Endangered Species Handbook

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Vanishing Species

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     The Javan Tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica), for example, was given legal protection and reserves in the 1920s and 1930s, yet it was poached to extinction.  If a single facet of a conservation plan is lacking, faulty or unfunded, this can spell extinction for the animal or plant.  A reserve for this Tiger was set aside too late, when it was nearly gone.  As Indonesia's most heavily populated island, Java had little forested land left, and by 1972, only four or five Tigers survived (Matthiessen 1997).  With a very limited population under constant threat from poachers and big game hunters, these Tigers needed intensive anti-poaching protection and biological surveys, which they never received.  Without well-equipped and motivated park rangers, research and surveys, education of local people and the goal of conserving Tigers established as a major priority of the Indonesian government, there was no chance of saving these cats.  The last Javan Tiger was seen in 1976 (Matthiessen 1997).    
     Since the 1970s, Tigers have experienced precipitous declines throughout their remaining Asian range.  Killed for their "magical" bones and body parts, which are used for Traditional Medicine as well as for potions that are intended to impart virility and strength, these magnificent cats are snared, trapped, poisoned and shot in devastating numbers, estimated at a minimum of one Tiger per day of the fewer than 5,000 that survive.  A Tiger is now worth at least $50,000 in Traditional Medicine, placing a price on the head of every wild Tiger.  Many experts are predicting the Tigers’ extinction outside of zoos within a few years.  One program, however, has shown success in stemming this decline.  In Russia's Far East, strong anti-poaching programs and intensive research and survey projects have halted the decline of the largest subspecies, the magnificent Siberian Tiger.  This work has been funded by outside organizations including the Global Survival Network, a Washington, DC, organization, and other groups.
     Only about 250 Siberian Tigers survived in the wild in the early 1990s, and with 50 or more being killed by poachers each year, their future seemed dim.  The Russian government, in economic chaos, was unable to pay wardens a reasonable salary.  Many resorted to illegalities to take advantage of the high value of dead Tigers.  The open border with China brought an influx of smugglers and traders offering bribes of $5,000 or more to wardens and poor villagers for killing a Tiger.  With the infusion of some $750,000 from conservation organizations since 1993 and help from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, well-armed and well-paid wardens now patrol most of the Siberian Tiger's habitat in modern vehicles.  Without this outside funding, which must be continued indefinitely, poaching would have extinguished the remaining wild Siberian Tigers.  Biological research on these Tigers is being carried out by the Idaho-based Hornocker Wildlife Institute, along with Russian scientists.  These studies have surveyed their populations and obtained the first estimate of their habitat needs which, for males, is at least 450 square miles.  One female Siberian Tiger named Lena, being radio-tracked by these researchers, was killed by poachers.  Her four young cubs would have starved to death, but they were located when signals were received from the still-operational radio collar, which had been cut off Lena's body and placed next to the cubs.  The terrified and hungry cubs were taken into captivity, and the three survivors were sent to US zoos. 
     Siberian Tiger poaching is finally decreasing.  Russian conservation groups are conducting educational programs for local people and investigating suspected poachers along with Russian government officials (GSN 1997).  Recent population surveys indicate an increase in Siberian Tigers, and conservation plans are falling into place (Galster and Eliot 1999).  The Tiger's prey of deer and wild boar has been heavily poached, and the plan calls for anti-poaching work to preserve these animals (GSN 1997).  Tiger biologists have drawn up a plan for a huge sanctuary in the region, suggesting habitat corridors linking isolated Tiger populations, and proposing an end to clearcutting of forests (GSN 1997).  Without urgent protective measures, this magnificent cat will disappear.  (See Forests chapter for more on this Tiger and its habitat).

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