|4 continents for tigers|
EUROPA, RUSSIA, UNITED STATES AND THEIR CAPTIVE BIG CATS : THE CROSS – ROADS.
As chinese policy concerning tigers is presently more and more controversed, immediate and enormous opportunity is offered to Europa, Russia and United States who can strongly save tigers in the long term by their own means through both audacious and realistic rewilding protocols of a part of their captive big cats.
Chinese responsibilities about tigers’ drastic decline since 30 years are well known (Sennepin 2008b). In addition, the global collapsus for chinese nature is also aggravated by the exceptionnal richness of original fauna in this country up to the last century (Pfeffer 2008).
However, ecocides in United States since the second part of 19th century were even larger. And european colonial policy in asian countries had pushed to death 500 000 tigers during two centuries.
At the end of the second world war, populations of tigers were no more trhan 2% that they were before 1750.
Moreover, european domination had induced behavioural change in local populations towards tigers and consequently a dramatic breakdown of tiger cultures which is the key fact of present difficulties in protection of surviving tigers.
Furthermore, another gigantic slaughter occurs between 1880 and 1930 both in meridional Russia, central Asia and Russian Far East (at least several dizains of thousands individuals killed).
Infact, the destruction of the eurasian tiger, Panthera tigris virgata, is one of the worst genocides of the XXth century, both by the tremendous envergure of its reality, and the massive and repetitive propaganda around a supposed terminal death of the species from 1930 to 2003 (UICN report).
The situation of this animal is infact , ecologically speaking, quite comparable to this of south china’s tiger, and quite different in perceptions of his present surviving (analogous mechanisms could also be observed about saber – tooth cats in modern africa – see Heuvelmans 2007 -).
Only one reference in literature had been produced about him up to 2007 (Prynn 2003) against three about blue tigers !
Thus, this extraordinary feline (Sennepin 2008a) has a poorly known but key position in european culture, as well as his oriental counterpart in chinese civilization (spectacular illustrations – Shere Dor Madrasa in Samarkand, armenian Guegard monastery – are symptomatic in both islamic and christian civilizations)
is perhaps still alive in Lake Van region, oriental Turkey (in Turkish Daily News, 4 August 2004, from a 2002 – 2004 field study by naturalist Yildiray Lise).
Today, the situation of wild tigers is almost desperate and numerous elements are showing that the species will rapidly go to extinction (except perhaps in India for the mid – term) despite several original recent initiatives (from international associations as well as indian government).
Sumatran subspecies submits a fatal breakdown, destroyed by oil - palm cultures’ business, and in a few months, there will probably stay only one type of tiger : Panthera tigris, himself very threatened of immediate collapsus.
Moreover, a long captivity (through several generations) weakens animals and their abilities to eventual future rewilding processes.
Captive tigers in USA, Russia and Europa submit alas this type of « management », which mecanically drives the species to definitive death.
This is NONSENSE. Changing these absurde and destructive formulas is imperative to save the tiger.
It is both possible and relatively easy to assure a solid long term future for the animal through refounded and rigorous rewilding protocoles as both large territories, zootechnical competences and financial means are widely present in our countries.
Furthermore, strong and efficient actions by great occidental nations will have a considerable impact on chinese authorities, that will be pushed in a « tiger redeployment race » to avoid a dramatic loss of their present key position on this highly symbolic domain.
It would be a « virtuous circle » process.
Experiments of George Adamson with lions in seventies are well known (Tytelman 2008) and Li Quan present action in South Africa (Sennepin 2008b) obtains concrete results – three living cubs in Spring 2008 - and begins to be supported (spectacular article in the Los Angeles Times - Dixon 2008 -).
More individual experiments have been driven by Billy Arjan Singh and Valmik Thapar in India, by Viktor Yudin in Siberia.
At the present time, reimplantation of tigers in Turkey or central Asia (Kazakstan, Tadjikistan) that have been historical territories of Caspian, tigers is not possible nor desirable (because of the general situation in this region).
In the long term, siberian tigers (that were very proximal to their occidental counterparts) could be used for a new « far west conquest ».
In any way, in Russia, Sergueï Zimov « prepares » huge areas in oriental Yakoutia for an eventual future implantation of siberian tigers.
In United States, Dave Foreman, director of the Rewilding Institute, promotes « come back to Nature » of very large territories, implantations of jaguars in southern USA… Stephan Carbonnaux (Bousquet 2008) considers it is a good model for occidental Europa.
Josh Dolan (MIT) projekts implantion of asian elephants and lions in wild grasslands of american far west.
Brian Werner (Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge, Texas) hopes to obtain necessary funds in October 2008 to build rewilding of big captive feline.
Furthermore, patagonian territories could be adapted to such plans : if couguars have been intensively destroyed up to now, areas are immense, and they were the prehistoric kingdom of the biggest social saber tooth cat of all times : Smilodon populator (Turner and Anton 1997).
Private funds are of course indispensable to support such initiatives, but the strongest act politically speaking would be the erection of a national Tiger Project, like this put in place in India in the seventies, but on other basis.
Nowadays, captive big cats submit a true « non – policy » : a perpetual statu quo, with no rewilding perspective, coupled to a « breeding explosion » since 40 years, which induces all types of trade.
Present situation is out of control, and no more acceptable than the chinese one (as we will see in detail, and despite dominant ideas about it).
First, an historical comparaison seems to be useful.
Infact, chinese practices on animals can be compared to Aztec human sacrifices (in their perception by Europeans), and thus, England, (and even more France and Spain) were proportionnally bloodier than Aztec Empire at the same epoch (Mann 2005).
Alas, we are presently in an analogous situation for captive tigers’ management.
And now, here are the facts.
During several decades, free breeding have been favourized in american zoos and circuses, inducing true fashion mechanisms : everybody wanted to have a lion or tiger cub.
Reserved pleasure to rich persons in a first time, the possibility was secondary enlarged (a tiger cub costed less than a pure race puppy) and became, since the end of nineties, a worldwide one.
At the present time, several dizains of thousands pet big cats are probably living throughout the world.
For Russia and central Asia, they are perhaps as numerous as 6000.
Many celebrities like to be seen with their tiger cub in public.
A POORLY KNOWN AMERICA
Two deeply documented articles published in National Geographic in October and November 2003 show clearly dimensions and complexity of such a situation in the USA.
Implicated numbers are truly monstruous : as much as 15 000 exotic feline could be present on the territory, more than 10 000 of them as pet animals.
Lions and tigers could be ten times more numerous as pets than in zoos, parks and circuses.
The major part of these populations would live in big cities, like New – York.
Perhaps more than 500 big feline would live in Houston.
Of course, this type of cohabitation induces many accidents for owners, for one part, and frequent horrific realities for the animals (strarvation, diseases, illegal trades of living beasts or corpses…).
A gigantic loss of an inestimable biologic stock is so realized.
There are refuges for big cats : Tiger Haven (Tennessee), with 200 animals on 20 hectares, or Wild Orphanage (San Antonio, Texas) with 90 occupiers (Handwerk 2003, Block and Trivedi 2003).
Thapar (2004), mentions the extremely dramatic case of a refuge breakdown in California, after 25 years of action. During the police intervention, many dying animals , amongst them very young cubs, as well as 90 dead tigers (some of them rotting on the soil, others in freezing – machines, were discovered.
The first safaris’ organizer of the world
There are more than one thousand « game ranches » on USA territory, were safari for rich men are organized in closed areas :
these massive slaughters of prisoner animals are sometimes often huger than those realized in Coliseum during the roman Empire.
South African Republic had put in place in the nineties, big lion breeding centers, comparable to gigantic tiger farms in China and where animals lived in excruciating conditions, were devoted to « box hunting » practices analogous to the present american ones.
700 animals were killed in 2006, and up to 1500 en 2007.
Today in USA, this type of activity prosperates, concerning even higher numbers of sacrified big cats.
Europa in the heart of tiger trade
Europa is ordinary almost considered as a paradise for captive felines comparatively to China. Alas, european practices are as much destructive as chinese ones, even if this reality is much more elusive.
It is clearly shown by a long and deep investigation in England and Belgium by two journalists, Daniel Foggo and Hala Jaber. They put in light an enormous trade of tiger parts throughout Europa with numerous zoos and circuses as first distribution step.
They published their results in an impressive paper in the Sunday Times (22 July 2007).
Concretely, it appears that numerous institutions owners of captive animals kill tigers in good health .
They sell their corpses to taxidermists that turn their trade towards rich clients.
It’s a massive and probably generalized phenomenon. The authors note they have been lucky to investigate in England, were they could push their investigations. It would be probably not the case in southern Europa.
This trade is the logical consequence of a discrete but vigorous EAZA policy.
EAZA is the international association of captive animals’ management.
This group promotes the « protection of genetically pure lineages » amongst captive tiger populations (Foggo and Jaber 2007) which is a scientific fiction.
Infact, EAZA policy is founded on the affirmation that there are 6 tiger subspecies (8 at the beginning of last century, 3 extinct during it, one created from geographic isolation inside south eastern asiatic tiger).
In reality, most of them are only geographical varieties.
There were only three true subspecies at the last century (Picq and Savigny 2004, Thapar 2004), only two at the beginning of the present one, and no more than one single lineage before the end of 2008 (consequently to quick and radical destruction of sumatran tigers in indonesian oil palm cultures).
But considering there are 6 subspecies induces the physical destruction of many more individuals considered in a false way as hybrid in this type of classification.
Like in USA, the loss of biological stock reaches overrealistic levels.
And in addition, « safaris » already mentioned for USA and South Africa are also organized in Europa.
During at least several years, many carnivores amongst them lions and tigers from circuses have been shot down in the big spanish steppa of Estramadura.
In December 2005, a tiger corpse was discovered and exposed in the city of Badajoz (Sennepin 2006b).
First responsible in the drastic decline of wild tigers of the two last centuries, the Occident pursues a desastrous policy towards their captive congeners.
A new approach, based on rewilding protocols of both animals and territories is both urgent, efficient in the long term.
Moreover, it induces a strong political gain, in return to have saved the most fascinating animal on many plans for a majority of human beings, and so contrarily to China and even in substitution of chinese defective attitude.
In a second time, China could react to do more and better than euro american initiative, which would strenghten still more the worldwide situation of wild or rewilded tigers in the future.
Latin poet Martial has depicted eurasian tiger as « the Marvel and Glory of Hyrcany mountains ».
Withdrawing the realization of a speedway that would have crossed the lynx territory, spanish authorities indicated that « government will not take responsibility to provoke the first extinction of a big cat in Europa since prehistoric times » (Sennepin 2007b).
Occident and Russia are in front of a clear and immediate choice, towards the animal who is the nearest of a tricolorous cave lion (Galhano – Alves, pers. com 2008),
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