Whoa!! It's been a while.. Finally I'm back from Sydney and can now present the cat-related news of past couple of weeks. Thank you all for your kind wishes. The trip was a thoroughly enjoyable one and I've included a couple of pictures from Taronga Zoo in Sydney in the post below. For more images and videos, you may go here.
First lions, and as always it is a mixed bag of news for Asiatic lions of Gir forest in western India. The good news is that the state government there has embarked on a landmark move to relocate nearly one hundred families of local forest dwellers out of the sanctuary. They are providing a sum of one million Indian Rupees to each family as compensation, and it is expected that the process will be completed by the end of next year. However, there is a caveat - the last time a similar move was undertaken by the government - it didn't go entirely as planned. The land allocated to the locals as part of the relocation program was sold illegally by nearly half of the migrating families. It is hoped that a similar situation doesn't evolve this time around. More on the above here and here.
And in other good news, the Wildlife Institute of India has recommended the development of Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh as a second home for the endangered Asiatic lions. This will aid in diversification of gene pool of these lions and prevent them for being wiped out by a natural catastrophe or epidemic in Gir. There is even talk of moving some tigers to Gir forest as part of an overall conservation strategy for tigers. However, the authorities in the state of Gujarat, that houses the Gir sanctuary, have been reluctant to go along with either move and relieve their monopoly as the sole sanctuary for these rare lions on earth. This is despite the fact that the lion population in Gir has surpassed the carrying capacity of the park and lions are increasingly moving out of the forest to move close to villages and human habitations, thus coming into conflict with people. To read more about this you can go here, here and here.
And to make matters worse the state government of Gujarat has agreed to allocate protected forest land to eight firms for commercial development. Hundreds of hectares of wildlife territory from various sanctuaries is being offered to the companies. This is sure to disrupt the delicate ecosystem of these jungles and hamper the natural lifestyle and movement patterns of predator and prey species. As a result, the animals may move further out of the parks and come into conflict with people. As always, there are several reports this week too, of conflict between people and animals in and around Gir. To read these and more on the above development, you can go here, here, here, here, here and here.
To the African lion now and it seems that the king of beasts is facing quite a unique situation in certain parts of Cameroon. Apparently the big cat has of late had to deal with one more scavenger in the food chain, even smarter than its traditional adversary - the hyena. I'll say no more. You can just visit this BBC report and be astonished, here.
To tigers, and the news unfortunately is largely negative this week. First is the sobering new research evidence that suggests that Amur tigers, largest among all cats, face very little genetic diversity in their population. Decades of hunting and persecution in the past in Siberia has meant that the biodiversity in the tiger population has dwindled significantly. And even though recent good conservation strategies have resulted in the rise of tiger numbers to around five hundred individuals the effective population, scaled in terms of genetic diversity, remains at thirty five animals. And even as there is some evidence of genetic variation in the captive Amur tiger population, the long term survival of this majestic big cat in the wild appears somewhat imperiled by this new discovery. Full report here.
The news is not positive for other tiger subspecies too. The Bengal tigers in South Asia are suffering from rampant poaching and habitat loss. Starting in Nepal where border disputes with India in certain parts are posing a threat to the tiger through illegal activities caused a vacuum of law enforcement agencies from either country. In Valmiki Tiger Reserve two tigers have been killed recently by poachers operating in this expansive no man's land. The authorities in Nepal have also released the results of a recently concluded census that indicate a slight decrease in tiger numbers in the country over the past six years. More on the above here and here.
To Bangladesh now and here another horrible practice is emerging that foreshadows a dark future for the tigers - the beating of big cats to death by villagers. Owing to climate change, tigers are increasingly straying close to human settlements in Bangladesh. And here they are being attacked by angry mobs. Several reports have emerged that indicate a growing pattern of this practice across the country. Bangladesh has already lost its tigers from all but one reserve - the Sunderban. And here too, the tigers are having a difficult time, owing to conflict with locals. More here, here and here.
To India, and there is a combination of good and bad news here too. The good news is a proposed change in legislation that will introduce tougher sentences for poachers. There is also word of a special tiger protection force being set up to guard the big cats in thirteen tiger reserves across the country. Another significant move is the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the chief tiger conservation body, state governments and field directors of tiger reserves in India. The memorandum indicates penalties for the field directors in case a single tiger or its habitat is lost from the forests under their authority. More on the above here and here.
The bad news continue to come in too though. Reports of several incidents of poaching and recovery of tiger parts alongside the news of arrest and indictment of poachers continue to emerge from India and other parts of Asia including Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia where the Indochinese, Malayan and Sumatran tigers are facing an uphill battle for survival. Following are some of the links of these arrests and poaching incidents, and one insightful interview from a leading tiger authority, Valmik Thapar: available here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
To leopards now and like the other big cats, there are also encouraging and adverse developments here. For the Indian leopard it has been a bad week, with news emerging of the recovery of several leopard skins during a raid in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand. For the Snow leopard too this was not such a good week, with a decline in its number reported by the recent Nepalese census. More on these here and here.
The only leopard species that had a good past couple of weeks, is the Clouded leopard. A clouded leopard cub was spotted in Bangladesh after four years, raising hope for the bright prospect of this beautiful cat's survival in the South Asian country. And the Smithsonian's National Zoo in the US reported its success in breeding a clouded leopard couple. Great news since clouded leopards are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity owing to the propensity of male leopards to kill females. To read more about these news you can go here and here.
Finally Cheetahs, and the most fragile yet athletic of the big cats is facing a bright future in Asia with reports emerging that India plans to reintroduce the spotted cats into its grasslands, decades after they were reported to have gone extinct in the country. The plan is still in its formative stages and is an ambitious one with several challenges. However, if it can be pulled off, it will be a major development for these majestic felines. There are also reports of scientific research of cheetahs that may assist in the understanding and study of these cats in the wild. More on these here, here and here.
That's all the news for the past few weeks. Before you go though, you may want to take a passing glance at how cats control our lives, here.
Hope you like the new blog template. Have a great week :)