Animal Welfare

World Wildlife Week: Vulnerable Species

Continuing our blog series of World Wildlife Week, we bring you a compilation of vulnerable species. Be sure to check out our earlier posts on the critically endangered and endangered lists of species.

Giant Panda– Found in the high mountains of western China, the panda lives mostly in bamboo forests. There are currently close to 2,000 in the wild. Hunting and habitat loss pose as their greatest threats. Although China has established more than 50 panda reserves, this protects a little over half of the panda population in the country. Greater public awareness and conservation efforts have drastically reduced panda deaths and upgraded their status from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable.’ but hunters still kill pandas accidentally while hunting other animals.

Polar BearClimate change poses to be the greatest threat for the polar bear, forcing them to travel long distances to seek shelter. Losing their habitats has led them to have closer and negative human interactions in Arctic coastal communities especially. Illegal and unreported hunting also poses to be a threat.

Leatherback Turtle- These turtles are named for their leather shells rather than the hard ones, thus the name. The largest sea turtle species and also the most migratory have seriously declined due to a intense egg collection and bycatch. Subpopulations in the Pacific and Southwest Atlantic have the status of ‘Critically Endangered.’

Marine Iguana- These are the world’s only oceangoing lizard. Increasing threats from climate change have begun to affect their nesting habits. The Galapagos National Park protected only the central part of the nesting zone, but in 2012 protection expanded to the entire nesting zone.

Hippopotamus– The hippo is the heaviest land animal after the elephant. Currently, these water giants face a risk of habitat loss.

World Wildlife Week: Endangered Species

Continuing our blog series of World Wildlife Week, we bring you a list of species that are currently endangered. Be sure to also have a look at those that are ‘critically endangered.’

Asian Elephant– The Asian elephant consists of four different families and is a relatively sociable creature forming groups up to six-seven related females. Asian elephants are endangered because they’re hunted for ivory as well as for their skin. Other threats include habitat loss and capturing wild elephants for domestic use. Only about 30% of elephants currently remain in captivity.

Bengal Tiger– Primarily found in India, the Bengal Tiger also exists in smaller populations across Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China, and Myanmar. Although India has made commendable conservation efforts, today it is in the Sundarbans, the only mangrove forest, where tigers are found. But it’s increasingly getting threatened due to poaching and also trade. Increasing human populations have led to habitat encroachment forcing tigers to be scattered and thus attacking humans. Poaching other wild animals, such as deer and antelope, have also led to a loss of the tiger’s natural prey.

Chimpanzee- Believe it or not, the chimpanzee is our closest cousin as we share about 98% of our genes! Poaching tends to be the greatest threat to this species, in which hunting is commercialized to satisfy the appetites of people. Infant chimpanzees are also taken alive and sold as pets in some places. Disease outbreaks have also reduced the chimpanzee population.

Ganges River Dolphin– Dolphins are some of the oldest creatures, as the river dolphin was found in 1801. They are essentially blind and use ultrasonic sounds to hunt. Growing infrastructure, fishing, and pollution are some of the factors threatening this species. Approximately 9,000 tons of pesticides and six million tons of fertilizers are used in the vicinity of the river every year. High levels of pollution have led to increased levels of toxins in dolphins’ bodies.

Whale– The whale is a magnificent creature growing up to more than 100 feet at length! With increasing effects of climate change, hunting and krill fishing, the whale is falling under threat faster than ever before. As few as only 300 North Atlantic whales exist in the wild today. Over a 1000 whales a year are killed for commercial purposes, especially in Iceland. Warmer oceans and the loss of our glaciers are already beginning to affect the hunting and eating patterns of whales.

Words: Arushi Dutt

World Wildlife Week: Critically Endangered Species

In honor of World Wildlife Week, October 2-7, 2017, we will bring you a list of species that are currently on the Red List, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. We begin with the list of ‘Critically Endangered’ species and encourage you to spread the word.

Critically Endangered:

Sumatran Tiger- This is the smallest surviving tiger species as only about 400 exist today in the wild. Poaching and habitat loss serve to be the major reasons for endangerment, the former accounting for about 78% of estimated Sumatran tigers’ deaths. Human-tiger conflict is a major problem in Sumatra as retaliation by humans has only led to increased tiger deaths.

Mountain Gorilla– A species once thought to be extinct by the twentieth century, now lies at the brink of extinction due to habitat loss, hunting, and disease. They continue to be forced out of their habitats, facing deadly conditions due to human encroachment. Disease is also a prime reason of critical endangered, due to their close interaction with humans. The number currently lies at a shocking 880!

Sumatran Elephant– In 2012, it was declared that over half of the Sumatran elephant had been lost, much like many of other endangered species in that area. Deforestation and habitat loss account for most of the population’s extinction. Similar to the tiger, human encroachment due to rapid urbanization around parts of Sumatra, has led to many elephants getting poisoned or shot by humans.

Black Rhino– Located in deserts and grasslands, the black Rhino rests in areas such as Namibia, Coastal East Africa. Major threats they face include poaching and illegal trade. Over 1,000 rhinos were reported killed for poaching last year. The demand for the rhino’s horn comes especially from Asian consumers for folk remedies. The extinction rate of the black rhino, despite conservation efforts, is at 6%, which is close to the birth rate. Thus, it faces the status of ‘critically endangered.’

Orangutan– These magnificent creatures share over 96% of human genes. The Sumatran orangutan differs slightly in its facial appearance than its Bornean counterpart. Their extremely low reproductive rates make them highly vulnerable. Major problems include hunting and illegal wildlife trade, especially of baby orangutans, traded in Indonesia. Currently, there exist a little over a 100,000 Sumatran orangutans and about 14,000 Sumatran ones.

Words: Arushi Dutt

What is happening with tiger conservation today?

The comeback of the tiger was miraculous after a century of its decline. In 2016, the number of tigers rose from 3,200 to 3,890 in the wild. Considering there was a scare in losing out on one of the most exotic creatures of the wild, this has definitely been a win.

Better reporting and preservation efforts led to increasing tiger populations in India, Nepal, Russia, and Bhutan. Methods of tracking tigers using new motor sensor cameras helped greatly in monitoring the species in different areas. Conservation organizations continue to classify and regulate species, which helps to adopt better measures of protection and conservation. An example of this is the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species that keeps a tab of the conservation status of every species, subspecies, and varieties, and plays a key role in guiding activities of many governments, NGOs, and scientific institutions.

Most recently, photographic evidence from the DPKY-FC (Dong-Phayayen Khao Yai Forest Complex) confirmed the world’s second-known breeding population of the Indochinese tiger here, declaring it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a huge step in ensuring the existence of the species. It was also at the 2010 Tiger Summit in Russia where13 countries pledged on doubling the tiger population by 2020. But for this to happen, a lot more is yet to be done.

Problems still persist in 2017. India accounts for about 57% of the tiger population in the wild, which luckily has risen over the past few years. However, in countries like Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar, tigers are fast approaching extinction due to poaching and illegal trade. Tigers in these countries are classified as ‘functionally extinct.’ The idea of India sharing its tigers has been brought up, but most wildlife biologists do not recommend this. This project costing millions and investing a lot of effort unfortunately has only led to one successful case of tiger reintroduction in Panna, Madhya pradesh. World’s leading tiger expert K. Ullas Karanth also doesn’t recommend this strategy saying, “In societies that lack India’s cultural tolerance for wildlife, such failures will only undermine tiger conservation for years to come.”

Asian countries like Thailand are currently also undergoing an infrastructure development boom. The construction of new roads, railways, and buildings would lead only to a greater destruction of wild habitats. A planned construction of a major highway linking the Dawei Special Economic Zone in southeast Myanmar to southwest Thailand is one such concern, as it crosses through key protected areas of Southeast Asia: Thailand’s Western Forest Complex and the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex.’ If we want to maintain the rising number of tigers in the wild, maintaining connectivity of the tiger’s landscape is crucial.

Although tigers and humans have shared the planet for a long time, it has been a relationship of friction. Over time, with cities expanding and developing further, habitat encroachment has and continues to lead to a slow diminishment of the tiger population. In direct consequence to this, there is a lack of diversity in the gene pool leading to sick offspring. More and more tigers are held in captivity, as there is a greater chance for them to survive than in the wild. It’s about time that we rethink and reshape the relationship humans hold with tigers, as it is only up to us to continue and carry out conservation tasks to help them survive in the wild.

Areas of focus that have been adopted by countries such as India, which must be implemented in all 13 countries include firmer laws and surveillance for anti-poaching acts through technology, promotion of tiger habitats, addressing climate change and its impact, and aligning development with tiger conservation by involving locals and stakeholders. The Russian government, for example, recently introduced increased penalties for poaching in tiger reserved areas, leading to a boost in the Amur tiger numbers. It must also be known that tigers can co-exist with humans, but it is up to us to stay informed and aware. The public can appeal and fund towards tiger conservation through several campaigns and adoption programs run by international conservation organizations.

Today, July 29, on International Tiger Day, we applaud all the progress that has been achieved in retaining the tiger population. However, we must foresee what the future of civilization will bring upon it as well, and accordingly uphold efforts of conservation and awareness. Only then, can we truly hope to see this magnificent creature of the wild surviving and thriving for many more years to come.

Words by: Arushi Dutt