Monday, 14 July 2008

Erasing the Tiger, Losing the Habitat

Below is my posted comments to the World Bankblog titled "Hot passion, tigers --and shoe shops" by Tony Whitten, about its new Tiger Initiative which reports the South China Tiger “extinct in the 1990’s”.
Please visit the blog to see other comments:

Erasing the Tiger, Losing the Habitat
Submitted by Li Quan (not verified) on Mon, 07/14/2008 - 06:12

As founder of Save China’s Tigers I welcomed the World Bank’s decision to support conservation of the world’s endangered tigers. It was with profound shock and regret that I saw South China tiger listed as ‘extinct’ in your report.

It has become apparent in this blog that certain participants well-known to this organization have influenced the bank to disregard the opinions of organizations such as IUCN and other respected conservationists on the status of the South China Tiger. It is also apparent that undue importance has been attributed to a single study by Ron Tilson et al. in which Tilson concluded the tiger was ‘functionally extinct’ in the wild.

We selected Ron Tilson, invited him to China and co-funded his survey in spite of advice of many individuals from large conservation organizations who told me that Tilson was not suited to do the survey job. However, I choose Tilson because he wrote a paper in 1998 "The Impending extinction of the South China Tigers in the wild", and concluded that he had some interests in helping China resurrecting the South China Tiger.

After completion of the study he promptly declared the South China Tigers extinct in the wild in the Vancouver Sun paper, prior to the release of the Oryx report. This conclusion was disputed by the Chinese conservationist who conducted the field study and issued their own report. I have not understood Tilson’s motivations for his unsupported conclusions and rejection of anecdotal evidence. However, his motivations become obvious with his planned "South China Tiger/Indochinese Tiger Reintroduction Project". If, may we ask, he declared the South China Tigers extinct, where would he get the tigers to be introduced to Hupingshan? According to IUCN guidelines, one cannot introduce a species or subspecies unless the local population is considered extinct. Coincidence?

I’d like to reprise Tilson’s conclusion from his 1998 article: “The captive population, for better or for worse, may be all that is left against total extinction of this subspecies. To paraphrase the words of a noted environmental philosopher (Leopold, 1953), the first rule of intelligent tinkering is not to throw away any of the pieces.” A premature declaration of extinction for the South China tiger is unconscionable and I strongly urge the World Bank to reassess this unfortunate declaration.

Friday, 11 July 2008


Russel: English, successful lawyer, doting father of three grown children, kind supporter of charitable causes such as ours, fun, humourous, adventurous (in his own words), and Jewish.

Irina: Russian, successful private banker, kind, charming, adventurous, and of Orthodox church.

Adventure in Africa brought them together. They got married.

Wedding was a fairy 3-day celebration in Moscow. My husband and I were among the over 100 guests that flew from over the world to Moscow to wish the couple well.

July 2nd: Arrival in Moscow in Domodedovo International Airport.Construction is still going on at the airport. Moscow is changed from my memory of 10 years ago when I visited Russia in October 1998. Our bus journey took 3.5 hours from the airport to our Marriott Royal Aurora Hotel (within walking distance of the Red Square), which would take less than an hour by train.

Moscow changed! Ten years ago it was drab in every respect, with little food in store and the country on the verge of economic collapse.. Now, even the air is full of wealth. Every western brand in the world seems to have its shop here: clothes, cars, etc etc. Cheap Chinese goods are no where to be seen, though I suspect that they must be somewhere serving the Russians who are not yet so well off.

July 3rd: Cocktails and Dinner at the Sky Lounge of the Russian Academy of Science. This building of Soviet Era looked kind of unfinished with its bizaar exterior. The restaurant is on its 22nd floor with a modern feel and most important of all, it has a 360 degree breathtaking view of Moscow. I forgot to take my camera! My vodka drinking skills impressed the Russian Waiters, who willingly provided me more whenever they saw me at the bar.

July 4th: Wedding day!

Our two and half hour trip in heavily congested traffic to the Morozovka Park hotel was well vindicated when we reached this other-worldly resort..

Live music welcomed 150 festively dressed guests.

Drinking started early, waiters poured vodka generously and cheerfully into my fruit cocktails.

Bride and groom took their vows.

Groom promised to peel patatos and not to snore.

Bride threw her bouquet to unmarried girl friends.

Delicatessen, fruit cocktails, more vodka...

Walk to the pond in the forest..

Dinner, abundant dinner, wonderful dinner, lively dinner, big dinner, 15 tables of dinner!

Russians are famed for their artistic talents. Russian singers can also act very well. I enjoyed quite a few Kirov operas in London. I can not describe to you how incredibly good they were when this Most Wonderful Eight-men choir started singing and dancing! Their performance was a eleclectic and innovative mix of opera arias and popular songs. Opera trained, their voices covered the full range of notes from base to suprano. Bear in mind- It is not easy for a male voice to sing in the highest ranges of the female voice!

The Evening ended with the most fabulous display of fireworks by one of the the early hours of next morning.

July 5th: Party Continued.

I skipped the day tour and went to see the landmarks that were there ten years ago. Hotel Metropole was a happening place then. Having tea under its famed stained glass ceiling was a must. Now, it looked abandoned, although the building still evoked its glamamorous past.

Gum (Meaning General Department Store) got to be the most beautiful shopping mall in the world. Built at the end of the 19th century, it exulted now over the array of famed western fashion outlets....

Dinner at an atmospheric Uzbeki Restaurant themed after the famous Russian film of the same name "The White Desert Sun" was fun, with a caged peacock occasiionally echoing the sound of its comrades in the movie, shown on the TV screen of the restaurant.

July 6 to 10: St. Petersburg.

I remember how beautiful the city was but it is now more beautiful! The city seemed to have gone through a major changeover in the past ten years. Many historical buildings have been restored and many more are under scaffoldings.

Ten years ago I battled to find any place for dinner, but now there are more cafes here than anywhere else in the world. Clearly Russia's new found prosperity does come with a price! I won't be surprised if it is the most expensive country in the world now! A tiny bottle of water at the lobby bar at the Grand Hotel Europe was nearly 90 yuan. A modest meal at a Ukrainian restaurant was 70 pounds! But the reward for me was to try the "illegal" Samogon-home brewed vodka. Russians now find it 50 to 60 percent cheaper to go on holiday overseas!

The reason I wanted to come back to St. Petersburg was due to a very beautiful church-Our Saviour built on Spilt Blood. It was closed and under restoration ten years ago. I made a vow to come back to SP just to see this church. And the church definately deserves every praise heaped on it!

Larrissa, who used to look after us and my cats in London, came all the way from her home town of Kraznadar in the South to see us. We haven't seen one another for 4 years! She was like an old sister to me and I love her dearly. She is a fine example of Russian

women-cultured, hard working, honest and kind..

Many like her are the reason

why I believe Russia will continue to rise.


Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Missing the point, missing the tiger.

Below is a supporter’s posted comments on a World Bank blog about its new Tiger Initiative which reports the South China Tiger “extinct in the 1990’s”
Please visit the blog to see other comments:

Misinformation in Initiative's Report
Submitted by Gary Verstick on Wed, 07/02/2008 - 07:19.
Many involved in tiger conservation welcome the Bank’s ‘passion’ for saving the tigers. However, it is with sadness and amazement that I find that the subspecies of tiger -the South China Tiger is declared “extinct in the 1990’s” in the Initiative’s report. The South China tiger (panthera tigris amoyensis) is critically endangered and faces many challenges such as genetics, limited numbers, loss of habitat and a major conservation organization that has declared them ‘functionally extinct’. Thankfully, in spite of these challenges, the ancestral stem subspecies of all tigers is still very much alive.
There are 67 in Chinese zoos and there are many scientists who believe there are still 20 or 30 roaming the wilds of China. The Chinese government has been trying to rescue this subspecies working with an International organization. Three South China Tiger cubs were born recently in South Africa under a special program. However, it makes the efforts to save this tiger much harder when a large prestigious organization such as the Bank has unilaterally declared it extinct.
You mention the planning was subjected to infighting, misinformation and bitterness – and this is well documented in Cory Meacham's book "How the tiger Lost its Stripes". You also mention certain groups decided not to associate themselves. Well, I am sure that the Chinese government and the organizations working on the South China Tigers would have appreciated any support from the WB. I only hope that as the Initiative moves forward, your ‘passion’ will help fix some of the misinformation and injustices remaining in your report.

Missing the point, missing the tiger.
Submitted by Gary Verstick on Tue, 07/08/2008 - 13:50.
Moss and Roubaix have missed the point entirely. I know of no scientist or conservationist (including Tilson) who declare the South China Tiger extinct. Some regard it as “functionally extinct” or “extinct in the wilds” and certainly “critically endangered”, “extinct” no. The World Bank is the first to unilaterally declare the species extinct, and not only that, “extinct in the 1990’s”!
I will not argue how many South China tigers exist in the wild. I do know that Tilson's much quoted report is highly debated. It took 1000 trap nights to catch one tiger in Burma where the density is much higher than in China. Tilson also recognized the need for more study: “While no direct sightings have taken place, this evidence suggests that South China tigers may still persist in a number of localities but where and how many are not scientifically validated yet. The potential distribution area covers 11 natural geographical units and is about 90,000 km2, with six of the 11 units covering about 18,000 km2.”
Thanx Moss for your Tilson quote, maybe you should read it: “We conclude that continued field efforts are needed to ascertain whether any wild tigers may yet persist, concurrent with the need to consider options for the eventual recovery and restoration of wild tiger populations from existing captive populations." Roubaix’s godlike judgement that “the necessary habitat conditions no longer exist for a viable recovery” is nonsense – even Tilson has proposed habitat reclamation using Indo-chinese tigers and restocked prey.
Further, it is generally considered bad conservation practice (by the IUCN) to declare a species extinct when the numbers are very low, because it takes away incentives for local people to conserve the habitat and gives commercial interests an excuse to access the area, since the "disappearance" of a keystone species signals the habitat need not merit protection anymore. Regardless of the wild population, a responsible organization like that of the World Bank should be helping the Chinese government’s initiative to restore habitat and reintroduce tigers to the wild, instead of unilaterally condemning the last remaining South China tigers to extinction, simply because it is expedient. This goes against all the grand words in the Tiger Initiative, or is the initiative just some sort of conservation lip service?

Monday, 7 July 2008

Two Polar Bears Killed

It saddens me to read this news: "The Second Polar Bear to reach Iceland within two weeks only to be shot dead by authorities prompted further outcries from wildlife advocates. Both animals appear to have made a grueling 300-km swim from Greenland to the North Atlantic island nation".
I have been to Iceland some years ago. I wanted to see whales. But the Icelanders were debating to re-open whaling (kill whales for commercial usage). They are now whaling. Now they shot the two poor polar bears who have lost their homes and swam such a long way from the arctic to Iceland asking for help....
Are we Chinese more large hearted to accomodate these poor homeless animals if ever they swam to the shore of the Yellow Sea? I cross my fingers.
July 6th 2008. On the flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Chinese tiger branded ‘Extinct’ by the World Bank celebrates his 7th month birthday.

It might come as a surprise to ‘Hulooo’ and his siblings at Save China’s Tiger’s Laohu Valley Tiger Reserve, that the World Bank considers him and other South China tigers as extinct. The bank’s recently announced Tiger Conservation Initiative lists the subspecies as ‘extinct in the 1990’s’, ignoring that there are 7 tigers at the SCT reserve, another 67 South China Tigers in zoos in China and the fact that some scientists think that 20 or 30 might still exist in remote regions of China. The international body, IUCN lists them as ‘critically endangered’.

You might ask how it is possible for such a large prestigious organization to make such a blatant mistake. You might ask some of the reports authors and contributors who belong to the initiative’s ‘partners’ One of the World Bank report’s contributors, Sue Lieberman, director of WWF’s Global Species Programme has previously said: “Quan’s decision to re-wild the tigers in South Africa proves that there is simply no room for them in China’s disappearing wilderness” and adds, “We can save the tiger, but we shouldn’t put our efforts into the South China tiger.”

Lieberman’s target, Li Quan, a Beijing born former fashion executive and founder of conservation group ‘Save China’s Tigers’ shakes her head at the Bank’s report, “It makes our fund-raising efforts a lot more difficult when an organization like the World Bank declares that the majestic animal you are desperately trying to save went extinct decades ago. This is a national treasure of China. This is the ancestral subspecies of all other tigers. We’re not going to turn our backs on them just because it’s a huge challenge to save them”.

When Quan and her husband Stuart Bray formed Save China’s Tigers, little was being done to save the big cat and Quan recognized the situation was desperate and something had to be done right away. Their action plan was bold, ambitious and unprecedented. In Nov. 2002, Save China’s Tigers signed an historic agreement with the Chinese government on the ‘Reintroduction of the Chinese Tigers into the Chinese Wild’. SCT funded several surveys in Southern China to identify and establish vast protected reserves. These reserves would be stocked with prey species and zoo-bred tigers that had been ‘rewild’ trained to hunt and survive on their own again. Bray (an investment banker) has worked hard to develop creative financial and infrastructure strategies involving eco-tourism and even carbon-credits to support the reserves.

To fast-track the training, SCT went the home of conservation and re-wilding expertise; South Africa, establishing a huge 300 square kilometre protected reserve bordering the Orange River and staffed it with experienced wildlife managers. SCT’s Bray puts the choice in stark terms: "If we wait until the Chinese habitat is prepared, some scientists predict the tigers will be extinct before the land is ready." Laohu Valley Reserve is now home to 4 China tigers that have successfully undergone a re-wild training program and can now hunt ungulates. Thriving in the grasslands, their vast camps are protected by electric fencing. A recently opened breeding centre has witnessed unprecedented success with the birth of three cubs in the last six months – some of the very few South China tigers born anywhere in the last 3 years. Quan says there’s more on the way and attributes the success in part to the natural environment.

However it has come as a big surprise that their conservation efforts met with indifference and sometimes outright hostility from some big environmental groups. Putting aside the professional jealousies’ and venomous personal attacks – (one organization’s tiger projects co-ordinator called Li Quan a ‘dilettante’ and suggested that “she leave conservation for the conservationists” in a World Street Journal article in Sept 2003), public criticism of the SCT project is full of ‘what-ifs’ and ‘maybes’. One organization’s report gleefully points out a minor SCT spelling mistake. Another evidences glaring ignorance of the project and suggests: “reintroduction of this animal is pointless if there is no habitat in which it can succeed”, ignoring SCT plans to establish vast protected reserves in China. In recent years the opposition from such big organizations has been more private than public and yet more damaging. When Bray talks to potential funders these days they will often seek a second opinion on the project and where do they go to? Bray says several funding projects have been cancelled due to negative reports from one organization.

There are many talented conservationists and scientists who fully support SCT’s project and indeed provide direct consultation and direction. Speaking of SCT’s effort, a well respected big cat field biologist said, “Conservation and strategies to conserve wildlife and wild places has been and will continue to be an ‘experiment’. The conservation community must acknowledge that any strategy to ‘save’ or ‘conserve’ a species or natural area is an scientific ‘experiment’ and that any strategy, if it is to succeed, must adapt and evolve to our changing understandings of what works and what does not work. To be successful any conservation strategy must be responsive to the needs of the species and people and must be willing to adapt when the objectives or goals are not being met.”

He continues: “Efforts to conserve the South China Tiger are a worthwhile endeavor. The challenges are great, and will require efforts and strategies not tested before. Saving the South China Tiger from extinction and as part of natural systems in China will require innovative and bold approaches, commitment and intensive management strategies, and perhaps understandings and skills we in the biological and conservation community may not possess or appreciate. We need to reach out to people outside our profession: sociologist, religious leaders, and people with skills in the business world. It is we humans and our economies that have placed species at peril, and it is only we that can throw a ‘life line’ to ensure a species persistence. If only a single person has the commitment and resources to take on such a challenge, then we in the conservation community should lend a hand and offer our skills and knowledge to support such an endeavor, and not condemn it. Many great contributions toward mankind and our world were made possible by the vision and dedication of a single individual.”

There are some positive observations in the World Bank’s report. The report grudgingly admits that big conservationist plans have not been productive: “The inconvenient truth is that under current management systems, wild tigers are silently slipping away. Well intentioned international, national, and regional support for tiger conservation over the last decade has not reversed the decline in tiger populations.” The report all seems to recognize that ‘sweeping solutions don’t work for all subspecies: “There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to tiger conservation. The precise mix and type of policies necessary will vary across countries, reflecting local opportunities and pressures.” And later, “To address the root causes of the decline in tiger populations, the approaches taken would need to blend incentives for conservation (carrots) with deterrence and enforcement (sticks).” The report also recognizes the importance of eco-tourism in future conservation efforts, public and private joint management partnerships, forest ecosystem restoration, biodiversity-sensitive development and infrastructure, carbon sequestration and sustainable management. It is a sad irony that all of these checklist items are characteristic of SCT’s castigated project, which was conceived in 2002 and started already in 2002. It seems these big organizations need to reassess their priorities. Like all huge organizations, they don’t like to take ‘risks’. Time is running out for many species and we don’t need yet another study, we need concerted, dramatic, and yes, sometimes innovative action. I don’t question the ‘biggies’ right (World this, World that) to help conserve the tigers with the methods they feel best. I welcome it. I DO OBJECT when they write-off the most endangered tiger as not worth the effort. I DO OBJECT they are not clearly informing their members, many of whom are under the impression that they are attempting to save all tigers. I DO OBJECT when they actively obstruct the valid efforts of smaller conservation groups.

The World Bank report sheepishly admits: “With its broad experience in development and conservation the World Bank is well placed to learn lessons from the past.” This is the only allusion to conservationists’ criticisms of World Bank’s past failures to take proper account of human and environmental needs in its projects. Tiger conservationists in India have slammed the Bank for supporting projects such as highways and forestry plantations, which ironically, have destroyed tiger habitat. Of special note was the funding of 25 Eastern India coal mines in what was identified by the WWF as important tiger forest corridors.

The tiger initiative itself is not without criticism. Conservationist Valmik Thapar and scientist Ullas Karanth have both criticized the proposal, demanding that the Bank should first admit to the damage caused by development and wildlife conservation projects it has supported, before offering India money. They point to possible fraud and illegal cutting of thousands of trees during the implementation of the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, one of several Bank-funded, eco-development projects in India. Further, Thapar and Karanth maintain that the National Zoo had asked the Bank for advice on the development of a joint proposal, but the World Bank "went ahead without waiting for completion of deliberations”. The Government of India has decided to refuse the Bank's "offer" for a loan to save the tigers.

The Bank’s report observes: “The World Bank has a broad mandate that includes the stewardship of global public goods. The Bank’s growing engagement in environmental protection is consistent with its wider historical evolution and commitment to sustainable development. The Bank has a considerable investment in environmental protection, including in tiger and biodiversity conservation.” The inclusion of tigers in the Bank’s all-inclusive mandate of “stewardship of global public goods” means that the conservation of tigers has been appropriated by a handful of people with the power to decide which tigers should live or die. We encourage the bank to examine the vested interests of the authors of their report and to factor in the larger world. Save China’s Tigers is the only charitable project ‘doing something’ to save the subspecies. To date, SCT has been 95% privately funded out of the pockets of Quan and Bray (some 10 million dollars).

Ironically, one of the Bank’s initiatives is to host a 2010 “Year of the Tiger” Summit (from the Chinese horoscope) and touts: “This would be an opportunity for all those involved in tiger conservation to review the status of tigers and their habitat.” “Hopefully, Quan wryly observes, “this ‘Summit’ would recognize that the ‘extinct’ South China tiger very much exists - maybe they should host it in China.”
When you look into the eyes of the new tiger cub at SCT’s Laohu Valley Reserve, you see the hope for the future of the species. The cub’s subspecies has huge challenges; few numbers, weakened genetics, loss of habitat and little financial support. Hopefully all these big problems can be overcome, if only the subspecies can survive the ‘big’ organizations.