Tuesday, June 18, 2013 11:45:22 PM
I'm hoping I can pull off an expedition to Kunming and Xishuangbanna (Yunnan) in Late July. Currently the paper work has all been submitted. This time round, part of the trip will be pertaining to poaching and smuggling of wildlife. In this case, the focus is back on tigers. Yunnan borders several SE Asian range states for tigers and has a history of being a transit point or destination for tiger parts.
I think one of the problems with wildlife poaching is that its traditionally been seen as a conservation (i.e. biology) problem. One of the key things we need to grasp is that black markets for wildlife also have a strong economic dimension. People aren't poaching tigers and leopards because they're bad people. They're not doing it because they're misinformed. They're doing it because crime pays
. Wildlife poaching is an economic activity that is profitable to its participants. Sundarban Tiger - Source: Shutterstock
Poachers hunt animals because it works for them. They may have particular skill sets and knowledge that makes them adept at hunting. And the risks aren't off-putting. The frequency with which big-cat poachers get caught and prosecuted isn't high. Likewise smugglers are doing it for similar reasons. They're adept at transporting contraband over big distances and international borders.
So, we do need to understand how these criminal organisation operate at the economic level. How is they source their products, locate their customers and organise its distribution? What are the risk-reducing strategies they adopt? What is it that is driving the demand for tiger parts and the like? There are a lot of suggestions that seem reasonable, that also
don't withstand a lot of scrutiny. It's been suggested that rich Chinese businessmen are the main customers for tiger skins. Well, with perhaps 300 tigers a year being poached, we can be pretty certain that the vast majority of rich businessmen aren't buying tiger skins. As a trait of the average consumer of tiger parts, this needs a lot of refinement.
Sunday, February 10, 2013 10:51:00 PM
While I'm locked in the world of reports and papers on elephant ivory, I thought another diversion with tigers might be a good break.
This is of a white tiger. Which I suppose doesn't really need a lot of explanation. Once again, it's a snap taken with my Nex-5 so, not an action shot. The slower CADF focusing mechanism and a budget telephoto lens, just doesn't work as a wildlife-photography rig.
Thursday, January 31, 2013 9:15:13 PM
The expedition to China was almost entirely focused on the trade in elephant ivory. This followed from the 2006 decision by the government to treat ivory carving as an intangible cultural asset, and the 2008 sale of ivory to China from Africa.
Not all the time was spent on ivory. We managed to squeeze in a short expedition to look at Siberian tigers (lao hu
). China's northern most province (Heilong Jiang) reaches into the Siberian geographical region. And at -25 to -30 C, the evidence is very obvious.
Having the right contacts does make it easier. The -25 C temperatures though, add back some challenge
. Here's a couple of pics from the trip.
For those curious about the gear, these were actually taken with my Nex-5 rather than an SLR kit.
Sunday, November 4, 2012 9:32:15 PM
One of the first problems I ran into with researching tiger smuggling was the bias. A lot of the studies had been done by organisations based in India. Imaginative and creative arrows were being drawn across India, Nepal, into Tibet and over into the eastern provinces of China. The two big gaps were interdiction rates inside China, and the case of the Indo-Chinese tiger.
At the last SCB meeting I gave a paper on the breakdown of interdictions inside China. This data was obtained after some patient relationship building within China. The basic breakdown is as follows:
Figure 1: Smuggling Map 1999-2010
Province in coloured as deep-red are hotspots. These are provinces that have had multiple cases of smugglers being intercepted. The obvious characteristic is each is a province that borders range states with wild tiger populations.
Provinces in pale-red are low-interdiction cases. These are province that have had one arrest only.
The map also is instructive as it gives some idea of the scope of the international borders smugglers can take advantage of. It should come as no surprise that parts also show geographical trends also. Amur tigers are intercepted in the north (Heilong-Jiang/Jilin), Indo-Chinese & Bengali in the south (Yunnan), and Bengali in the west (Tibet).
Sunday, October 28, 2012 11:25:04 PM
A colleague drew my attention to this story out of ThailandBBC-News Thailand
The story is principally about a truck-driver, paid to smuggle 16 tiger cubs from Thailand into Laos. The driver was caught when he attempted to avoid a police checkpoint. With 16 cubs, it is practically certain these same from a 'breeding facility' within Thailand. Tigers can produce 4 cubs in a litter but less is also common. Getting 16 cubs from the wild within Thailand would involve a very serious effort in search, risks of mortality in transporting cubs out of the wild, and risks of being caught within the reserves. It would be much easier and less risky to get the cubs from a captive source. Such animals would also be more familiar with people and hence, more sedate to transport.
The interception is indicative of two enforcement issues. First, crossing borders is the riskiest aspect of the illegal supply chain. From an economic perspective, the 'black-market firm' is better placed to pass this risk on to people who are willing to bear it at a lower price. The driver said he'd been paid 15,000 baht ($US 490 or £300) for the job. The second is that the size of the shipment (16 live animals) shows that enforcement agencies are being ineffective. A good sign that enforcement is effective is reductions in shipment size. This is the easiest thing for smugglers to do to reduce their risks. It does inflate their other costs (fewer units transported each trip drives up the average costs). So, the fact they are making large shipments here mean that they have little to worry about from law enforcement.
The story implies that the cubs are being smuggled for parts for traditional medicines. This seems unlikely. It would be much easier to kill the tigers within Thailand and transport the parts in a more cryptic way. This would also mean the smugglers did not have live animals to care for and feed for the duration of the trip. I suspect the most likely explanation is that this is the nucleus for a 'tiger farm' within Laos. Thailand and Vietnam are known to have breeding of tigers occurring in 'commercial quantities'. This may now be a reflection of the attempt to do the same within Laos. With actual wild tiger numbers in Indo-China being critically low, captive sources of tigers are much easier to locate and transport.
This also means that the CITES resolutions that call upon certain range states to end such breeding is largely being ignored.
Monday, September 10, 2012 10:00:46 PM
International borders are one of those fun spots in the world, where contraband items try to make it across. The province of Jilin is one 'hot spot' of smuggling activity of tiger parts.
Now, not everybody who watches border areas are interested in wildlife. It seems military forces also take an interest in what their neighbours are doing. This Chinese mobile unit (radar?) is positioned facing North Korea.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012 11:54:47 PM
While I spent last night photographing local predators (assorted NZ spiders), I thought people would probably appreciate a tiger more:
Sadly, as yet I've not been to Indonesia so have not had the chance to see a Sumatran tiger in the wild. This pic, as some of you can probably deduce, is from Auckland Zoo. Captive breeding of this endangered sub-species is being spearheaded by Australian and NZ zoos.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012 10:46:56 PM
The recent Stuff
news article on the dwindling kea numbers brought up the comparison with the tiger. Keas (a native parrot) have dwindled and the keen conservationists trying to avert this, point out that they get a lot less money than tigers.
This isn't really a great revelation because, well, nothing gets more money than the tiger. And sadly, tiger conservation has been one of the most conspicuous conservation failures we have. With tigers we seem doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, largely because of the 'feel good' factor. We use reserves, trade bans and anti-poaching measures, but never try to understand how these black-markets work. Then when the policy fails- perhaps because there are all kinds of perverse effects that make these bans counter-productive- we just decide to do the same thing year after year, but with more money.
And every year, we have less and less tigers. So the blame game begins. Apparently if we decide to use a conservation strategy that makes tigers worth $US50,000 to Asian criminals, we shouldn't expect them to take advantage of it. When your basic conservation strategy to save tigers is to make Asian criminals rich if they push them to extinction, maybe we should be rethinking the whole logic being used here.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012 11:17:22 PM
The unpalatable fact about wildlife poaching of many charismatic species is we have been unable to reduce it to levels that are safe. While tigers are a tragic example of this, I usually regard Russian Far East as a relatively secure region.
Nonetheless, as this recent story from Russia
shows they're not immune.
Four tigers have been killed in just a two week period. A Chinese women smuggler was caught with 3 leg bones in her possession. The discovery of the leg bones is not surprising. The fact is that it is the humerus of the tiger that is regarded as most potent for Traditional Chinese Medicine. Typically seizures at the moment in the Russian Far East and adjacent provinces in China are of small quantities (3-6 pieces) of bone. This at least is some evidence that enforcement is having an effect on poachers and smugglers. The typical response to high interdiction risks is to reduce shipment size to become more cryptic.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 9:44:15 PM
On Friday afternoon I'm giving a seminar at Otago University entitled "A Tale of Two Species"
Here's the abstract:
Tigers and the salt-water crocodile share many similar features. Both have had their populations reduced to a remnant due to economic factors, both are apex predators that generate human-animal conflicts, yet also produce goods considered to have high value. The paradox is that despite the tiger receiving most attention and conservation resources, it is the saltwater crocodile that has experienced the most dramatic recovery. Wild tiger numbers in Asia however, are still in decline. The crocodile recovery can be attributed to an elegant and strategic property rights solution. The factors behind this recovery are elaborated. In the same vein, the property-rights regime implemented for tigers has exacerbated rather than reversed the decline of this iconic species.
The kind of intriguing thing is how two apex predators- ranging over many countries- both starting as endangered in the 1970s (both listed in Appendix I of CITES)- took such a divergent path in their recovery. What makes it even more intriguing is the one species that was lavished with resources has done far worse. This seems a bit counter-intuitive so I'm going to try answering that question on Friday.