Saturday, 22 May 2010

Mr. And Mrs. Tompkins: From Patagonia to Patagonia

Cat in Buenos Aires Street

Where working girl used to live in Colonia

Fishi driving in Colonia, Uruguay

Cat in our restaurant in Colonia, Uruguay

Tigerli & Evangelical Church in Uruguay

Evangelical Church in Colonia del Sacramento of Uruguay

Nice horse


Ant house's ventilation

Abundant Bird life

with team of Conservation Land Trust

Latin Ostrich

March deer at Ibera

with Kris& Doug Tompkins

Anteater to be reintroduced at Ibera

Dog Walking Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires Garbage

"Not many foreign tourists go to Mercedes", said the receptionist at my hotel in Buenos Aires. Indeed, its a long bus ride of about 10 hours away from BA, and this was not even the end of my journey- two more hours of car ride was needed to my final destination - Esteros del Iberá.

Why were we making such an effort to reach this remote area of Argentina? We were not only visiting this great freshwater wetland of Argentina, which generates a huge diversity of landscapes through its presence or absence, but also meet Kris and Douglas Tompkins, who were responsible for creating Estancia Rincón de Socorro- a private reserve measuring 130000 Ha, which eventually led to the government declaring a total of 1.3 million hectares
of natural habitat as protected areas surrounding this ranch. We ourselves
have been doing something similar in South Africa, albeit much later and on a smaller scale.

Ibera joins up very diverse environments, offering habitats to more than 4000 species of terrestrial and aquatic biota, among which at least eight are endemic species, found only in this corner of the globe. Iberá is one of the warm-climate wetlands with more species diversity in the world.

Rain and cold also followed me to this remote corner of Argentina (not far from Brazil), just like many other trips I have had in the last year. After the night bus, we were met by a biologist from Conservation Land Trust, Yamil, who drove us on a mostly muddy road to Rincón de Socorro. Rincón means "Corner", and what a beautiful corner it is (!) - full of capibarras, caimens and etc, including recent reintroduced ant-eaters.

We spent the day with Kris and Douglas, who are well known in nature conservation. Doug was co-founder of the fashion brand Esprit and North Face and Kris is former CEO of Patagonia. They have already helped create two National Parks in Chile and Argentina by buying up large chunks of land and donating to these countries, and are now onto their third one-creating a NP in the very place from where the clothing label Patagonia took its name.

It was enlightening to meet this famed couple and further, comforting to discover that we share similar views on many issues facing the planet, for example, overpopulation coupled with consumerism is depleting biodiversity by driving many species to extinction in unprecedented speed. Further, we share the same appreciation in beauty and therefore the appreciation of the wild and nature. I wonder if this has something to do with both of us working in the fashion business in the past, or rather it is this sensitivity that led both of us into the same industry initially, and now similar efforts to preserve nature's wonders. We also exchanged our respective funny stories. Like some of the bizaar attacks we have faced (eg, I was accused of selling the tiger Hope to my enemies- the Varty brothers who stole money from us), the Tompkins were accused of stealing water from the marsh and selling it to China on the internet! What a fanciful world some people live in their crazy brains indeed.

The next morning, we went on a boat trip to the mash, which is not unlike the Pantanal in terms of scenery and animal life. We had the pleasure of seeing the unique Marsh Deer though. At one point, we saw a screamer (a big bird)spread its wings and just when I thought it was drying its wings in the sun after two rainy days, the Screamer suddenly flapped its left wing and gave the nearby caiman a big slap on its head, frightening the caiman into fleeing into the safety of the lagoon water.

The weather cleared up only a brief moment before cloud took over again, making it hard for our afternoon flight over the reserve to have a bird's view of this vast place. We eventually did take off and despite the overcast, the beauty of this wetland area is evident to all. We managed to also see a few Marsh deer grazing underneath. On the drive back to the hotel at dusk, we saw dozens of Viscachos (a chinchila-like creature), and a fox to add to my repertoire of wildlife sightings.

Further discussions with the managers/scientists of CLT Sophia, Ignacio and Yamil on our respective anteater and tiger reintroduction projects further revealed similar experiences and challenges, which are likely scenarios in any new and ground-breaking initiatives - we will just have to take this as a given and put them behind us.

We also share similar organisational structures-very flat and very little overhead. We focus on actions, not just promises of actions. I understand this is not possible with the big NGOs which have huge admin structures and expensive staff members to support. Nevertheless, I wonder if any of the Heads of these big NGOs would ever take a overnight bus of 10 hours between their reserve and Buenos Aires like the Tomkpins. Stories abound in conservation world on how huge amount of donor funding is spent on stylish travels by these big NGOs.

We left Ibera even more impressed and also encouraged by the Tompkins and their effort with the Conservation Land Trust. If more people and organisations just get on doing something similar, the speed of biodiversity loss may be slowed down, and the health of the planet may one day be on the rebound?

Postscript: May 22nd is a World Biodiversity Day. Suddenly, the UN is acknowledging that biodiversity loss is a bigger issue than climate change and world governments have failed to deliver their on their promises that 190 countries committed in 2002 to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. The goal of restoring the South China Tiger to its natural habitat is actually to restore such biodiversity. For years we have been striving for this goal and its comforting to know that UN is finally recognizing that biodiversity loss is by far the most urgent issue concerning health of the planet.

-Li Quan, Buenos Aires

Wednesday, 12 May 2010



On the night of 26 April 2010 Cathay refused her food and we waited in anticipation for the arrival of her baby. The following morning she was wandering around the camp without a care in the world, eating grass. Although she was much thinner than the previous day there was no vociferous cry from a new-born cub demanding its mother’s return. During the day she was also fairly active and didn’t rest in any particular place for any length of time. A surreptitious search of the Breeding centre and the quarantine camp revealed absolutely nothing which led us to believe that she had delivered only one cub and that it had been stillborn. Eddie van Eck of Lory Park Zoo was consulted by phone, during which all Cathay’s actions of the previous evening and following morning as well as her current physical condition were compared to her condition in the previous few days. Eddie confirmed that she had possibly suffered a stillbirth.

A careful search of the camp during feeding time later in the day also failed to reveal any signs of any delivery ever having taken place. This in itself is not unusual. In the case of a stillbirth instinct causes the mother to eat the stillborn cub and the placenta and cover up any trace that the cub/s had been born.

A layman’s definition of a stillbirth is when a female gives birth to a cub which is dead at birth. The medical profession describes stillbirth as either ‘intra-uterine’ or ‘intra-partum’. An intra-uterine stillbirth means that the baby has died in the womb. An intra-partum stillbirth means that the baby dies during labour. One possible reason for the stillbirth could be that the umbilical cord became twisted cutting off blood flow and oxygen supply effectively suffocating the cub. Another possible explanation could be that the cub had somehow turned into such as position as to block its nose for a length of time. A third possibility could be that the placenta could have detached prematurely. It is impossible to predict a stillbirth or even to do anything to aid its birth. Owing to the fact that we were not witness to the actual event we cannot say with any measure of accuracy whether the cub was in actual fact born dead or whether it died shortly after birth.

Following a stillbirth the female should come back into oestrus soon but we have decided to let her recover first and then put her back with a male the next time she comes into season.


Madonna and 327 last mated on Jan 24th 2010. Thirteen weeks passed since Madonna then and we speculated that she was pregrant, especially since we observed that she showed physical signs of pregnancy such as an enlarged belly. However she came back into oestrus again in the 14th week (after 91 days) and mated with 327 again. There could be two-explanations. The first explanation it she might have suffered a miscarriage. Second one could be that tiger pregnancy prediction is often based on whether or not the female comes back into oestrus after a certain period of time, and according to traditional literature if a mating is not successful the female should again come into oestrus in three to nine weeks. We have already proven this traditional observation to be inaccurate as it took Cathay ten weeks to come back into season again after mating. Therefore, it is also possible that Madonna was never pregnant, also because visual observation of tigress’ belly size is not totally reliable. On 2 May she and 327 mated again.

A miscarriage is the spontaneous abortion of an unborn cub. Causes of miscarriage are numerous. One such cause might be genetic abnormalities so severe that life is not sustainable in utero for example, failure for an embryo to form a functioning heart or brain due to genetic misfiring.

It is unfortunate that both tigresses failed to give birth especially since his first and only cub was lost to a predator in Dec 2009. But we are going to give 327 another chance at siring a litter.