November 2011 Newsletter

New Results of Island-Wide Survey Give Hope to the Sumatran Tiger

While most news about tigers is on their dramatic decline (down to fewer than 3,200 in the wild) and increasing threats to their long-term survival, a new study, published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, and which Panthera’s Tiger Program Director Dr. Joseph Smith is a co-author, provides a glimmer of hope for Indonesia’s last subspecies, the Sumatran tiger

(Panthera tigris sumatrae).

Over the past three years, eight NGOs* joined forces with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry to carry out the first ever Sumatra-wide survey of the presence of tigers. The study found that over 70 percent of the forest areas surveyed currently are occupied by tigers, although the cats’ status varied greatly between the different landscapes.

“The survey results provide an excellent benchmark against which to measure how our future conservation efforts are benefiting tigers on the ground,” said Dr. Smith.

Lead author Hariyo Wibisono of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Chairman of the Sumatran Tiger Forum (HarimauKita), which coordinated the initiative, said, “This survey is a milestone for Sumatran tigers. The results provide the most up-to-date and reliable information ever collected for this Critically Endangered subspecies and is the first time that such a large number of organizations have worked together so effectively.”

Effective conservation measures include actively preventing the poaching of tigers and their prey by bolstering intensive law enforcement efforts to tackle poaching threats throughout the landscape.

“While the future for wild tigers often appears bleak and is certainly wrought with challenges, this survey shows us that hope still remains,” Dr. Smith explained.

* The nine organizations (including the government and eight NGO’s) directly involved in the surveys are the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, Wildlife Conservation Society, Fauna & Flora International, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology/University of Kent, World Wildlife Fund, Zoological Society of London, Sumatran Tiger Conservation and Protection, Leuser International Foundation, and Rhino Foundation of Indonesia.

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Panthera Leopard Experts Discuss Threats Facing African Leopards in Natural History Magazine

Panthera President, Dr. Luke Hunter, and Lion Program Survey Coordinator, Dr. Philipp Henschel, were recently interviewed for the cover story of Natural History Magazine’s October edition, Leopards in the Twilight Zone. In the article, Dr. Hunter and Henschel discuss the current ‘vulnerable’ status of the African leopard and the threats the species faces today, including bushmeat hunters, who as Panthera’s scientists recently published in the Journal of Zoology, are now competing with leopards for the same food in the Congo Basin rainforest.

Read an excerpt from the article below and on the Natural History Magazine’s website, or pick up a current hard copy of Natural History magazine to read the full story.

“Leopards have vanished from almost 40 percent of their historic range in Africa,” says biologist and leopard specialist Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, an organization headquartered in New York that works to ensure the future of wild cats through scientific research and conservation efforts. “The decline is the result of relentless habitat loss, conflict with livestock herders, and the lucrative and illegal market for leopard skins and other body parts.”

A camera trap in Gabon snaps a photo of poachers out on a hunt with their dog.

Now, studies by Hunter and Panthera’s Philipp Henschel, as well as by scientists at the University of Oxford and mates of their numbers in places like the Seronera Valley in the Serengeti, and in fact across Africa.” have identified a new threat to Africa’s leopards: competition with human hunting for “bushmeat.”

That finding comes not from Africa’s mountains or savannas, but from the rainforests of the Congo Basin. Cats and humans both target medium-size herbivores such as antelopes and bushpigs. At sites where leopards’ prey is scarce, densities of the cats are less than one-quarter of those in areas more remote from human settlements, where antelopes still roam. In the most overhunted of the project’s sites, leopards have disappeared without a trace.

“Humans throughout the Congo Basin rely primarily on bushmeat for protein, so the implications for leopards are immense,” says Henschel. “Where leopards can hang on, they’re forced to switch their diets to smaller prey species and so don’t reach their normal densities.”

Although the leopards themselves may be revered as totems, and so protected from direct hunting, the loss of their prey can wipe them out. “It’s the ‘empty forest’ phenomenon,” says Hunter. “You can have intact forest that looks pristine but is so heavily hunted that few large mammals—and no top carnivores—can live there.”

A Record 15 Snow Leopards Join Mongolia Study

The joint Panthera-Snow Leopard Trust research project based in Mongolia has broken another record with the collaring of our 15th snow leopard (the equivalent number of cats collared through all other snow leopard research projects combined).

Several weeks ago, Panthera’s scientists collared a new, healthy male estimated to be around 1.5 years old, who weighed in at 30 kg (a surprisingly heavy weight for a snow leopard of his age). After monitoring the movements of this snow leopard, and those of Khashaa (an older female snow leopard also included in the study), Panthera’s scientists confirmed that our newest snow leopard is one of Khashaa’s two cubs!

The newest male snow leopard to join the Mongolia study looks down at Panthera’s scientists after his collaring.

Research has shown that snow leopards reach independence at approximately two years of age. As this male is estimated to be nearly 18 months old, our scientists are looking forward to monitoring his movements over the next six months as he reaches independence. Data retrieved from this snow leopard’s collar will improve our understanding of snow leopards’ dispersal habits and providing further insight into the age at which cubs reach independence, their behavior after dispersal, including identification of their range, feeding success once forced to find their own prey, and other useful information.

A 2010 camera trap photo of Khashaa batting a spider.

Adding to this achievement, Panthera’s scientists recently set another record while re-collaring Khashaa, who at 42 kg weighed in as the heaviest, wild female snow leopard ever collared for research! Panthera’s scientists were amused to find several spectators - Khashaa’s two cubs – checking in on their mother and watching the collaring procedure from a cliff above. Based on tooth wear, the age of Khashaa’s cubs, and what Panthera’s scientists know about her previous litters, Khashaa is estimated to be between 5-7 years old and is in wonderful condition - a great accomplishment for a snow leopard mother providing food for her two nearly-grown cubs.

In the past several weeks, Panthera’s scientists also re-collared Aztai (right), who weighed in at 42 kg (on an empty stomach) and appeared to be in very good shape. Aztai’s new GPS collar is now recording twice as much data on his movements in order to gather more in-depth information on his behavior.

Learn more about Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program.

Videos of Khashaa and Cubs

A camera trap video taken last Summer in Mongolia’s Tost Mountains of ‘Khashaa’ with several of her cubs before she was fixed with a GPS collar in September 2010.

Khashaa, a snow leopard monitored through the Panthera/Snow Leopard Trust project in Mongolia, passes by a camera trap with her two cubs. Khashaa’s collar dropped off as scheduled and Panthera’s scientists recently re-collared her this Fall.

Watch more snow leopard videos here.

Panthera’s Faux Leopard Fur Campaign Featured in Top-Tier South African Newspapers

The innovative leopard conservation work of Panthera Leopard Program Coordinator, Tristan Dickerson, was recently profiled in two top-tier South African newspapers - The Mercury and BusinessDay.

These papers reported on Dickerson’s work over the past two years to create a faux leopard skin that he will soon present to members of South Africa’s Shembe Baptist Church, which has adopted the Zulu practice of wearing spotted cat fur (mainly leopard) during religious celebrations.

In The Mercury article, Dickerson explained that, “The leopard population simply cannot sustain this level of pressure and we began to investigate out-of-the-box solutions…to protect the leopard population and also respect traditional and cultural practices…The intention is to offer the church a large share in the system. We would like them to buy into the business and encourage members to wear these faux skins.”

Read the full articles here:

Additional Information

Read more articles on this project below:

2011 Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation Awarded to WildCRU Felid Scientist,
Dr. Amy Dickman

Panthera is proud to announce that wild cat scientist, Dr. Amy Dickman, has been awarded the 2011 Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation.

Each year, Panthera’s Cat Advisory Council awards a $15,000 prize to one individual under the age of 40 who has made a significant contribution to conserving wild cats, and who represents the next generation of scientists, conservationists, policy makers, politicians and planners who will pave the future of wild cat conservation. Prize winners like Dr. Dickman are individuals who have worked and will continue to work tirelessly to contribute in a significant way to the conservation of wild cats.

As a young conservationist, Dr. Dickman has already accrued over 13 years of wild cat conservation experience. Dr. Dickman worked for nearly six years at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia where she researched cheetah and leopard ecology, as well as methods to mitigate human-cheetah conflicts. After completing her M.S. and Ph.D., which focused on the determinants of human-carnivore conflict in Tanzania’s Ruaha landscape, Dr. Dickman joined the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) - a part of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology - as the Kaplan Senior Research Fellow in Felid Conservation.

In this position, Dr. Dickman created the Ruaha Carnivore Project – a joint carnivore-ecology/human-carnivore conflict study – that works to gather data on carnivore ecology across the Ruaha landscape and develop community-driven techniques for effective conflict mitigation. The project is also very focused on training young Tanzanian scientists in order to develop the next generation of wild cat conservationists.

To date Dr. Dickman has published over 25 scientific papers and book chapters on big cat ecology and conservation. She is a member of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group, the African Lion Working Group, the Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration, and has experience in novel methods of big cat monitoring, such as the use of scat detection dogs. She also helped create the Global Cheetah Action Plan, Regional Conservation Strategies for cheetahs and African wild dogs in Eastern and Southern Africa, and National Action Plans for cheetahs and other carnivores in Kenya, Tanzania and Southern Sudan.

Panthera CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz Receives Lifetime Achievement Award at Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival

Panthera is proud to share that Dr. Alan Rabinowitz recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Conservation at the prestigious 2011 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. This award recognizes Dr. Rabinowitz's decades of work to protect some of the world's most imperiled species - including tigers and jaguars.

In addition to this esteemed award, Panthera received several other nods at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, including the selection of Panthera's film, 'My Pantanal,' as one of three finalists for the 'Best Children's Program.'

The Teton Cougar Project, carried out in partnership by Panthera and Craighead Beringia South, was also the focus of the National Geographic film, 'American Cougar,' which premiered at the Film Festival.

Read Panthera's Press Release to learn more about Panthera's awards and activities at the 2011 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.

Featured Photo of the Month – A Tigress and Her Five Cubs

A tigress and her five cubs walking in Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh, India.

Most news we hear about tigers is in regards to their precipitous decline. So you can imagine our delight when this image was shared with us, from photographer and wildlife enthusiast Nidhi Saraf who captured a rare, and frankly, magical event.  Nidhi snapped this photo – of a tigress and her 5 cubs (yes 5!!) - on an early morning in Pench Tiger Reserve in India.

The tigress, fondly called Collarwali (meaning in Hindi “The One with the Collar”), has been radio collared and successfully monitored to date by the tiger experts at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).

Tigers on average give birth to between two and four cubs, with cub mortality being around 30-40% (and possibly much higher), which makes this image even rarer. Collarwali’s cubs were born in January, 2011, making them approximately 11 months old. It is believed she has one male and four female cubs. Nidhi reports that this particular tigress is seen quite regularly in the park, but this is the first time all five cubs have been seen together with their mother.  In a world where it seems that the tiger’s long-term future can be described as precarious at best, this image is a reminder that hope remains, and provides a glimpse into a future of what is possible.

About the photographer, Nidhi Saraf, in her own words: “About me, well, I am a marketing professional and currently work in the Consumer Goods Industry. I love travelling and enjoy photography. I have been a nature lover for a long time but it is my husband, Vinay’s passion for wildlife that has made me discover the gamut of experiences that nature offers. In the last three years, Vinay and I have spent most of our free time in the wild. We have had multiple occasions which have been memorable, but this particular sighting was possibly, once in a lifetime.”

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