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Subspecies or No Subspecies
When I started the Tiger Project in 2000, scientist
were extremely critical of the project because I was not obeying the 8
sub species of Tigers listed. In other words their argument was I should be
pursuing the Bengal OR the Siberian Tiger sub species, not both.
However, the evidence for subspecies was flimsy to
say the least. My instincts told me that all tigers were the same, just
with local differences. A tiger in Siberia had a larger body because this is
more efficient in colder climates. Tigers in the forest were smaller and
had darker coats because this works better in the humid, hot forests
of Central Asia.
In my opinion, we should be spending less time on
arguing about sub species and more time on finding land, fencing it,
stocking with suitable prey and making the tiger accessible to a growing
band of universal, digital photographers.
Like we had done with the leopard at Londolozi, we
could use the tiger to change the land use systems and create wealth in
If this could be achieved then this would be the
first step in saving the wild tiger.
The other crucial decision I took in 2000, was not to
try to do the project in Asia. In Asia a tiger competes with over 100 human beings
per square kilometer (at Tiger Canyons a tiger competes with sheep and 2
human being per square kilometer).
Therefore to do an ex-situ conservation project in
South Africa has proved to be correct and defining.
Below are some of the questions that have been
1. Tigers will not adapt to African parasites (No
tiger has been lost to an African parasite).
2. Tigers will not be able to hunt African prey
(Tigress Julie successfully hunted 14 African species in her lifetime).
3. Tourists will not travel to Africa to view and
photograph a tiger (68 nationalities have visited Tiger Canyons and this
4. The tiger has no place in the African ecosystem
(it was never our intention to place the Tiger in an open ecosystem. The
Tiger is inside fenced areas which have been reclaimed from bankrupt
sheep and goat farms).
5. The tiger was never historically in Africa. (A group of scientists at Wits University are
confident the tiger was in Africa and went extinct. In time they claim
they will prove this fact).
Only the province of the Free State had the vision to
allow the ex situ conservation tiger project. Other provinces of Kwazulu, Eastern and Northern Cape
outlawed the project.
I respectively suggest the above provinces should put
corruption aside and reconsider their decision.
The province of the Free State has greatly benefited
in the field of job creation, change of land use and rural development
via the tiger.
I call on the South African National Parks to
consider a large national park which accommodates lion, leopard, cheetah
No one individual, organization or
government has had the vision to champion the tiger cause.
While we spend billions of dollars daily on military,
war and destruction of our planet, a coordinated tiger project could
protect forests, river systems, and whole landscapes. This protection
would translate into rural wealth, education, tourism, conservation and
Therefore it is with great satisfaction that I read a
scientific paper which is both logical, practical and workable.
I congratulate the scientists from Leibniz Institute
for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin for a valuable contribution to
Tread Lightly on the Earth
Andreas Wilting1, Alexandre Courtiol, Per
Christiansen, Jürgen Niedballa, Anne K. Scharf, Ludovic Orlando,
Niko Balkenhol, Heribert Hofer, Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, Jörns
Fickel and Andrew C. Kitchener
Although significantly more money is spent on
the conservation of tigers than on any other threatened species,
today only 3200 to 3600 tigers roam the forests of Asia,
occupying only 7% of their historical range. Despite the global
significance of and interest in tiger conservation, global
approaches to plan tiger recovery are partly impeded by the lack
of a consensus on the number of tiger subspecies or management
units, because a comprehensive analysis of tiger variation is
lacking. We analyzed variation among all nine putative tiger
subspecies, using extensive data sets of several traits
[morphological (craniodental and pelage), ecological,
molecular]. Our analyses revealed little variation and large
overlaps in each trait among putative subspecies, and molecular
data showed extremely low diversity because of a severe Late
Pleistocene population decline. Our results support recognition
of only two subspecies: the Sunda tiger, Panthera tigris
sondaica, and the continental tiger, Panthera tigris tigris,
which consists of two (northern and southern) management units.
Conservation management programs, such as captive breeding,
reintroduction initiatives, or trans-boundary projects, rely on
a durable, consistent characterization of subspecies as
taxonomic units, defined by robust multiple lines of scientific
evidence rather than single traits or ad hoc descriptions of one
or few specimens. Our multiple-trait data set supports a
fundamental rethinking of the conventional tiger taxonomy
paradigm, which will have profound implications for the
management of in situ and ex situ tiger populations and boost
conservation efforts by facilitating a pragmatic approach to
tiger conservation management worldwide.
Fewer than 4,000 tigers roam across the Asian
continent today, compared to about 100,000 a century ago. But
researchers are proposing a new way to protect the big cats:
The proposal, published this week in Science
Advances, argues current taxonomy of the species is flawed,
making global conservation efforts unnecessarily difficult.
There are up to nine commonly accepted
subspecies of tigers in the world, three of which are extinct.
But the scientists' analysis, conducted over a course of several
years, claims there are really only two tiger subspecies: one
found on continental Asia and another from the Indonesian
islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali.
"It's really hard to distinguish between
tigers," said Andreas Wilting, the study's lead author from the
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. "There has been
no comprehensive approach. The taxonomies are based on data from
almost a hundred years ago."
The study, described by its authors as "the
most comprehensive analysis to date," looked at the
mitochondrial DNA, skulls, skin markings, habitat and prey of
all nine tiger subspecies. It found a high degree of overlap in
these traits between the continental tigers — spanning from
Russia to Southeast Asia — and between the island-dwelling "Sunda"
Nearly $50 million is spent worldwide to
preserve the big cat each year, according to the Science
Advances study, and there has been some progress made.
The Amur tiger, found in Russia, has been on
the rise over the past decade, with as many as 540 of the tigers
in the wild, up from between 423 and 502 a decade ago, according
to the World Wildlife Fund. Likewise the Bengal tiger
population, was reported to have increased by 30 percent since
2010, according to India’s National Tiger Conservation
The hope is that by simplifying the taxonomy,
conservationists would have more flexibility in preserving the
animals, such as by moving tigers from one area to the next.
This is especially important for the South-China tiger, which is
considered critically endangered numbers less than 100 in the
"They've gotten down to such low numbers that
there's really little hope for them," Wilting said.
The study reinforces evidence that tigers are
perhaps the least diverse big cat in the world. It also supports
a theory that there was a massive population decline after a
super-eruption took place in Sumatra about 73,000 years ago,
leaving only a single ancestor for all modern tigers from the
South China area.
But in a field where one of the biggest goals
is to preserve the diversity in tigers, convincing people that
tigers aren't really that diverse can be a challenge. This is
not the first time tiger taxonomy has been challenged, but
earlier proposals have had trouble gaining ground due to a lack
At the heart of the debate is a concept
called "taxonomic inflation," or the massive influx of newly
recognized species and subspecies. Some critics blame the trend
in part on emerging methods of identifying species through
ancestry and not physical traits. Others point to technology
that has allowed scientists to distinguish between organisms at
the molecular level.
"There are so many species concepts that you
could distinguish each population separately," Wilting said.
"Not everything you can distinguish should be its own species."
This concept of inflation becomes more
pressing when animal habitats are destroyed. Populations
affected by habitat loss often become increasingly isolated and
more susceptible to genetic drift. Because there are fewer genes
in the population pool, the animals change more rapidly and
becomes more distinct — sometimes for the worst.
This was especially true in the case of the
Florida panther in the early 1990s, when the species was reduced
to fewer than 30 individuals in the wild. Rampant inbreeding
left the big cat inundated with genetic defects, such as heart
problems and reproductive issues.
Efforts to preserve the animal through
captive breeding proved unsuccessful. Florida researchers,
frantic to save the long-held state symbol, decided to take
controversial action by introducing eight female Texas cougars
The result has been considered a success, as
the cougars, a close genetic relative to the panther, were able
to refresh the gene pool and stave off extinction. While the
Florida panther is still considered endangered, there are now
somewhere between 100 and 180 in the wild.
Still, the case has sparked debate on whether
the panther remains a pure subspecies. That's important because
it may affect the priority placed on protecting the cat and its
habitat by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"It really depends on what you define a
subspecies to be," said Dave Onorato, a biologist with the
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who worked on
the panther restoration project. "Perhaps they're now more close
to what they were before they became inbred."
Onorato said the Florida panther case could
be held up as an example for people trying to protect big cats
around the world, including the most stressed tiger
Worldwide conservation efforts have been put
into place to double tiger counts by 2022, but many tiger
populations remain under threat by poachers, habitat loss and
climate change, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The following is an advertisement that
will be placed in prominent wildlife magazines and eco
newspapers in Asia:
Wanted: An area suitable to release a
tigress (Panthera tigris tigris) and 3 cubs, 4 months
Description: The tigress, Zaria, is 6
years old and in perfect condition. The sex of the cubs is
unknown. This is a wild tigress and outstanding hunter. The
tigress is habituated to game viewing vehicles. The tigress
will be fitted with a satellite tracking transponder.
Criteria: The following criteria is
1) The area must be 15 000 Ha or more
2) It must have suitable tiger habitat
3) There must be a good density of medium to large size prey
4) The area must be fenced (3.3m electrical fence)
5) The area should have low density of tigers or no tigers
6) The area should be accessible and have a network of roads
7) The area should not have any human habitation within the
Permits: It is the buyers duty to obtain the
Cost: There is no cost for the tigers.
Buyers are responsible for cost of transporting the
tigers from Tiger Canyons to the point of destination.
Corbett becomes a Father
It is with great pleasure that I can
announce that Tiger Corbett has fathered 3 cubs with Tigress
Zaria. Some of the cubs have light coats which indicates
that they are white gene carriers which probably comes from
Zaria. At the moment Zaria has the cubs in a thicket in the
south east of her area.
Zaria is surviving off warthog and has
reduced the population from 40 to around 12 in the 1000
Zaria was from Julie's second litter
which was abandoned. I hand raised her but today she is
In The Jaws of The Tiger: Musical
I can finally announce that after three
years in the making "In the Jaws of the Tiger- Musical" DVD
has been released. Twenty two songs were recorded at Rebirth
Studios in Bloemfontein. These include "Shine a Light",
"Tigress Julie", "Shingalana in my Tent" and the haunting
"In the Jaws of the Tiger".
Running through the album is a plea for a
lighter footprint on our planet.
I would like to thank Bobby Johnson for
producing the music and the many musicians that
I would also like to thank Tidi Modise
who edited the production.
Tread Lightly on the Earth