Friday, 10 August 2007

Call of the Jaguar -Day 9: “Steamed Piranha”

In the early morning we went out to the same place where we saw the two jaguars yesterday and there was no sign of them today. We also went to check the Caiman carcass that we saw yesterday killed by a jaguar but it was gone. From the tracks and from the position of the vultures we could tell the jaguar had dragged it to the area where there was a dense growth of trees. I wish we had a vehicle so we could go tracking the jaguar.

I was still fortunate to see an Iguana, a caiman with a newly caught fish in its mouth. It was also a rare chance to learn about the fauna and flora of Pantanal. There are 3500 species of plants and 500 species of birds. Although I have traversed 800 kms of river, I only saw a tiny fraction of what is available here in nature.

I was also surprised to find out from Peter Crawshaw that he was also attacked for training "lay" people who are keen on conservation but who did not have the relevant academic background, as Peter believes that in conservation it is not the academic background that counts but how passionate, dedicated and thus effective one's contribution is to conservation. He discussed it in his paper "the Recommendations on Study Design for Research Projects on Neotropical Felids" in 1991.

Having been maliciously attacked by some of the NGOs from the outset of setting up Save China's Tigers, I am very impressed by Peter's stance on this point, probably standing against a lot of peer pressure. Coming from a scientist this is particularly valuable since some "professionals" discard and sometimes even viciously attack efforts from "non-professionals" by hiding behind science. Judy Mills, then with Conservation International and now at the Esso sponsored "Save the Tiger" fund, was quoted in a 2003 Wall Street article on myself saying that Conservation should be left to conservationists, and that the only thing that comes out of what I do is a wealthy woman feels as if she has done something, etc. This is somewhat ironic since Judy Mills' own professional background was actually PR.

I have huge problems with this kind of attitudes championed by the likes of big NGOs such as the one represented by Judy Mills. For me, everyone on this planet should be a conservationist, as everyone in this world has a responsibility towards the health of this planet which is largely indicated by how much wilderness is still around. This attitude of Give-me-your-money-and-don't bother-about-what-I-do precisely holds the NGOs no accountability towards donors and supporters, and contributes to the inaction, ineffectiveness and inefficiencies of many of the big "conservation" NGOs, which seem to be more interested in promoting the preservation of their own organizations instead of the causes they were initially established for. The highly respected field biologist George Schaller wrote about how small a percentage of donor fund at WWF actually goes into conservation projects in his book "the Last Panda" and he was described as biting the hand that fed him.

These organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and IFAW, are however quick to jump on the bandwagon to criticize and even attack any other concrete actions such as ours, that they themselves hold with contempt.

I was also surprised to find out that Dr. Crawshaw is one of the 16 members of the core group of the Cat Specialist Group of the IUCN, as his name was not on that infamous 2003 letter addressed to the Minister of the Forestry Administration of China, which was signed by 7 people in the name of the "core" group of the Cat Specialist Group. In that letter the "core" group members threatened the Chinese government and said that they would never be involved with the Chinese Tiger project again if China sent the South China Tigers to South Africa for rewilding training. It was ironic since I had tried to enlist help from the Cat Specialist Group for nearly three years before that and all I received was cold shoulders, criticism and later on malicious attacks on both me and what was worse, supporters who endorsed our project. I personally can ignore these attacks but am disgusted when these NGOs go after our supporters in a vicious and often petty way. For example, one "core" member of the Cat Specialist Group tried to get the membership of one of our supporters in a conservation group cancelled for being involved our project. This kind of petty behaviour is such a shame coming from this "respected" biologist. However the most difficult obstacles created by these oppositions thus far have been our difficulties in raising much needed funding to start work on restoring land for the Chinese Tiger Pilot Reserves in China. If WWF, instead of lip servicing conservation, actually invests just ten percent of their annual income of half a billion US dollars into restoring land for the South China tigers, we would be able to have at least two new reserves reclaimed from agriculture for the sake of Tigers and biodiversity in China.

I admire scientists who do dare to bite the hand that feed them in the interests of the well-being of the planet earth. Only in this way, can these "hands" actually do something concrete for the survival of the natural world, not just the survival of these organizations. After all, if the very organizations that people are counting on to do something for the planet are actually not doing much, what other hope do we have for the survival of the wilderness, and indeed humans themselves in the end!!!

In the afternoon, I went out with Fiao and Chu to fish for dinner. We ate freshly caught fish last night and I was keen to be part of the fishing experience myself although I did not fish myself. There are very few fresh river catches nowadays available in China due to over depletion and pollution, so eating fresh catches from the river of Pantanal had been a delight.

The first fish caught by Chu was Piranha-the famous fish that attack any living creatures that are wounded. I was so excited to see a real Piranha caught but Chu disappointedly threw it back into the river. The second time he did the same, I asked him why. "We want Pacu". Why?? "Piranha is too small". I now understood that the purpose of this fishing trip was to fish only Pacu (a kind of flat fish) and anything else get thrown back.

"But smaller fishes are more tasty in China, more tender", I said, "We steam it". So when the third fish was again Piranha, Chu kept it murmuring "Ok, Piranha a' vapor"... It must be me since the next one, and the one after and the after were all Piranhas. There were only two Pacus caught.

I was so looking forward to the Piranha for dinner but when the two different fish dishes turned up, none was Piranha! It turned out that the locals here think better of Pacu so served us Pacu. But as Fiao said: "Piranha has much better meat than Pacu"!

Guess I will have to wait till next time to eat the Piranha since it is my last night here at the Pantanal!


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


TigerLi said...

Thanks very much Wilson for your comments. As it turns out I will be going to the Pantanal again, not only trying to sight jaguars again but to see if there is anything we could learn to apply to our South China Tiger Project in China.