June 2012 Newsletter

A Thank You from Dr. Luke Hunter: 'Remove a Snare' Campaign Surpasses Goal to Save Big Cats

Dear Friends of Panthera,

I am thrilled to share that Panthera has surpassed our $50,000 fundraising goal through the ‘Remove a Snare’ campaign to protect wild cats around the world from poachers’ snares! Thanks to a generous donor, nearly 50% of this goal was matched dollar for dollar, bringing the total amount raised to $58,000!

100% of these contributions will now go directly to the field to support activities such as anti-poaching initiatives, like the patrolling of protected areas by field teams to remove and prevent the setting of snares and rescue snare victims; the supply of equipment for these anti-poaching teams, including fuel for patrol vehicles, food, flashlights, waterproof boots, snakebite kits, medicine to treat snare victims; community-based education to ensure that local people have a vested interest in saving their wildlife; and more.

On behalf of the wild cats of the world, and everyone at Panthera, I thank you for your incredible support of this campaign, including your donations and efforts to spread the word about ‘Remove a Snare’ through email, Facebook and other platforms. Your dollars and time have made a true impact on the survival of wild cats and other wildlife around the globe.


Dr. Luke Hunter
Panthera's President

Press Release: First Photos Ever of Jaguars in Colombian Oil Palm Plantation Taken with Panthera’s Camera Traps

A jaguar cub inspects Panthera’s camera trap in a Colombian oil plantation while its sibling looks on.

New York, NY - Panthera's camera traps recently produced the first photographic evidence of wild jaguars with cubs in an oil palm plantation in Colombia, including photos of two male jaguars and a female jaguar with cubs (left and below), and a video of a jaguar male.

Placed in the Magdalena River valley, these camera traps were set to gather new data about the impact of Colombia's ever-increasing oil palm plantations on jaguars. Panthera's scientists are working to understand the implications of these habitat changes on jaguars and their ability to travel and reproduce, as well as the impacts palm plantations have on their prey species.

In Latin America and Asia, oil palm plantations result in the clearing of expansive tracts of forest on which thousands of animal and plant species depend. Data have shown that in Indonesia, tigers avoid plantations, which serve as major barriers restricting their movement, and gene flow. In Latin America, Panthera's scientists are investigating whether oil palm plantations have similar effects on jaguars.

A jaguar mother with her two cubs in a Colombian oil palm plantation.

Rare photos of a female jaguar and her cubs taken with Panthera's camera traps confirm that, at least in some cases, jaguars are willing to move through oil palm. Importantly, the photos come from a small plantation adjacent to a protected area with some indigenous habitat present - perhaps the best case scenario for fostering jaguar use of palm oil tracts.

Panthera's Northern South America Jaguar Program Director, Dr. Esteban Payan, explained, "Typically, jaguars can move across human-dominated landscapes by traveling through riparian forests or using road underpasses, but until now, scientists had no photographic proof that jaguars entered oil palm developments in this region."

Map of Colombia

Click to Enlarge

Payan added, "Given the extensive amount of jaguar habitat overtaken by oil palm plantations in Colombia, we hope that certain plantations can be part of the Jaguar Corridor, enabling jaguars to reach areas with little or no human disturbances."

Panthera's Jaguar Corridor Initiative seeks to connect and protect jaguar populations from Argentina to Mexico within human-dominated landscapes, such as oil palm plantations, to preserve the species' genetic diversity. Cupped between Panama to the north and a handful of South American countries, Colombia holds the key to the jaguar's passage from Central America to South America.

Panthera's Jaguar Program Executive Director, Dr. Howard Quigley, stated, "Human development in the shape of large monocultures, like oil palm plantations, are drastically changing the face of the planet, creating refugees out of wild cats by breaking up their habitats and forcing them to live within smaller, often degraded, and more isolated pockets of land. Data collected through Panthera's Jaguar Corridor Initiative are critical for oil palm growers, national policy makers and local governments in their decision making so they can account for the needs of jaguars across their range and minimize impacts on wildlife."

Panthera promotes sustainable oil palm practices, asking farmers to adhere to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Recommendations to help curb the negative impacts of extensive agriculture development on biodiversity and enable initiatives like the Jaguar Corridor to become a reality.

Quigley added, "Our data suggest that plantations can be part of a landscape mosaic that jaguars will use. But careful planning that avoids large-scale replacement of forest with huge palm oil areas will be essential if we want to avoid the kind of isolation that tigers now suffer."

First Jaguar Photos in a Colombian Oil Palm Plantation

Versions of this press release were featured in the following media outlets, and more:

Read this press release in Spanish.

Spring Brings Snow and a Record 18 Snow Leopard Collarings in Mongolia

Spring in the Gobi is characterized by frigid temperatures that drop below -5 degrees Celsius and bring heavy snow storms, ice, and fierce winds. But despite these harsh conditions, Spring is also one of the most important snow leopard collaring seasons of the year for Panthera’s scientists based at the Panthera-Snow Leopard Trust study site in Mongolia. In this habitat, Panthera’s snow leopard scientists frequently question the reliability (and accuracy of the name) of their All-Terrain Vehicles, or ATVs, the roofs of their camp homes, and the likelihood of successfully tracking and collaring the ephemeral snow leopard.

However, Panthera’s Snow Leopard Field Scientist and Ph.D. student, Orjan Johansson, recently proved that while highly challenging, it is also very possible to collar not one, but three snow leopards in such conditions (and in a two week period)! With these three additions, a total of 18 snow leopards have now been collared through the Mongolia research study, eight of which are currently fixed with GPS collars.

In mid-April, just two weeks into the Spring collaring season, Orjan and another field scientist collared the study’s 16th snow leopard – a three to four year old male, who weighed in at a healthy 44kg. These and other data, including the length of the snow leopard’s body, tail, canines and paws and samples of hair and blood for genetic and disease testing, were gathered during the examination to help Panthera’s scientists understand more about the ecology and health of wild snow leopards, and ultimately better protect them. During this process, the snow leopard’s vital signs are continually monitored and it is protected from the cold with blankets and hot (pink) water bottles that are laid against its body (above).

After his release, the snow leopard was nicknamed ‘Ariun,’ meaning ‘Pure’ in Mongolian. Panthera’s scientists are now closely monitoring Ariun’s movements to determine if he assumes the role of the new dominant male in the region, as Shonkhor, the cat we believe was the previous dominant male that used Ariun’s range, passed away last Summer.

Within a week of Ariun’s collaring, the team was thrilled to successfully collar a well-known female snow leopard named ‘Agnes’ - the study’s 17th collared cat. Having eluded our efforts to collar her for several years, Agnes has been monitored by the Panthera-SLT team through camera traps since 2009 when she was first spotted with two tiny cubs, shown here.

Watch a video of Agnes with these cubs and others.

Entertainingly, while walking to the collaring site, Orjan was joined by the camp’s house cat, ‘Friday,’ who promptly scurried from sight when she caught a glimpse of the much larger and wilder cat. During her examination, Agnes was weighed at 36 kg and was estimated to be between 7-10 years of age, making her somewhat older than many of the female snow leopards collared through the study. Still, after spotting small snow leopard pugmarks, or paw prints, near Agnes’ collaring site and monitoring her movements, which have recently been limited to a small area, Panthera’s scientists believe that Agnes is currently traveling with at least one cub.

Several days later, the Panthera-SLT team achieved a new record with the collaring of the study’s 18th snow leopard – a young female weighing in at 34kg. After assessing her weight and size and examining her teeth, the team determined that this snow leopard is between 3-4 years of age – a prime age for breeding. However, while it appeared that she may have been lactating and heavily bloated, which could either be indicative of a pregnancy or a large feeding before the collaring, the field team has not yet been able to definitively confirm if she is currently expecting or raising cubs.

Using data from her GPS collar, the Panthera-SLT team will be able to monitor this snow leopard’s movements to determine if she has cubs or is pregnant, as limited traveling can be indicative of pregnancy, birth and the rearing of cubs in dens. In addition, the field team has now set up four new camera traps in the Tost Mountains in hopes of determining if Agnes and the newest female snow leopard collared are with or expecting cubs.

As the snow leopard is one of the world’s most elusive wild cats, scientists can only estimate that between 3,500-7,000 individuals exist in the wild. Data gathered from the study’s GPS collars and camera traps allow Panthera’s scientists to understand more about how many snow leopards remain in the wild, the number of females that are breeding, how many cubs are surviving, and more. All of these data help shape the development of Panthera’s snow leopard conservation project in Mongolia to better conserve ‘Asia’s Mountain Ghost.’

Snow Leopard Photo Gallery

Learn more about Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program.

Read Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program Brochure.

Read Panthera’s Snow Leopard Report Card.

Cougar Video: Families and Friends

“Solitary carnivores.” That’s what most wild cats are called. But the more we learn, the more we find that cats have communities too!

The cougar is the most recent to give us a glimpse into felid societies, thanks to the 12-year efforts of Craighead Beringia South, our partner organization on the Teton Cougar Project (TCP), which Panthera joined in 2008. Through the course of our fieldwork in northwestern Wyoming, we’ve documented several social interactions between what we have assumed should be solitary cougars. We've observed males making nonaggressive visits to females with kittens. And more recently, in a cooperative effort with National Geographic Magazine, we garnered new insights into cougar social interactions.

One study animal, F51, has been especially accessible and cooperative. She held a starring role in the 2011 NatGeo documentary, “American Cougar,” and has already contributed nearly 2,000 locations from the satellite downloads of her GPS collar. But on one particular winter day this year, she offered us something more. Panthera’s Media Director and National Geographic photographer, Steve Winter, had sent his assistant, Drew Rush, to find F51. Drew had spoken earlier with Peter Alexander of the TCP, coordinating as they did, about where the cats were, and what they were doing. And, Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project Director and Jaguar Program Executive Director, Dr. Howard Quigley, looking at the weekly downloads of GPS collars made note that M21 was also in the area. But, as Drew hiked up the ridge, listening to and following F51’s VHF signal from her collar, he hadn’t imagined the scene he would encounter just around the corner.

Using the ridge to hide himself while he was hiking, he stopped due east of the signal and eased himself up to the crest of the ridge with his binoculars and antenna. Not only did he see F51 and her two kittens, but he counted two additional kittens, and another adult female without a collar. Further, he could hear M21’s signal (the resident adult male) coming from the same location. That’s seven cougars in one spot! And, later the TCP field crew found the kill that they were sharing.

How does what Drew witnessed that day on the ridge influence our understanding of cougar social interactions? What about our beliefs that cats are “solitary,” or that numerous other carnivores are as well? This incident, and numerous others during the 12+ years of the TCP have revealed new windows into cougar behavior. And, although evolving GPS technology has played its part, intensive fieldwork has been instrumental as well: adult cougars do interact with one another. In this case, two adult females, their combined kittens, and an adult male interacted and shared a meal. Is their tolerance of each other, and perhaps even an “attraction” for each other, surprising?

The TCP continues to document and study these unusual interactions. Together with Craighead Beringia South, we are compiling our data on cougar interactions and combining it with genetic analyses currently underway. Perhaps cougars that are related to each other spend more time with each other than those that are not? For now, we have many questions and are looking forward to the findings provided by the TCP.

As we digest this new discovery and numerous others like it, we contemplate the successful partnership shared between Craighead Beringia South, Panthera, and National Geographic. Only through collaboration and intensive scientific fieldwork, do we begin to see the world through cougars’ eyes.

Panthera’s CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, Discusses How Easing U.S. Sanctions on Myanmar Will Help Tiger Conservation

Myanmar is home to a nexus of diverse habitats and is considered to harbor some of the last wild places on earth. Crowned by the frigid Himalayan Mountains and dissected by the Irrawaddy River, the primary lifeline for the country’s people and animals alike, Myanmar additionally supports lowland river deltas and lush jungles. As a result of its isolation over nearly the last half century, the country’s forests and wetlands remain relatively preserved compared to other Southeast Asian nations that have succumbed to expansive national and international agricultural, mining and other human developments. However, during the country’s military rule, virtually no environmental laws were imposed. This, of course, led to the plundering of much of Myanmar’s wildlife, including the Endangered tiger in the Hukaung Valley.

Panthera’s CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, led the first ever biological expedition of the Hukaung Valley in 1999 to study tigers, in partnership with staff from the Forest Department and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Myanmar Program. Based on the findings of this expedition, the Myanmar government designated 2,500 square miles of the Hukaung Valley as an inviolate wildlife sanctuary in 2004. This established the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve as the world’s largest tiger reserve. And just two years ago, the Myanmar government formally announced that the entire Hukaung Valley would be declared a Protected Tiger Area, extending the protected area an additional 4,248 square miles.

See photos of Dr. Rabinowitz in Myanmar’s Hukaung Valley

Today, Myanmar’s Hukaung Valley is estimated to harbor a dwindling number of tigers, due to rampant poaching for the illegal wildlife market. Myanmar is crowned by China - a country in which illegal wildlife trade and the use of tiger body parts in traditional Chinese medicines abounds. Overhunting of tiger prey by local villagers and the loss and fragmentation of the tiger’s natural habitat have also contributed to the decline in Myanmar’s tigers.

Unfortunately, even with committed local people on the ground, effective conservation efforts have been hindered in stemming the decline of Myanmar’s tigers and other wildlife during the country’s decades-long military rule, as its isolationist policies hindered the entry of foreigners, the establishment of international conservation projects and the consistent and uncorrupted funneling of funds for these projects. Some have already pointed out that Myanmar’s biodiversity may ultimately be a casualty of the country’s new openness, citing the habitat desolation of other ‘open’ Asian nations, such as Thailand.

However, Dr. Rabinowitz is of the opinion that if the country’s wildlife and wild places are properly managed and protected, Myanmar’s new openness could give its wildlife, and particularly tigers, a second chance for survival. International conservation organizations that have long desired to work in Myanmar may now initiate discussions with the government to establish comprehensive projects that identify what is left of Myanmar’s wildlife, the potential these animals have to rebound and how to best protect them as the country opens itself up to foreign investments and economic development.

A wild tiger in the Hukaung Valley, one of the few photos that exist, taken by WCS

Dr. Rabinowitz recently issued the following statement on this issue: “I congratulate the U.S. government for its decision to ease some sanctions against Myanmar and take steps to improve relations between the two countries. This decision has been a long time in coming. For over fifteen years I have worked side by side with dedicated and passionate forestry staff, civil servants and local nongovernmental organizations in Myanmar to protect tigers and their habitats. However, our work often has been hindered by a lack of funds from the international community and limited access to Myanmar.”

He continued, “Myanmar is home to the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve. Despite being the world’s largest tiger reserve, the number of tigers there is rapidly declining. My hope is that the lifting of sanctions will lead to a greater, more consistent flow of resources which will benefit Myanmar’s people and its wildlife.”

Today, the world’s remaining tiger populations exist in small, isolated fragments and the Hukaung Valley reserve connects a number of other areas of existing and potential tiger habitat in many parts of Asia. Tigers could make a comeback if the most critical threats to their existence – poaching of the cats themselves and their prey – are addressed effectively and immediately in the Hukaung Valley and other regions that support viable tiger populations.

Dr. Rabinowitz has been working in Myanmar to protect tigers for over 15 years and today, Panthera is working through the Tigers Forever project in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Myanmar to survey and monitor a core area of the reserve and prevent poaching of tigers and their prey by bolstering intensive law enforcement efforts to tackle poaching threats.

Additional Resources