ThinkingShift species watch

May 12, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Flower - ThailandIn an earlier post, I mentioned that the Chinese Government is considering lifting its ban on the domestic trade in tiger parts used in traditional medicine. Well here’s a shocker of a postscript to that story. The Harbin (China) Tiger Park has more than 100 dead tigers stuffed in freezers, waiting for the ban to be lifted so they can be sold and used for medicinal purposes. The park is the world’s largest Siberian tiger breeding base and its tiger population has grown from 8, when the park opened in 1986, to around 700. It is set to be home to 1,000 tigers by 2010. But the tigers are expensive to feed and maintain with an adult tiger eating about 5-10 kilos of meat a day, along with medicines and other nutrients. It costs an average of 100 yuan (about $US13.00) for each tiger every day. Tourist dollars help to bring in funds, as do tax allowances and expenses to train the tigers to live in the wild.

But here’s the problem: no captive-bred tiger has ever been successfully released into the wild. So….let’s say the Government lifts the ban and takes financial responsibility for the Harbin tiger park (and others). Tigers could then be “farmed” to be used for traditional medicine and this may of course avoid the poaching that still goes on. But that still leaves the problem of tigers being raised and released back into the wild. Captive-bred tigers apparently have gene deficiencies that make it extremely unlikely that they can survive in nature. Before the Chinese Government imposed the ban, tiger population numbers were in free fall. Even with the ban, there are only 2,500 breeding adult tigers surviving in the wild – 80% of them in India and only 50 tigers in China. Their habitats are severely threatened by deforestation and poaching. So I don’t see how lifting the ban is really going to help. Sure, you get tigers raised specifically so their parts can be used to save ancient chinese medicine recipes but…these recipes rely on wild tiger parts. Will captive-bred tiger parts be seen to have the same “medicinal value”?. Personally, I think the lifting of the ban will only serve to place the Siberian tiger onto the “Extinct List”.

A ThinkingShift reader has pointed me to a good news story. Przewalski’s Horse or the Mongolian Wild Horse is the closest living wild relative of the domestic horse and the sole surviving genuine wild horse in the world. Back in 1900, this cute horse was on the “Pretty Well Extinct” list with only 15 surviving in zoos. But the descendants of these original 15 have blossomed and around 250 now exist in the wild, happily roaming the Mongolian landscape. Przewalski’s Horse is now listed as an “Endangered Species”, which is a whole lot better than what I fear will happen to the Siberian Tiger. Thanks to Sophie for this story.

I came across another species good news story. The Somerset Wildlife Trust deserves a huge vote of thanks for its efforts in saving horseshoe bats. The Trust has coughed up UK£ 100,000 to convert a former keeper’s cottage in the Mells Valley, Somerset, into a permanent bat haven. Over the last 2 years, the bat roost has been prepared with non-native trees and plants being replaced with British species such as oak and ash. I’d say there’ll be some pretty happy bats hanging upside down in their new abode.

Webshots Inlining Photo freeAnd here’s a great story about a golden beauty. Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (aka nasty vicious fungus) devastated golden frog populations in Panama, along with the usual suspect of habitat loss due to human’s encroachment on the frogs’ ecosystem. The nasty fungus has already wiped out 120 species of amphibians in the region. But the golden frogs aren’t giving up without one huge fight, which gives us hope for the resilience of some species.

The Hotel Campestre in El Valle De Anton, Panama, is literally a lifeboat for the golden frog. More than 300 frogs found their way to the Hotel via a wonderful man – 28 year old Panamanian biologist, Edgardo Griffith. The nasty virus had finally entered Panama, a name that means “a place of abundant fish and butterflies” in the indigenous language. Griffith, working with an international network of biologists, zoologists and environmentalists created The Golden Frog Project: a modern-day Noah’s Ark for frogs. An effective ecosystem has been given to the frogs, complete with an aquarium irrigated with filtered tap water; river stones to encourage algae; and tropical plants. The frogs are so happy in their new home that hundreds of tadpoles have now hatched. The golden frog occupies an important place in Panamanian culture. They are considered extremely lucky and their image appears on lottery tickets.

But I suppose it’s a bit like the Siberian tiger: will these purposely bred frogs escape the onslaught of the fungus? are they naturally evolving frogs? will there be genetic mutations and inbreeding issues similar to what’s happened to the cheetah? only time will tell, but in the meantime, I’d sure love to be a guest at the Hotel Campestre – can you just imagine the cacophony of croaks the golden cuties make!

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Entry filed under: Endangered species, ThinkingShift species watch.

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