tiger conservation

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All subspecies of Panthera tigris in human history.

Three extinct, one extinct in the wild, two critically endangered and declining, one endangered with virtually none in zoos, and two endangered that might be showing a promising future.

It’s all because of us.

Let’s make sure we don’t lose any more.

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Pet FREAKIN’ Tigers

“Did you know it’s legal to own tigers and lions in over half of the USA? … These cats are born into a life of misery and many of them end up in the black market where they are killed for their body parts!”

Big Cat Rescue youtube channel

video source

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The number of wild tigers has increased for the first time in 100 years

For the first time in a century, tigers are making a rebound in the wild. Scientific American reported on Sunday that the estimated number of tigers living in the wild now stands at 3,890 — a  "fairly dramatic increase" from the last estimated tally taken in 2010, when the number stood at 3,200. The higher tally marks some, but not totally satisfactory, progress towards the year 2022 goal.

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sherslut  asked:

Have you seen the scientific american article titled "Save the White Tiger"? It seems to me that it's a little misguided? Like "we have a responsibility to save" white tigers? They're talking about expanding the gene pool of white tigers. Is this legit conservation?

It’s not real conservation, no. It’s a bunch of talented scientists (I think it’s written by the people who isolated the gene that causes white tigers to be white) who don’t really understand the larger conversations surrounding why conservation should happen and who apparently don’t understand much about animal behavior or inbreeding depressions. There’s like two things just blatantly wrong that are scientific and then a bunch of really woogly conservation stuff. (I am kind of consistently appalled lately at the erroneous animal related things SA has been publishing, e.g., Bekoff’s commentary on Harambe). 

“Similar variations in SLC45A2 have been observed in other vertebrate species ranging from humans to chickens. With rare exceptions the swap’s only effect on the animal is a decrease of external pigmentation. That’s what makes the white tiger white. And until trophy-hunting humans came along the mutation made little difference to the animals’ ability to survive and reproduce—most of its prey species are color blind.“

This isn’t how being able to not see color works, because animals can still see contrast. A high-contrast white-and-black animal is still going to stand out starkly in a low-light jungle compared to an orange one (which would appear as a shade of grey among shades of grey to an animal without color vision). More importantly, the reason light coloration is maladaptive is because it makes animals more vulnerable to predators - and baby tigers are plenty vulnerable for all that they’ll grow up to be beasties. Mothers of many species will abandon light colored cubs for exactly that reason; because they’re so easily spotted and picked off, they’re pretty much a waste of resources to try to raise. The humans hunting for cats is a fallacious leap as to why they’re rare - in fact, the article mentions earlier how rarely the white mutation occurs in natural populations so I don’t know where that came from. 

“Almost all of the white Bengals alive today are descended from a solitary male cub that was captured in 1951. Deliberate inbreeding has maintained the animals’ recessive coloration but it also has led inevitably to a whole range of health problems that helped inspire William Conway’s “two-headed calves” overstatement. In fact, observations of 52 white tigers born in the U.S. at the Cincinnati Zoo detected no significant heritable defectsother than some weakness in the animals’ eyesight

In any case, we now know how to reduce or eliminate the problems that have arisen from inbreeding among white tigers. Now that the crucial mutation has been identified, it will be possible to identify and crossbreed pairs of Bengal tigers, each one possessing a single copy of the recessive gene. Basic Mendelian rules give a 25 percent probability that any given pregnancy will produce white-tiger offspring while significantly expanding the gene pool of healthy animals.”

Apparently these authors also have no idea how you actually get out of an inbreeding depression… so they make a claim that as long as you’re not breeding cats with the characteristics {white, inbred} to {white, inbred} cats you’re going to have healthy cubs. Um, no. And they try to use basic Mendelian genetics as proof when all punet squares really tell you is how many of what color cat you’ll get. 

If you think back to basic high school bio, Mendelian genetics tell us that if you take two animals that are heterozygous (one of each gene, one normal and one white mutation) and breed them, you’ll get a probability of the cub colors that is 1:2:1. Out of four cubs, one would be double recessive and turn out white. One would have double dominant genes and be orange with no trace of the white gene. Two cubs - the ones that matter here - would be like their parents, with one white gene and one regular. Those are the ones that the authors of this article are saying should be bred to produce ‘healthy’ white tigers… except they’re the offspring from exactly the same inbred pairings as the white cats. 

The only way to actually get out of an inbreeding depression is to add genetic material from animals unrelated to any in the current captive population: so we’d need to find either wild white tigers or wild tigers that are heterozygous for an incredibly rare genetic mutation (which happens to be invisible). Oh, and we don’t only need one - in order to really turn around the genetics of the population, you’d need a bunch of individuals. Ergo, it’s pretty much impossible to breed ‘healthy’ white tigers - and definitely not the way the authors are suggesting. 

The article also ends with an odd stance that tells you that the authors aren’t very well versed in the actual conservation debate surrounding white tigers:

“And recognizing that white tigers are part of the natural genetic diversity of their species, we humans should consider saving them. (….) No one knows how many centuries—quite possibly millennia—white tigers lived freely in their natural habitat before human hunters eradicated them. Doesn’t our species now have a responsibility to maintain at least a few white Bengals in good genetic health?”

Okay, again, they’re doing this weird thing where they blame the reason that white tigers don’t exist in the wild on human hunting. I can’t think of a single instance of a trophy hunt involving a white tiger that wasn’t modern-era canned hunting… except maybe in really old stories, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen evidence of an actual trophy. 

What the authors are basically positing is this: because they can exist, they should, and conservation efforts should facilitate that. They seem to be predicating that assumption on the idea that all genetic diversity is valuable, even if preserving some of it comes at the cost of reducing genetic diversity in the captive population (because breeding inbred animals contributes to the inbreeding depression that all endangered captive populations are carefully managed to avoid perpetuating as much as is possible). 

There’s a huge debate right now going on about what is actually valuable diversity in a species, and why/if we should conserve it - which gets down into a discussion about the philosophy of conservation. Conservation with the goal of putting healthy populations back into the wild is going to view the genetics it wants to conserve very differently than conservation from the standpoint of showing off the range of animals that existed in the wild before we killed all of them. Color morphs are pretty and yes, they’re possible, but does their existence really contribute anything to the end-goal of conservation? We don’t know. I definitely don’t agree with the guilt-trip the authors end with - because we’ve supposedly killed all of them off, it’s our responsibility to spend extra resources bringing back and conserving a genetic mutation whose presence has been artificially inflated in captive populations, popularized, and exploited for profit. 

PSA PLEASE READ!!

If you plan on going to a fair this summer please DO NOT go to any Tiger or exotic animal Exhibits! They claim to travel and present their animals for conservation, and education, but all they want is your money. They tell lies about where their they come from. White tigers are often a big hit in these exhibits. Here’s a fun fact White tigers are only present because of inbreeding, they are not a naturally accruing  species and are mostly found in captivity because of forced breeding. The tiger cubs in this picture were most likely taken from their mother when they were first born so they can be paraded around the country and make nothing but money for this company. If you want to see a tiger, go to a non profit zoo. Please do not support these programs. Supporting them means supporting the exotic pet trade. Trust me, I’ve seen them, they are confined to tight cages, it is no way to treat an animal. The pictures shown are mine. These cubs were just trying to sleep when the handlers decided to wake them up, to entertain those who payed to see them. Tigers can not breathe being held in that position. Please spread the word. DON’T SUPPORT THE EXOTIC PET TRADE.

Today is International Tiger Day!

Tigers are the largest animals in the genus Panthera, with some males of the largest subspecies, the Siberian tiger, weighing in at over 600 pounds. The great size and strength of these big cats allows them to carry prey several miles once they have dispatched it. 

Scientists at the Museum and the wild-cat conservation organization Panthera have demonstrated a new technique to non-invasively survey tigers using their scent sprays. The findings of a recent study show that DNA taken from tiger spray is just as good or even better at identifying individual tigers and their gender as scat—the “breadcrumb” that researchers have traditionally used to track the endangered animals.

“Genetic monitoring of tiger source populations is a conservation priority,” said Anthony Caragiulo, a postdoctoral researcher in the Museum’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics.“The utility of this new method is really impactful because it will let us dramatically build upon the number of tigers that can be surveyed and, consequently, increase our understanding of these elusive animals—hopefully before they are gone.”

Learn more about this research

Specializing with particular species in Zoos

I received a question recently about the differences of working with species or sections within zoos. I thought i would post a small bit of a break down on various departments in order for people to perhaps know what to expect when working with particular species

Things do differ from collection to collection but the basic ethos is there. This is for people keen to know the core realities of management of particular sections.

Aquatics, Herpetology and Invertebrates 

these three departments are seen as somewhat more scientific than say, a mammal department. You have species that require such specific controls in temperature, light, and general habitat condition that there is a lot numbers and behavior to be recorded. there is lots of cleaning of tanks and holding boxes to be done, aquatic experience is often required even in reptile and invert departments these days as siphoning water and looking after some fish and crustacean species often fall in these departments these days..You also maybe with dealing with animals with an incredibly short life spans when working with inverts, however with some reptile departments, say a Galapagos tortoise..you maybe working with some incredibly old animals too! 

However there is just a phenomenal amount of work in terms of conservation breeding and studies done in these areas that, due to the animals not being cuddly and furry sometimes go unheard of. The reason for this is sometimes the cost of working to save a captive colony of Partula snail for example, is far more cost effective then say, a group of Bonobo. (food costs per animal or group etc) Arguably they can achieve far  more conservation work and stay in budget.

Birds And Mammals 

Working with birds will differ slightly in terms of species, such as if you are working with animals such as vultures or with Penguins. This goes without saying - There is always lots of scrubbing to be done Birds poo a lot so lots of cleaning of floors and rock faces. Aquatic experience is also often desired especially with penguins. 

There is often opportunities to hand rear birds and Train and fly birds for shows for the public and public feeds . In some organisations the opportunities to re-release birds back to the wild. 

Mammals I will try and breakdown a little bit as it seems to be a popular area of work. 

Small Mammals 

from rats and mice to bats and loris and tamarins. It can often mean working in small often dark enclosures, where you may have to contort yourselves through ropes and Liliana! often you will be sharing the enclosures with the animals while you clean and feed. along with Lots of damping down enclosures with a hose to keep the Humidity up.

Preparing food for small mammals can be a chore. You often have to weigh fruit, vegetables and other feed such as pellet and seed mix very precisely. I always found it comical because sometimes their food dishes look like little salad bar servings! so it is very precise.

Elephants & Hoofstock

Full contact work with Elephants, going in with a herd and walking them is something which is very much dying out. Many reputable zoos are in the process of, or already have switched to Protective contact systems. In my opinion far too many keepers have been killed or seriously injured, and its not something that I deem is necessary to a herds well being. Most of the time it also means keepers have to discipline their elephants and again far too many times we hear stories in the press of elephants being abused. 

Working with Elephants you will be shoveling A LOT of heavy and large poo. the size of soccer balls. not to mention old browse, hay and bedding. It is really hard work so you must be willing to be fit, strong and healthy. 

There are opportunities to bottle feed young Elephants sometimes. 

I firmly believe that Elephants are probably some of the most dangerous animals that you can work with in a zoo, you must really have your wits about you. 

Care of Hoofstock is somewhat similar to elephants, you spend much time day to day shoveling and forking lots of bedding. Some would say its much like working on a farm. 

With both Elephants and hoof stock there are opportunities to train, for things like foot care of Okapi or zebra and such, and ear and trunk care in the case of elephants. 

Primates

Working with Primates is extremely Clinical. Be prepared for a heck of a lot of cleaning. Great apes especially can catch human disease and infection so there is a lot of scrubbing poo off floors, walls and climbing apparatus. It is of course extremely rewarding and your animals do give you a lot of interaction. Being close relatives it is a deep bond you make with your animals (that is not to say you do not with other species) but be prepared for some emotional times when animals are unwell or sadly pass away.. its not easy. Depending on where you work there is lots of opportunities to train animals also. Many good zoos will encourage a heavy amount of enrichment for their primates. 

Again the danger is always there. Apes and large monkeys especially will try and grab you. whether they mean to be aggressive or just playful they can do a lot of damage through protective mesh. safety and protocol is of utmost importance. Lock checking and a strict routines are in place such as accounting for all animals when going into an inside or outside animal area. in addition to ensure there is not a mistake made and an animal is able to escape. Primates  are smart enough to know what locks are for and are known to try and pull at them ! 

Carnivores 

Working with large carnivores, Big cats and canines or bears is also fairly clinical. lots of scrubbing and blasting out animal areas with hoses! 

Its important to be aware of stereotyping from some carnivores can be particularly bad. they must have an enriched life in captivity. 

You will need to be comfortable with preparing large joints of meat and hanging them on poles and at heights within enclosures. Security is also important with carnivores very similar protocol will be in place when working with carnivores. When you have packs of dogs and wolves its important t head count all animals, and be able to keep an eye on all their health and well being. 

I’ve probably rambled somewhat off the subject in places but i hope it makes sense. I’ve obviously not covered all species or section areas but its a rough outline. If anyone has anything to add or an opinion to give let me know!