By: Kelly Donithan
Sheba spent almost a decade in a small, concrete enclosure. While her owner loved her deeply, he wasn’t able to provide the proper environment or care to meet her needs as a tiger.
As shown in the video above, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Educational Center teamed up to remove Sheba from her campground cage and move her to In-Sync’s sanctuary in Wylie, Texas.
Sheba is still adapting to her new surroundings, which can be overwhelming at first, as she hasn’t seen another tiger since she was taken from her mother at a very young age.
Releasing her into the large play yard immediately would likely put Sheba in a very stressful and scary situation, so she will be allowed to gradually explore her new habitat at her own pace. Once she is comfortable, she will be romping around and diving in her pool like all the other tigers who call In-Sync home.
IFAW couldn’t do this live-changing work without supporters like you. Click here to learn more about big cats in captivity and IFAW’s efforts to rescue big cats like Sheba.
Two sub-adult male rhinos, named Gopal and Hari, were relocated to Manas National Park from the Wildlife Rescue Centre in Kaziranga the other day. The rhinos will be released in the wild following a period of in situ acclimatisation in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
They follow the five rhinos – three females and two males – who were hand-reared and rehabilitated after they were found in 2006. The three females gave birth last year, proving that the rehabilitated animals are thriving in the wild.
Gopal was found alone in March 2009 in Baruntika and Hari later in August in Haldhibari. It is not known why or how they were separated from their mother. Following the proven rhino rehabilitation protocol of our centre, they were hand-reared in Kaziranga. Both are now about four years old now.
Apart from Gopal and Hari and the five already released in Manas, there are five additional calves currently being hand-reared by IFAW-WTI staff: three at the centre and two in Manas.
“We hope these male rhinos too will bring new genes to the Manas rhino population,” says MK Yadava, Chief Conservator of Forest and Director, Kaziranga National Park. Our cooperative team will be monitoring these rhinos throughout their acclimatisation and after their release in the wild.
Rehabilitation is only one of the several components of our larger Greater Manas Conservation Project in collaboration with the Assam Forest Department, Bodoland Territorial Council, local communities and several community-based organisations (CBOs).
The project also carries out capacity building of the frontline staff as well as the CBOs that work with the authorities in wildlife conservation in the region to help them better protect the rhinos and other wildlife of the region. It also pursues a number of community development projects, including a weaving employment program and distribution of fuel-efficient stoves to reduce tree-felling in the area.
“We are extremely happy that two more of these rhinos, who arrived as young calves and were raised by our team there, are now ready to take the step towards returning to the wild,” says Vivek Menon, Executive Director, WTI and Regional Director – South Asia, IFAW.
For those who have been following the story of Zolushka, an orphaned Amur tiger rehabilitated and released back to the wild last May with a GPS collar that also transmits a VHF radio signal, a recent report has come in from our colleagues in the Russian Far East.
During the first four weeks after her release, Zolushka remained in a very small area for a wild Amur tiger. She is able to hunt, according to ground investigations of places where she had spent longer periods, assuming she spent a few days to eat before moving on.
Soon after, Zolushka began making exploratory movements to expand the area she was traversing, even traveling to a remote area where ground trackers could not investigate. We have little information on what she did during this period other than GPS points, but thankfully there are no reports of encounters with a tiger from local people —an important indication that there were no conflicts with people during the excursion. In August she returned to the protected park where trackers were able to confirm locations and confirm that she was hunting well.
Then we lost touch. In September, Zolushka’s GPS collar apparently stopped working, and no further locations have been received since. But persistent efforts from park staff with some support from our partner, Wildlife Conservation Society, have yielded some results. Radio signals from the collar have been heard, and her tracks had been observed throughout September, November and December.
For Zolushka’s safety and protection, her locations must be kept internal. But we can say that Zolushka appears to have successfully negotiated the first eight months of her return to the wild.
So far, there is no evidence that Zolushka has settled down into a well-defined territory, likely normal for a sub-adult tigress. The continued evidence of a resident male in her protected park area is good news and may increase the probability that she will stay and settle there.
So far, the only complaints coming from local people have been some hunters reporting that she has stolen bait from traps. This is critically important as one of the key questions is whether tigers raised in a rehabilitation center will become too accustomed to humans and become conflict tigers after release.
Monitoring her activities and movements during her first winter and how she fares will be particularly important. Continued efforts to track her will be made throughout the winter. But based on the information we have been able to collect to date thus far, she appears to have the skills to survive in the wild.
There are presently three other Amur tigers being rehabilitated under a cooperative effort between IFAW, Wildlife Conservation Society, Servertsov Institute, Inspection Tiger, Bastak Zapovednik, and Agricultural Academy of Primorskii Krai.
This weekend the Dallas Safari Club (DSC) plans to auction off the chance to kill one of the world’s last black rhinos—and shockingly, the U.S. government may be okay with it despite the species’ protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. According to DSC, which describes itself as both a pro-conservation and pro-hunting group, the proceeds of the January auction will go toward African conservation efforts, thereby creating a loophole that would allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to grant a permit to import the dead animal as a trophy. (See “Rhino Hunt Permit Auction Sets Off Conservation Debate.”)
With around 1,800 black rhinos remaining in Namibia (where the hunt is slated to take place) out of a worldwide population of only 5,055, the announcement has caused more than a few double-takes. Comedian Stephen Colbert nailed it when he ripped into the obvious irony of the “kill it to save it” argument on his show The Colbert Report in October when the scheme was announced.
As Colbert pointed out with biting satire, the idea of creating a bidding war for the opportunity to gun-down one of the last of a species ostensibly in the name of conservation is perverse and dangerous to buy into. It promotes the economic axiom that scarcity equals value when dealing with living species. If an animal like the rare black rhinoceros is worth the most with a price on its head, what possible incentive does this provide range countries and local people to move the species toward recovery when the biggest buck can be made short-term by selling permits to kill them to the highest bidders?
We’ve seen this perverse economic incentive happen with polar bears and tigers, where perceived rarity has caused “collectors” to rush out and try to kill or own the last pieces of these animals, and the price for their parts have sky-rocketed, thereby making extinction that much more likely.
Another economic problem with DSC’s proposed one-off kill-for-conservation is the fallacy that this is the best way to raise money for conservation. DSC Executive Director Ben Carter offered his support for the auction to the Dallas Observer when he said, “People are talking about ‘Why don’t you do a photo safari?’ or whatever. Well, that’s great, but people don’t pay for that.”
But the truth is that non-hunting ecotourism, such as the photo safaris that Carter scoffs at, provide much greater revenue to Africa, which is a real incentive to keep rhino populations plentiful. Indeed, ecotourism has become such an important part of some African countries’ economies that governments are taking steps against hunting in order to protect this flourishing industry. For example, last year, Botswana announced a ban on hunting permits, citing its booming ecotourism sector—which now makes up 12% of national GDP—as the primary factor. Compare this to trophy hunting, which as a portion of any national economy never accounts for more than 0.27 percent of the GDP.
And while a one-time killing of a rare rhino will bring in instant cash, the result is that there is now one less rhino for all other future tourists to see, so the possible revenue generated by this animal ends right there with one vainglorious hunt for a single wealthy American.
The truth isn’t complicated: People do pay to see wild animals, without feeling the need to hack off their body parts for a private viewing in their living rooms back in Texas. In fact, a recent Synovate poll found that 70.4 percent of Americans would pay to view another disappearing species—lions—on an African safari, while only 6.6 percent of Americans would pay to hunt them.
The auction to kill one of the last wild black rhinos is just another example of the warped logic that’s exploiting our wildlife “for their own good.” It is pushing a species like the iconic black rhino closer to extinction by telling the world that rhinos are worth more to us rare and dead than healthy and flourishing in the wild where they belong.
Jeff Flocken is the North America regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.