Blood does not buy goodwill

In the paper published Guillaume Chapron and Adrian treves in Proceedings B of the Royal Society (Blood does not buy goodwill: allowing culling increases poaching of a large carnivore), the authors looked at whether removing protection for large carnivores would decrease illegal hunting. This idea is supported by many governments. Does it work as expected? Find out by watching this video and by reading the paper available at http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/283/1830/20152939.

Abstract of the paper:

Quantifying environmental crime and the effectiveness of policy interventions is difficult because perpetrators typically conceal evidence. To prevent illegal uses of natural resources, such as poaching endangered species, governments have advocated granting policy flexibility to local authorities by liberalizing culling or hunting of large carnivores. We present the first quantitative evaluation of the hypothesis that liberalizing culling will reduce poaching and improve population status of an endangered carnivore. We show that allowing wolf (Canis lupus) culling was substantially more likely to increase poaching than reduce it. Replicated, quasi-experimental changes in wolf policies in Wisconsin and Michigan, USA, revealed that a repeated policy signal to allow state culling triggered repeated slowdowns in wolf population growth, irrespective of the policy implementation measured as the number of wolves killed. The most likely explanation for these slowdowns was poaching and alternative explanations found no support. When the government kills a protected species, the perceived value of each individual of that species may decline; so liberalizing wolf culling may have sent a negative message about the value of wolves or acceptability of poaching. Our results suggest that granting management flexibility for endangered species to address illegal behaviour may instead promote such behaviour.

Large carnivores’ tough life: Lion and Buffalo fight to death

I usually hear people saying that herbivores are prey and are vulnerable to be killed at any moment. They have fear, and while grazing/browsing are vigilant and ready to run if anything similar to a predator has been spotted or smelled in the surroundings. They are seen as the weakest against the powerful predators armed with sharped claws and muscled jaws that hold an army of threatening canines.

From my point of view, the truth is slightly different. Predators do not have an easy life neither. They have to compete with other powerful and armed carnivores of their same and other species for food, space, access to reproduction, survival, etc. They also have to cope with diseases, human persecution (their biggest challenge in life!) and always have to be in good shape. They must be successful hunters which required skills and techniques that need to be constantly improved throughout their life.

Quite a difficult task too… who is afraid now?

Next pictures were published in the Daily Mail two weeks ago. They were taken by Matt Armstrong-Ford, who works as a safari guide in the South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

I thought interesting to share them as they well illustrate the predators’ tough life.

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Desesperate six-year-old male lion suffering from mange was waiting nearby a waterhole for a meal when the lone female buffalo appeared in the scene.

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The feline is tossed around in the air as he attempts to mount his adversary.

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The amateur photographer said that the fight lasted up to an hour. The buffalo managed to shake the lion itself off several times but instead of trying to escape just stood there. Both animals stared at each other both too exhausted to move. After a few minutes of rest the lion then went for the buffalo and another ten-minute battle ensued.

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As it looked like fortune was favouring the exhausted but ravenous lion a member of the buffalo’s herd came to its aid and delivered a deadly blow.

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After this the lion managed to drag himself under a bush to lick his wounds. Both animals were covered in blood by the end. Two days later the lion succumbed to his injuries, while the buffalo’s carcass was found two weeks later having failed to fight off infection

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2945904/Battle-death-Buffalo-lion-endure-epic-hour-long-fight-leaves-animals-fatal-injuries.html

A king without a kingdom…

Lion population distribution map

Public Domain Public domain

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has been labelling the iconic lion as ‘vulnerable’ since 1996. Various estimates show that populations have been going down by about 30–50% over each 20-year period of the second half of the 20th century. Starting with a population of around 400,000 in 1950, lions are now down to around 16,500-47,000 living in the wild based on estimates from 2002–2004 (certainly less than that now).

What’s happening? Mostly habitat loss and conflicts with humans, as well as some disease outbreaks.

The best way to illustrate just how much things have changed for lions is with the map above. The red areas show the species’ historic range, while the blue areas show where they can be found today… Sad, isn’t it?

For more on this, see our previous article about the “catastrophic collapse” of lion populations in West Africa.

Personal comment:

I trully hope that this beautiful animal will not be devanished one day. Theere is nothing like hearing the lion roaring from your tenth. I had this amazing feeling both in Botswana and Namibia and there is nothing compaable to it!

To end this post, some lion pics from my last trips

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Lion, Botswana. Photo: Rubén Portas

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Lion, Botswana. Photo: Rubén Portas

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lion cub, Namibia. Photo: Rubén Portas

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Collared Lioness, Namibia. Photo: Rubén Portas

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Lion, Namibia. Photo: Rubén Portas

Dingos May Have Outfoxed Tigers

New evidence suggests that thylacines were driven to extinction on the mainland by dingo attacks rather than competition for food, as previously thought.

Thylacines flourished widely until around 3500 years ago. Their disappearance from areas other than Tasmania co­incided with the arrival of the dingo, which never reached Tasmania.

It is common for predators to kill smaller species that might represent competition. However, this was once dismissed as a possible explanation for the thylacine’s mainland disappearance since the Tasmanian tiger was larger than dingos.

Dr Mike Letnic of the University of NSW says this view ignores Bergmann’s Rule – the observation that animals are larger in colder climates – so Letnic and colleagues at the University of Sydney compared the size of thylacine and dingo bones from similar areas. They found a substantial overlap in size, but some adult thylacines were much smaller than any dingoes.

Evidence from Tasmania shows that thylacines were highly sexually dimorphic, with the females much smaller than the males. Although it is not possible to identify the sex of most of the fossils, it seems likely that male thylacines were of similar size to dingoes while females were not much larger than foxes.

“Recent studies have shown that foxes are suppressed in areas that have many dingoes, and it appears that the dingoes kill the foxes. Hence we believe that the same mechanism occurred 3500–5000 years ago with dingoes killing thylacines,” says Dr Mathew Crowther of Sydney University’s School of Biological Sciences.

Male thylacines may have been large enough to fight off dingos, but the females would probably have succumbed, leaving the species unable to breed.

In PloS One the researchers argued that direct attacks by dingoes may have wiped out the thylacines. “Recent analysis has found the evidence for competition as a driver of extinction is weak,” Letnic says. “It can have a big effect on abundance, but usually a species can find a location in which it can survive. Direct killing is harder to avoid, particularly with an introduced species, which the smaller animal may lack adaptations to avoid.”

Letnic acknowledges that the theory lacks direct evidence, such as dingo bite marks on thylacine fossils. However, he says finding this would be “like looking for a needle in a haystack”.

The paper also raises the possibility that changes in Aboriginal culture and economy, coinciding with the dingo’s arrival, may have contributed, as might the dingo’s greater tendency to hunt in packs.

Source: http://www.australasianscience.com.au/article/issue-julyaugust-2012/dingos-may-have-outfoxed-tigers.html

Paper conclusion:
Dingoes were similarly sized to male thylacines but were considerably larger than female thylacines on mainland Australia during the Holocene. Small size may have made female thylacines particularly susceptible to direct killing by dingoes and such killing could have driven thylacines to extinction. Due to their lower metabolic rate and convergent morphology, thylacines would have also been susceptible to resource competition with dingoes, but competition is generally thought to be a weaker extinction threat than predation. Our results provide support for the hypothesis that direct killing by larger dingoes contributed to the extinction of the thylacine on mainland Australia. However, attributing the extinction of the thylacine to just one cause is problematic because the arrival of dingoes coincided with another potential extinction driver, the intensification of the human economy.

Access to the paper: http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0034877&representation=PDF

Saving More Than Just Snow Leopards

By PETER ZAHLER and GEORGE SCHALLERFEB. 1, 2014

The cold and rugged mountains of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China seem an unlikely place to find a flourishing combination of new community institutions and international diplomacy. Few people live there. Those who do are mostly desperately impoverished livestock herders. They have been largely isolated from the rest of humanity on these enormous mountains where the Indian subcontinent once crashed into Asia, buckling the earth’s crust and raising peaks over 20,000 feet.

However, despite its isolation — or perhaps because of it — something fascinating has been happening in this cold mountain landscape. Communities are coming together to manage this fragile and unforgiving place, where people scrape a living from sparse alpine pastures. At the same time, neighboring countries are finding ways to cooperate across borders that in recent history have become almost as hostile as the rugged terrain. As odd as it may seem, a big cat is helping to lead the way.

Once largely ignored because of its nearly inaccessible habitat and secretive behavior, the snow leopard has slowly gained notice as studies have found that it is increasingly threatened, with likely fewer than 7,000 animals left across its enormous range in Asia. In turn, this interest in the cats has drawn attention to the human communities of these mountains and the fragility of their ecosystem, particularly their watersheds, which are crucial to the livelihood of hundreds of millions of people in the lowlands.

Elusive Cats and Their Endangered Prey

Threats to leopards’ prey vary widely over remote areas, where research is difficult at best. Here are three prey species known to be in decline.

In this wilderness above the tree line — where Marco Polo sheep with horns six feet from tip to tip crash heads and the magnificent ibex scales cliffs as if they were stairs — the smoke-colored snow leopard glides silently and nearly invisibly as the top predator. The cat is what biologists call an “indicator species” of the health of the overall ecosystem. Efforts by scientists and local and national governments to save the snow leopard are rooted in the idea that, like the big cat, environmental threats are not confined to political boundaries.

It was not until the 1970s that wildlife biologists began to roam the mountains in search of clues about the snow leopard’s mysterious existence. Sometimes going months without a sighting, biologists used indirect evidence — tracks, droppings, stories from local herders — to deduce details of the cat’s life.

It turns out that snow leopards face several major threats: poaching, both for their skins and body parts, sought after by the traditional medicine trade; the decline of prey such as wild sheep and goats; retaliatory killings by shepherds and villagers for livestock lost to snow leopards; and shrinking wild habitat.

As these threats grew in both clarity and immediacy — with snow leopards having been exterminated in some mountain ranges and decimated in others — it became clear that this iconic big cat could disappear entirely if immediate action was not taken. Conservation organizations turned from research to focusing on helping local villagers manage their land and wildlife.

Protecting ecosystems can be a complicated undertaking. In both Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, disease is a serious threat to livestock. Vaccinations have reduced livestock losses and made villagers less inclined to retaliate against the cats for the few sheep and goats they kill. The problem is that vaccinations can result in a rapid increase in livestock numbers — and to overgrazing, habitat destruction, the disappearance of wild prey and, perversely, an increase in the number of domestic animals killed by snow leopards. So villagers must agree to limit their livestock numbers in return for vaccinations.

However, after years and in some cases decades of hard work and trial and error, real successes are being seen. For example, 55 communities in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan and 65 in northern Pakistan (where the Himalayas, Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Pamir mountains come together) have recently formed committees to safeguard their resources. These committees now deploy almost 200 volunteer community rangers to monitor snow leopards and their prey and enforce anti-poaching regulations. In northern Afghanistan, community rangers have helped capture four snow leopards and fit them with GPS tracking collars to better understand their ecology.

Governments have been supportive of these efforts and are working to strengthen local groups. For example, in Afghanistan, two new protected areas — the second and third in the country’s history — are being developed in tandem by communities and the national government, with the expectation that they will be co-managed by both to protect snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep and ibex.

In Qinghai Province on the Tibetan Plateau, considered the “water tower of China” because the headwaters of the great rivers — the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong — are there, the Chinese government has initiated a major bottom-up community-based conservation program to train local people to monitor the health of the habitat and create an “ecological civilization,” as they call it. Certain communities have been given rights by the government to protect and manage their own land, and some areas have even set up their own conservation organizations, as have some Buddhist monasteries.

Recent meetings among Asian nations have led to proposals for sharing data, coordinating research and creating a large protected area for snow leopards across China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. China and Pakistan are working cooperatively to manage the adjoining Taxkorgan Natural Reserve in China and Khunjerab National Park in Pakistan. And government officials from all 12 snow leopard range countries met in Kyrgyzstan last fall to join in a declaration to better protect the snow leopard.

Even so, huge challenges still exist. The region will always be physically isolated and difficult to reach. Local poverty remains a significant problem that can slow or even impede change. In some areas security is a real concern, and events at the regional or international level can threaten to derail progress.

But one thing is clear: Changes are afoot in the high mountains of Asia. And a mysterious, secretive and snow-colored cat appears to be leading them.

Peter Zahler is deputy director for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Asia Program. George Schaller is a senior conservationist at the society and vice president of Panthera, a conservation group focused on saving the world’s wild cats.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/02/opinion/saving-more-than-just-snow-leopards.html?

RELOCATING HUMANS FOR TIGER CONSERVATION IS A WIN FOR BOTH

Humans and large carnivores tend not to get along very well. When there’s not enough for hyenas to eat in Ethiopia, they turn on donkey herds. If a few sharks come a bit too close for comfort, governments institute sanctioned culls. In some parts of Europe, bears are killed in retaliation for livestock depredation.

There are only three possible solutions for any sustained clash between human communities and large carnivores. One, the needs of our species can be put first, to the detriment of the predators and the ecosystems in which they live. Two, conservation organizations can promote “peaceful coexistence,” which often includes education about the important role that apex predators play in maintaining an ecosystem, and monetary compensation for livestock losses. Three, the needs of wildlife can be put first, and humans can be removed from their habitat.

The problem with the first solution is obvious, and was seen following the complete removal of wolves from Yellowstone National Park. In most cases, a plan for peaceful coexistence is probably preferable: humans are taught how to avoid interacting with large predators, and receive payment to offset any income losses from slaughtered livestock. However, there are some extreme situations in which human relocation is the best option. Could resettling human communities away from critical tiger habitat along the Nepal-India border benefit both groups? Research published this week in Biological Conservationsays yes.

Tigers (Panthera tigris) in the Terai Arc Landscape can inflect both economic losses on impoverished pastoral communities, via livestock depredation, as well as human losses. The TAL is a region comprised of eleven Nepalese and Indian protected ecosystems along the Himalayan lowlands and foothills, and is home to nearly 7 million people. Most of the area is also critically important habitat for tigers. Historically, a people known as the Gujjars lived in the area where they grazed their livestock in the lowland forests during the winter and in the higher-elevation alpine meadows in the summer. The seasonal movement of the farmers and their livestock meant that their grazing was sustainable, but in recent years sociopolitical pressures have forced the Gujjars to reside year round in the foothills and lowlands. As a result, the lands have become overgrazed, resulting in a deteriorated ecosystem not just for the farmers and their livestock (mainly buffalo) but also for the rest of the wildlife that shares it, including tigers.

Tigers are also fairly finicky creatures who require vast amounts of land in order to feed adequately and to find enough safe places to breed. As the researchers, led by Abishek Harihar, put it, “securing and strengthening protected areas or breeding sources in exclusion of anthropogenic disturbances, while ensuring that the larger landscape matrix is permeable to movement of tigers between the embedded source sites have become the cornerstones of tiger conservation.” In other words, the best way to help tigers is to stay out of their way.

Starting in 1984, 1125 Gujjar families were resettled away from critical tiger habitat. It cost just $360 USD per household, which paid for agricultural land, houses, and livestock sheds. The resettled Gujjars “have adopted an agro-pastoralist lifestyle and gained access to amenities such as education, medical services, veterinary care for their livestock,” and as a result, the vacated lands have witnessed increases not just in the tiger population, but in the ungulates that they hunt.

Now, Harihar and colleagues interviewed the heads of 158 Gujjar dera still in the tiger zone, resulting in data for 2237 individuals. (A dera is comprised of 2-6 households belonging to a father and his married sons; only the head of each dera, usually the father, was interviewed.) They found that most of the Gujjars – 156 of 158 interviewed – were unhappy in their current situation and were eager to be relocated with government assistance. On average, 89% of a household’s income came from milk production meaning that livestock losses, whether to disease or depredation, were particularly problematic for them. They believed that at least one quarter of all deaths was due to predation, either by tigers or leopards. And while those deaths led to some $45,000 dollars in lost revenue, only 10% of households received compensation. The researchers think that this is in large part attributable to the Gujjar’s 9% literacy rate, which impedes their filing of paperwork.

TAL tiger map Relocating humans for tiger conservation is a win for both

A map of tiger occupancy across the Terai Arc Landscape, with locations of the households interviewed during this study.

While large carnivores are not the primary driver of livestock losses for this community even in areas of extreme tiger density, such kills may be particularly salient and be more easily remembered. As a result, the occasional predation coupled with a low rate of governmental compensation “has resulted in incidences of retaliatory poisoning” and “involvement of community members with organized poachers,” the researchers say. Still, tigers and leopards rate low on the list of reasons that they want to move.

Most said instead that the “forests are no longer productive enough to graze and raise livestock for milk,” reflecting the problems with overgrazing. Many also referred to the lack of access to education and health facilities. Indeed, their desire to shift to a mixed agricultural/pastoralist lifestyle in a new place suggests a desire to diversify their income streams away from an increasingly unsustainable milk-based economy. “Being a largely illiterate community,” Harihar says, Gujjars are aware of “how the lack of education is hindering their ability to adapt to an increasingly monetary economy.” Resettlement would also bring them closer to veterinary facilities, an important benefit since three quarters of their livestock are lost each year to disease or injury.

Conservation organizations and local governments might therefore take advantage of the fact that many from the Gujjar community are ready to be relocated if only they had the resources to do it; such resources could be preferentially allocated towards those in critical tiger habitats, which need to be free of anthropogenic disturbances to allow the tigers to thrive. In lower-priority areas, the emphasis could be placed on peaceful coexistence by eliminating barriers towards receiving compensation for livestock depredation, and by providing better education on livestock husbandry and management to the farmers. In that way, both the Gujjars and the tigers could maximally benefit, a distressingly rare outcome in the world of wildlife conservation. – Jason G. Goldman | 5 February 2014

Source:
Harihar A., Ghosh-Harihar M. & MacMillan D.C. (2014). Human resettlement and tiger conservation – Socio-economic assessment of pastoralists reveals a rare conservation opportunity in a human-dominated landscape, Biological Conservation, 169 167-175. DOI: 

http://conservationmagazine.org/2014/02/relocating-humans-tiger-conservation-win/