Javan rhinos: is the Indonesian government lying? misleading? or being straight with the world.

It appears that the counters of the Javan rhino, have continued to count animals which have not been seen for years. Given how much poaching has been going on, this seems much more than simply misleading.

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 Unfortunately, this counting issue, takes the Javan rhino from a species which is recovering at an impressive rate, to a species which might disappear within a decade. In the latest count 3 rhino were included, which are known to have died back in 2019.

According to the official numbers, in 2011, when the cameras were installed there were 35 rhino, and that number has climbed steadily to a current number of roughly 72.

 

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Goulds mouse, thought extinct for 125 years, lives on

The mouse was considered to be stuck on the mainland, which means that if true it would have been lost for good.

Thankfully this was not the case. 

This mouse was living under the identity of the Djoongari mouse, or the Shark bay mouse, on an island in shark bay.

Furthermore, by looking at the genetic diversity of these mice (from specimens taken at the time) was high, which makes it clear that right before extinction, there were large numbers of these animals. This means that their extinction was not a natural process as had been assumed, but is instead an issue with human arrival. 

Instead, extinct is likely due to a mixture of

  • Introduction of predators in the form of domestic cats and foxes
  • changes to fire management (carried out effectively before European arrival)
  • Introduction of new diseases
  • Habitat destruction due to industrialisation and land clearing for agriculture.

While these mice are unlikely to be possible to return to the mainland for some time (until feral cats and other species are eliminated) they can perhaps be introduced to other small islands to guarantee their survival.

 

Javan Tiger

Javan Tiger

The Javan tiger was a population native to the Indonesian island of Java until the mid-1970s. It was hunted to extinction, and its natural habitat converted for agricultural land use and infrastructure. It was one of the three tiger populations in the Sunda Islands.

Formerly, it was regarded as a distinct tiger subspecies, which had been assessed as extinct on the IUCN Red List in 2008. However, new genetic analysis clearly showed that it is not distinct enough to be able to be a separate species.

Results of mitochondrial DNA analysis of 23 tiger samples from museum collections indicate that tigers colonized the Sunda Islands during the last glacial period 110,000–12,000 years ago.

As a result, should some space be made for this species to return it could. It is unlikely in the near future.

South China Tiger

South China Tiger

The South China tiger was a population of the Panthera tigris tigris subspecies that is native to southern China. I say was, because it is almost certain that there are no individuals left in the wild (and they have not been recorded since the 1980s.

The population mainly inhabited the Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. It has been listed as Critically Endangered on the China’s Red List of Vertebrates. Even in the late 1990s continued survival was considered unlikely because of low prey density, widespread habitat degradation and fragmentation, and other environmental issues in China. In the fur trade, it used to be called Amoy tiger. It is generally considered to be the closest remaining tiger to the original tiger from which all the sub-species split.

As late as the 1950s, there was estimated 4000 remaining in the wild, but a campaign by the government to remove pests. Along with habitat loss, this reduced the population to around 150-200 by the 1980s. In 2007, both a cow and a bear was killed,  and bore signs that it was a tiger. This is the last concrete evidence of the South China tiger.

This leaves the captive population. In March 1986, 17 Chinese zoos kept 40 pure-bred South China tigers in their collections, including 23 males and 14 females. All were third or fourth generation descendants of one wild tigress from Fujian and five tigers from Guizhou. This is not many to rebuild a population. By 2005, the captive population of South China tigers consisted of 57 individuals that showed signs of inbreeding, including reduced genetic diversity and a low rate of successful breeding. In 2007, the global captive population consisted of 72 individuals; there are few captive South China tigers outside China. 

Unfortunately, in the past zoos were bad at keeping sub-species separate. Generally they can interbreed, though they often loose features that would help them survive in the wild. One example would be moving a Sumatran tiger to Northern Russia; despite being the same species one is substantially bigger than the other, fur is different lengths and the differences continue. More importantly, not only would a Sumatran tiger probably die fast in the far east of Russia, but an Amur tiger would probably do no better in the steamy forests of Sumatra.

Few seem to be “pure” South China tigers as there is genetic evidence of cross-breeding with other subspecies. In 2019 there were an estimated 150 South China tigers in captivity within China. 144 of these were part of the breeding and management program maintained by the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens since 1994, five were in Guizhou province, and one was in Fujian province. China’s captive South China tigers have been entered onto a centrally registered studbook. Before the studbook was established it was thought that this captive population was too small and lacking in genetic diversity for any re-population program to be successful, but since the start of the central register more and more South China tigers have been identified in zoos across China.

The word “rewilding” was coined by conservationist and ex-carnivore manager of Pilanesberg National Park, Gus Van Dyk in 2003. Van Dyk, who in an effort to find the most appropriate translation of the Chinese term “Yě-huà” (Chinese: 野化), chose to adopt the term “rewilding” to describe Save China’s Tigers rewilding project of the South China tiger. Since then, the term “rewilding” has been widely used by wildlife organisations worldwide.

One cub was born in this private reserve  in November 2007, the first to be born outside China. Since then, a number of cubs have been produced. As of 2016, the Laohu Valley Reserve had 19 individuals. 

The organisation Save China’s Tigers, working with the Wildlife Research Center of the State Forestry Administration of China and the Chinese Tigers South Africa Trust, secured an agreement on the reintroduction of Chinese tigers into the wild. The agreement, which was signed in Beijing on 26 November 2002, calls for the establishment of a Chinese tiger conservation model through the creation of a pilot reserve in China where indigenous wildlife, including the South China tiger, will be reintroduced. Save China’s Tigers aims to rewild the critically endangered South China tiger by bringing a few captive-bred individuals to a private reserve in the Free State province of South Africa for rehabilitation training so that they can regain their hunting instincts. At the same time, a pilot reserve is being set up in China. Once it is ready, the offspring of the trained tigers will be released there, while the original animals will stay in South Africa to continue breeding. The reason South Africa was chosen is because it is able to provide expertise and resources, land and prey for the South China tigers. The South China tigers of the project have since been successfully rewilded and are fully capable of hunting and surviving on their own. This project has also been very successful in the breeding of these rewilded South China tigers and 14 cubs have been born in the project, of which 11 survived. These second generation cubs would be able to learn their survival skills from their successfully rewilded mothers directly. It was hoped that in 2012 the second-generation tigers born at Laohu Valley Reserve could be released into the wild.

Work is still ongoing, though no reserve has yet been formed. We can only encourage and pray that this changes. For the foreseeable future, the only South China tigers in the wild, will live in South Africa. 

Caspian Tiger

Caspian Tiger

The Caspian tiger (it was also called Balkhash tiger, Hyrcanian tiger, Turanian tiger, and Mazandaran tiger) was a tiger subspecies native to eastern Turkey, northern Iran, Mesopotamia, the Caucasus around the Caspian Sea, Central Asia to northern Afghanistan and the Xinjiang region in western China. Until the Middle Ages, it was also present in southern Russia. It inhabited sparse forests and riverine corridors in this region until the 1970s. 

This population was regarded as a distinct subspecies called the Caspian tiger and assessed as extinct in 2003. However genetic analysis showed that the two subspecies shared a common continuous geographic distribution until the early 19th century. As such they are not distinct enough to be considered a separate subpseices. The encouraging thing about this, is that it means that if the Amur tiger continues to recover, it can also be translocated throughout the Caspian tiger range, as well as the whole of the former Amur tiger range. Some of the tigers from this area were smaller, but not by too much.

Currently, there is no tigers in the Caspian tiger range, hopefully there will be soon – there is a plan to reintroduce them to Kazakhstan, work has been underway for quite some time, to get the area ready for the tigers return. This work is still underway, and unless something strange happens it should still occur in the future.

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