strange behaviors

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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Posts Tagged ‘tigers’

That Big Rise in Tiger Numbers? It Was a WWF Fantasy.

Posted by Richard Conniff on April 15, 2016

(Photo: Jim Cook/Getty Images)

(Photo: Jim Cook/Getty Images)

My latest for Takepart.com:

Lately, media worldwide have been frothy with happy talk about an unexpected increase in populations of the endangered tiger, with the global count suddenly up from 3,200 to 3,890. The World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum reported the result based on a tally of recent counts by government agencies and conservation groups.

The announcement predictably produced headlines everywhere that tiger populations were on the rise for the first time in 100 years. Even National Geographic and the BBC sang along, in tune: “Tiger Numbers Rise for First Time in a Century.”

There was only one problem: The news was a publicity-friendly confection of nonsense and wishful thinking, unsupported by any published science.

Instead, the timing of the announcement had everything to do with politics: It came the day before the scheduled opening of the Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in New Delhi, bringing together scientists and political leaders from 13 nations.

That group has committed its member nations to the daunting (and arguably unrealistic) goal of doubling the population of tigers between 2010 and 2022. With half that time elapsed, WWF Senior Vice President Ginette Hemley apparently meant to kick things off with some good news and a key takeaway message for the conference attendees. “When you have high-level political commitments, it can make all the difference,” she said. “When you have well-protected habitat and you control the poaching, tigers will recover. That’s a pretty simple formula. We know it works.”

At various points, Hemley carefully attributed the results to better counting methods, not to an actual increase in tiger numbers. “The tools we are using now are more precise than they were six years ago,” she told The New York Times. But that nuance got lost along the way, as it was perhaps intended to do. The Times headline: “Number of Tigers in the Wild Is Rising, Wildlife Groups Say.”

WWF did not respond to a request to interview Hemley—a policy person who spends most of her time in Washington, D.C. So for a reality check, I phoned a tiger biologist: John Goodrich

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Wildlife Has A Kind Word for a Hedge Fund Manager

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 27, 2016

A Siberian tiger in the forests of Primorskii province near Vladivostok, Russia. (Photo: Animal Press/Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

A Siberian tiger in the forests of Primorskii province near Vladivostok, Russia. (Photo: Animal Press/Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

This is my latest for Takepart.com, a follow-up on last week’s New York Times column about illegal logging by Lumber Liquidators:

Everybody hates hedge fund managers, and even hedge fund managers don’t much like the short sellers among them. Short sellers are a peculiar breed who scrupulously avoid the happy talk that dominates the rest of the market. Instead, they specialize in ferreting out corporate bad behavior. Then they bet that the sins of such a company will sooner or later come out, causing the stock to collapse. This makes them about as popular as a fundamentalist preacher at a Mardi Gras parade. They are also not above public shaming to make a stock collapse sooner.

You might think this has nothing to do with wildlife. Let me fill in some background. In October 2013, the Environmental Investigation Agency, a conservation nonprofit, went public with the results of a five-year investigation in the Russian Far East. The forests there are the only habitat of the world’s last wild Siberian tigers and Amur leopards.

The tigers in particular have been the focus of a 25-year conservation effort by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Wildlife Fund, and their Russian counterparts. At a cost of about $7 million so far, that effort has succeeded in increasing the populations to about 500 tigers and 50 leopards. Each tiger needs hundreds of square miles of forest, and the biggest threat to their survival comes from illegal logging of that forest.

The EIA undercover agents had gone into the area posing as lumber buyers. They saw where the illegal logging was happening. Then they followed the wood back to a factory in China that was the single largest buyer. There they saw (and videotaped) former tiger habitat being turned into living room floors and packed in boxes labeled

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The War on India’s Tiger Reserves

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 15, 2015

(Photo: Aditya Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo: Aditya Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

I’ve been reporting a story lately in India, and one day’s drive between two important tiger reserves reminded me that wildlife survives here only in the face of endless challenges, and with almost all the money and power working in opposition.

The day started in Bhadra Tiger Preserve in the Western Ghats mountain range, and our destination was Kudremukh National Park, 75 miles to the west, with just a thread of wildlife corridor—less than a mile in width—connecting the two.

Bhadra is a beautiful forest with a dirt road winding among tall, straight teak trees. The tigers were in hiding, but there were chital deer in herds, and solo muntjac deer peering out at us nervously. A giant squirrel with big ears and a red tail half again as long as its body stared down. Yellow-toed green pigeons with gorgeous crimson wings busied themselves at a patch of mud.

People were the main challenge here, as everywhere in India. More than 700 families used to live in this forest, in 13 villages. The politically correct point of view, especially among human rights activists, is that indigenous people should stay in the forest, as an integral part of the natural world. There is plenty to be said for this point of view when loggers, palm oil producers, and oil companies hack down forests around tribal people who have always lived there.

But the reality in India

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Endangered Species Now Need Vaccines, Too

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 21, 2015

(Photo: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS)

(Photo: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS)

One reason some modern parents persist in their delusional fear of vaccines is that they’ve forgotten the appalling reality of measles and other childhood diseases. But I remember, because measles was the closest I came to dying as a child, in the last gasp of the disease before widespread availability of a vaccine. It has left me with a feverish memory of feeling as if a suffocating pink graft of skin had been stretched across my face (probably because I couldn’t open my eyes) and of being unable to do much more than lie on my back struggling to breathe. Measles killed about 500 American children a year then. I got away cheap.

But this is a column about wildlife, and about a different virus—essentially measles for carnivores—that is causing an equally miserable sickness, often leading to death, in some of the world’s rarest species. Scientists are now proposing to use vaccines to save these animals from the brink of extinction. But figuring out how to vaccinate a scarce, shy, wide-ranging predator can be even more frustrating than trying to talk sense into recklessly misinformed human parents.

As the name suggests, canine distemper virus generally spreads among domestic dogs. In the United States, anybody who takes little Maggie or Jack to the vet for mandatory rabies shots typically gets the canine distemper vaccine too. But in parts of the world with feral dog problems or poor vaccine coverage of domestic dogs, the virus can readily jump to wildlife, and the victims aren’t just members of the canine family. In the mid-1990s, for example, canine distemper roared through the Read the rest of this entry »

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They Gave Up Their Home For Tigers. Would You?

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 11, 2014

Imam Hussein and family in their new home

Imam Hussein and family in their new home

 

Ten years ago, Imam Hussein reluctantly moved his family out of their traditional home in the Terai Arc Landscape, a hilly, forested sliver of northwestern India, as part of a government resettlement plan to protect tiger habitat. It was a struggle. The move forced the family to give up the buffalo they had depended on for a pastoral livelihood, and though the resettlement put them on a small plot of arable land, they knew nothing about farming.

But the Husseins’ lives have gradually improved: They farm wheat, they own cell phones, and a 12-year-old daughter is in school. The tigers have benefited too. Hussein used to look around his threadbare forest home and recall, with regret, how it had looked when he was a child. Now, when he visits, that lost forest is visibly recovering.

But the most dramatic change is that his fellow Gujjars, who once clung fiercely to their pastoral way of life, now want to follow him out of the forest. In a new study published this month in Biological Conservation (for which Hussein served as a field assistant), more than 98 percent of the Gujjar families surveyed indicated Read the rest of this entry »

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