learn more about Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program.

Read Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program Brochure.

Read Panthera’s Snow Leopard Report Card.

Panthera’s CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz Talks Tigers on the Steve Scher Radio Show

Panthera’s CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz was recently interviewed live on the 94.9 KUOW Steve Scher Weekday Radio Show in Seattle, Washington to discuss the state of the world’s wild tigers, why their numbers are declining and how Panthera’s Tigers Forever program is the answer to saving them. Listen to the full segment (interview begins at the 22:30 minute mark) and learn about other imperiled big cats around the world and how they can co-exist with humans.

Or listen to the interview here:

Click here for more information on the program.

Dr. Rabinowitz also gave the keynote speech at the Seattle Woodland Park Zoo’s Thrive Fundraiser on March 22nd about tiger conservation, which resulted in a standing ovation. Click here for more information. Read a blog post by Seattle City Council Member, Jean Godden, who attended the Thrive Event and who captured the inspiration felt in the room.

Learn more about Panthera's Tigers Forever program.

Learn more about Panthera's Tiger Corridor Initiative.

Learn more about Panthera's Save the Tiger Fund.

Curious Cats Take Off with Panthera's Camera Traps, Provide Insights into Conservation

Curious by nature, big cats have a habit of exploring and investigating their surroundings, especially when it comes to objects like Panthera’s camera traps. Utilized on the Mongolian steppe to the dense forests of Gabon, Panthera’s camera traps produce flashes of light and can make curious clicking noises when big cats and other wildlife pass through the camera traps’ infrared sensors. Sometimes, these wild and often secretive animals stop to take a closer look, often sniffing, pawing or warily eyeing the technology - all of which is caught on camera!

Most recently in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan, Panthera’s scientists were shocked to learn they were missing one of eleven camera traps set up by Panthera and Fauna & Flora International to study the activities and conservation status of snow leopards in the region. Thanks to photos taken with another camera trap (traps are set in pairs as they snap photos of both sides of an animal as it walks through, helping scientists determine population density estimates) our scientists discovered that one of the subjects of the study, a curious snow leopard cub, had walked away with the camera.

In tribute to curious cats like this one, Panthera has assembled a webpage of entertaining photos and videos of big cats and other wildlife inspecting, playing with and assailing camera traps around the world. Regardless of the occasional loss, the camera traps provide critical data that helps conserve their subjects.

“Camera traps have revolutionized our ability to understand the secretive lives of wild cats,” said Panthera President Dr. Luke Hunter. “Cameras not only allow us to count cats and their prey, they reveal little known behavior and unexpected discoveries. Camera-trap photos have even been used to help enforcement personnel identify and arrest poachers.”

View Panthera's Curious Cats Photo Gallery and Video Gallery.

Get information on Panthera’s Curious Pets Photo Contest on Facebook

Get information on Panthera’s development of a new and advanced camera trap model.

Proceeds from Jeep Apparel Leopard T-Shirts Support Panthera’s Leopard Conservation Projects

Panthera has partnered with Jeep Apparel to raise funding and awareness about the state of South Africa’s leopards through exclusive leopard t-shirts! Jeep Apparel has created men’s and ladies t-shirts, featuring a ‘Save Our Leopards’ message and Panthera’s logo. Now through July 31st, these t-shirts are available for purchase at select Jeep stockists in South Africa, and 10 rand from the sale of each t-shirt will be donated to Panthera to support our leopard conservation initiatives.

Learn more about Panthera's partnership with Jeep Apparel

Today, Panthera is carrying out the Munyawana Leopard Project in South Africa’s Phinda Private Game Reserve to protect leopards in southern Africa. Since 2002, Panthera’s Munyawana field scientists have collared and monitored 74 leopards. Data gathered through the study was used to rewrite legislation regulating the trophy hunting and control of ‘problem’ leopards, which helped to double the number of leopards living in South Africa’s Phinda Reserve.

Read Panthera’s new Leopard Report Card to learn more about the state of Africa’s leopards and what Panthera is doing to save them.

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