|New threats and reactions|
1. Is it possible to convince hunters not to kill tigers?
The unexpected, well orchestrated campaign that has emerged at the federal government level to allow "limited elite hunting" of the Amur tiger with the aim of increasing funds for its protection has come as a shock for us, the people of the Russian Far East.
Articles with headlines like "The Amur Tiger, The Most Expensive Trophy in the World" had appeared almost simultaneously in Russia's leading hunting publications: "Russian Hunting" (newspaper), "Hunting and Fishing in Russia" (magazine). Tiger and wildlife management believe that Russian and international outfitting firms are behind attempts to organize safari hunts of the Amur tiger. The greatest danger in this sudden interest in hunting tigers was that the discussions underway on various internet forums do not include specialists in the area of protecting rare and endangered species but are moderated by high placed bureaucrats who count trophy hunting among their hobbies. We believe that it was critically important to carry out an aggressive regional and national public relations campaign to counter this very dangerous trend.
The project goal was to mount a campaign that stymies the criminal attempts of certain sectors of Russian society to shake public opinion and to prepare the ground for a lobbying effort that would eventually allow "limited elite hunting" of the Amur tiger.
The film's goal is to demonstrate to government agency officials at various levels that live tigers have for years survived on the lands of hunting organizations and that a live tiger is a significantly more important economical feature than any dead tiger.
The Russian government has signed an agreement to create two federal national parks - "Zov Tiger" and "Udegeiskii Legend" in tiger habitat. This is a huge achievement in the development of a tiger eco-net. However, the plans for the creation of these parks do not include the means, nor the programmatic agendas nor the staff to work with the local people who will be restricted in their activities as a result of the creation of these parks. For that reason we believe that it is essential to begin an integrated program to work closely with local people and communities to ensure a favorable social climate for these new parks, to establish effective means to web the interests of the hunting communities with the goals and objectives established for these parks.
2. Invasive tourism in indian national parks (from Laura Bly, USA TODAY, 29 November).
In contrast to many African safaris in privately owned game reserves, Indian tiger excursions sometimes take on a carnival atmosphere. At Bandhavgarh and Kanha, where naturalist Wright's parents founded one of the park's first game lodges, a key attraction is the "tiger show." Park staff with walkie-talkies set out on elephant back to locate a tiger; when they do, tourists board their own elephants to come in for a closer view.
And while the England-based Travel Operators for Tigers posts codes of conduct that include competent tour guides who carry "suitable maps, a mammal guidebook, bird books and other material to show/illustrate what is being seen," critics complain that a "tiger-centric" culture prevails.
Some well-traveled wildlife aficionados, like recent Ranthambhore visitor Jane Hughes of Cambridge, England, are nonplussed by their Indian experience.
Despite multiple tiger sightings, some at close range, "it was all so frenetic and haphazard with vehicles roaring around, and lots of people shouting and generally not behaving as one would expect around endangered animals," Hughes says. "It left me with the feeling that all those cubs born this year may have a bleak future."
Ranthambhore's visitor regulations, which include a limit on the number and type of tour vehicles allowed into the park each day and a new lottery system for assigning game drive routes, are clearly subject to interpretation.
One guide said that despite the lottery, in which visitors draw zone assignments out of a bag when entering the main gate, those willing to pay an extra 500 rupees (about $12.50) could wrangle a drive through choice "zone three," which encompasses the park's scenic lakes and is prime tiger territory. And during a recent three-hour morning game drive, all eight allotted tourist vehicles backed up behind several jeep-loads of "V.I.P.s," with frustrated tourists waiting half an hour while the officials trained their binoculars and cameras on a reclusive tiger.
"Everybody blames tourism, because it's such an easy, visible target," says lodge owner Goverdhan Singh Rathore, who grew up in Ranthambhore as the son of the park's first game warden, Fateh Singh Rathore.
But compared with poaching, habitat degradation and pervasive corruption, he says, "tourism is the least of the tigers' problems. The fact is that tourism keeps park management on its toes. Out of sight means out of mind."
Wright isn't so sure: "At the moment, tourism is keeping tigers safe because it helps keep the bloody poachers out," she allows. But, she says, "in a national park, the wildlife should come first. We have too few tigers to push them over the brink with undisciplined tourism."
3.Endangered Pelts Go Up In Smoke In Kashmir
From IFAW, 4 December 2007,
Indian wildlife authorities today torched a huge pile of banned wildlife furs and skins in Kashmir as part of the government's effort to stop an illegal trade that threatens to wipe out many of India's most endangered species.
Ashok Kumar, trustee of the Wildlife Trust of India and IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare; www.ifaw.org) partner, lit the pyre. "This is a hugely significant moment. Going up in flames was the largest single agglomeration of wildlife skins anywhere in the world."
Under the orders of the High Court, eight truckloads of stockpiled pelts were burned by state officials in a public display of destruction. Incinerated items included skins, rugs, fur coats and gloves made from dozens of tiger, snow leopard, leopard, hill fox, leopard cats, black bear, otters and wolves.
All species are protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, the Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act of 1978 and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).
The huge stock, estimated to be worth several million US dollars, came from more than 125,000 articles surrendered by furriers from the Kashmir Valley region. The fur traders were forced to give up their illegal stash by the court, which will oversee a compensation scheme for the animal skins worth almost $2,500,000 USD.
Kumar pointed out that "Compensation will be given to those furriers who willingly surrendered their stock. It is a small price to pay to protect endangered species from the decimation of poachers."
"The job of enforcement officials throughout the region will be much easier now as any new stocks that are found will be seized immediately and the trader brought to justice. Wild species have respite from the Kashmir fur trade, although at no time can we give up the battle."
Chief Wildlife Warden for Jammu & Kashmir, A. K. Srivastava, said: "We have waited many years for this moment. This historic event is taking place with the support of the local community, in an open and transparent manner, for the ultimate protection of our precious wildlife."
Kashmir has historically been the centre of the wild animal skin trade, with specimens being brought into the Valley from all parts of India. This is demonstrated by the existence of the head of an Asiatic lion, which lives exclusively in the western state of Gujarat, in the stockpile.
The first truckload of illegal skins was burnt in Srinagar in October. Today's burning represents the second stage in the destruction of pelts now numbering 127,326 items held in storage by the Forest Department.
Today's total tally included: tiger (45 skins, 44 heads and 14 manufactured items), snow leopard (104 skins, 1 head and 25 items), black bear (120 skins and 5 mounted heads), leopard (422 skins, 115 heads and 435 items), jungle cat (33,235 skins and 6,255 items), one lion head and one Tibetan antelope skull.
Robbie Marsland, UK Director of IFAW, witnessed the burning and said: "Like Kenya's burning of stockpiled ivory in 1989, I hope these flames send a strong message to consumers around the world that the trade in endangered species is illegal and totally unacceptable in today's society."