June 24, 2012

The Forbidden Topic


 ("What to do with all us people?") 

(or the non working title “Brian hates babies?”)

I have thought about writing on the human population or overpopulation (0) ever since I started getting interested and working around wildlife over 12 years ago. Every time I sit to write, another article or show comes out (“Mother” the Movie comes to mind) and I learn something new. Or another Earth Day rolls around or some “Green Fair” and I get frustrated at how few environment and wildlife groups will even mention the human population explosion in any manner. Are they afraid they will lose donations to their causes if they make people feel uncomfortable? I guess that answers my question of why our wimpy politicians won’t touch the topic. They don’t want to lose a vote from the few of us that vote. (You would think Trojan would jump on this topic and market less people & and more family planning and watch their sales go through the roof.)
I do recall seeing something about human population growth on a flashy sign at the Minnesota Zoo as well as tucked in the back of some book about primates with Jane Goodall in it stating the proven fact that supporting family planning and woman’s education drops the growing population rates in communities that share the land with exotic wildlife. And with that drop in population comes a better standard of life for those people. So why don’t these wildlife and environment groups talk more about the big picture of population growth? Who knows?
I certainly don’t mind making people a little uncomfortable, spent my twenties being a little punk rocker I did, as it is usually then when we stop and think what are we uncomfortable about? I know I made people somewhat uncomfortable when I wore my “Save the Planet-Stop Breeding” T-shirt at the Chicago Green Fest 2 years ago. People go to Green Festivals and the sort to feel important and to see themselves as part of the solution, not part of the problem. But why is that, as we all are human and want to be “Green” so why is it strange to talk about it?
First off, I don’t see myself as some kind of doomsday nutcase. I am not stocking up on cans of cream corn in waiting for the zombie apocalypse or anything like that. And also I actually like kids. It seems too easy for someone who hates people to say that there are too many people on my damn planet. But you seldom hear from someone who likes children and their brutal honesty and snotty little noses (ok, maybe I don’t like all kids) state that they are making the choice to be childless for the environment which in turns benefits all humans, even children. I actually wanted 2-3 little offspring just like most of us growing up. I mean what is cooler than passing on your genes and name and seeing what becomes of it all. After looking around at this crowded world, I then decide one would be just fine. But with my wife not wanting any (strange a little as she comes from a large family) it puts a stop on having a child. We don’t want to adopt at this point either as it allows us to have some flexibility in choosing jobs and living locations with only worrying about the two of us. I can’t imagine how many people are stuck in houses, jobs, and heck even relationships they hate just for “the kids”. I do think about all that I will miss out on like watching the kid walk for the first time, seeing them play in after school sports, and looking for more creative ways to ground or punish them than my parents to me. But I am a realist in that numbers don’t lie and also that society is mostly lazy and doesn’t want to sacrifice or be proactive, rather we all seem to react.
So why worry, what will happen will happen, or do we care enough about the next generation and the generation after that to actually start the discussion of population. We did back in the 70's and it seemed to drop out of our conversations since then.
 I should mention that if you don’t think that jumping from 1 billion people in 1900 to today’s over 7 billion people isn’t an explosion, then I don’t think you should read any further. I can’t help you.
 I can say that locally here all you have to do is go onto the 290 at rush hour heading west and look at the sea of cars (even with our public transit system) and go “damn, there sure are a lot of us.” Blame poorly designed highways, blame anything, but it all comes down to we have a lot of people occupying the livable places here on earth. Even as we make unlivable places like the dry hot desert (Hello Arizona) livable, there still are a lot of us crammed into cities. It can all be misleading for instance; recently Chicago had a Tribune article last year stating they lost 200,000 people. (1) (Where’s your population boom now mister cynic?) BUT if you look just outside the city and into its burbs you will see we are still growing and growing fast. Even with the average family size shrinking from 3.1 in the late 70’s to 2.6 today (2) we still have more people in the state of Illinois from 11.4 million in 1980 to 12.8 million and counting. So you see, while we might be spreading out and declining in small pockets, as a whole we are always growing.
 The US as a whole (and I pick on my beloved country for many reasons I will get into next paragraph) has grown from 1970’s 203 million to today’s 313 million. (3) So even with the lower family size and population drops in big cities like Chicago we are still growing fast as a species (And I ain’t even talking about our obesity issues. Wocka Wocka! – Fozzie Bear reference..ah, forget it..) So really, how many is enough?
When do we start to worry and when do we come up with some kind of plan or solutions?
 I pick on the good ole’ US of A as we seem to bring up the other countries and continents when it comes to population growth. We look over to India and Africa (both places I have traveled to) with their booms and don’t look back at us. Well sure, India with its population growth from 683 million to 1.2 billion in 30 years as well as Africa and its double in size to 1 billion in the same time frame are indeed huge growths that do need attention as we all share just one planet. (Well, until those luxury condos on the Moon finally get built.)
 Those numbers are staggering given the huge percentages that live below the international poverty line.
So, I pick on the US as we are the king of using resources. We use at least approx 4 times more than other countries. We can blame China as they grew near us recently in resource usage, but take in the fact that a lot of what they use is then sold back to us here at our friendly stores like Wal Marts, and we easily take the title for using the most. And your below poverty population in India and Africa ain’t driving their family to the store in their SUV’s to get the latest plasma TV if you know what I mean. We make a lot of garbage here and use a lot of plastic, that isn’t breaking down anytime soon. Heck I just found a burger wrapper that looked like it was from the 80’s the other day while walking in the forest preserve. (note to self: put wrapper on ebay) We all are also a reason there is that large garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean (4) that floats around with debris. I use that as an example to show that our population does effect the environment. We can blame the seal for eating fish or wolves for eating all the elk, but c’mon now, our population is the real reason behind any decline of resources. We do affect the natural world, and look, I didn’t even bring up climate change.
 We seem to be an out of sight out of mind country. If we had to keep that 11 million tons of recycled paper, or the tons and tons of plastics and old computers we ship away to China we might feel the pain of consuming too much junk here in the US, but we don’t. And why do we have all this garbage? Because we have a lot of people here. I mean when its gets to the point we are shooting up our livestock with growth hormones just to make bigger meat faster or adding chemicals to make more veggies to keep up with our food needs, you would think people would stop and look at the big picture, but we don’t. We take food, water, and electric for granted, it all is made too easy for us to realize how much of a strain our huge population puts on things. I don’t think the right people will be making the right money from energy anytime soon that we will become all clean energy. So you can also factor in our oil usage at 22.6% of the world’s usage (China is 2cd at 9.9. %) to add to the theory that we have to look no further than right here in the US to see what we can do about all these people and how we live our life. Even your sweet sweet child who you will teach to recycle and walk to school and car pool to work will still grow up in this mass consumption society we have. I do my best myself, but you get sucked in and consume and make a hell of a lot of waste and use up a hell of a lot of resources. It’s the American way. Again, we have a lot of people here.
 I just read an article like a few others I have seen this past year or so where a woman decides she doesn’t want children for various reasons and is having a good life. Seems innocent enough, but all you have to do is scroll down and read the comments (gotta love today’s opinionated society where it is so easy to comment on anything from the safety behind your computer, although I really await your comments to this blog.)
I was amazed to see all the negative feedback people had for her. Calling her everything from selfish to soulless for not having what they see as a complete life. All for the choice of not breeding another number or two to add to the 7 billion plus we already have. I saw everything from remarks like "you wouldn't be here if your parents felt this way" to the always brilliant statement whenever anyone states we have a human overpopulation of "then kill yourself."
Another point I should make is that I do believe in some sort of a god, be it Buddah or Zeus or the God that I was brought up with and that is the gray bearded guy in the sky who come to think of it told this other bearded guy Noah to collect two of every animal, which to me as an animal caretaker seems unrealistic as trying to capture one pig in a rainstorm is hard enough but to get two and crate them safely, let alone trying to get a stubborn donkey to walk up a plank to an ark since they, ah forget it. Anyway, I bring this up as many people who commented pointed out that those who don’t want kids are not doing god’s will or that they have to be atheist. Religion shouldn’t really come into play into our population growth but it sure does (look at the Catholic Church and birth control for instance). Also politics shouldn’t but they do as well (look at the fear from the far right that the minorities and their growing populations are taking over, or the hippy far left using their reusable bags and shopping for organic food while pushing a mega stroller of 4 rug rats complaining about resource usage for instance). Both sides are not helping no matter which end your on.
 For me it is simply looking past politics or religion and at the numbers. Humans have lived on this planet for a very long time but it is only in the past century with health, travel, and daily basic needs improvements and the such that our populations have grown and spread out to now over 7 billion. What will that number hit before we look around and go...wow there are too many of us?

Author with a donkey in Ireland.
What will we do?
It is the catch 22 of modern life. We have a healthier life, and live longer therefore more of us are around that in turn might bring this modern life to a faster end, if that makes sense.
 So not to keep on this path of gloom and doom but what will we do?
 I ask you fine people, do you even factor in thoughts about the population as a whole when family planning?
And if you decide to have 1 less child, is it due to the economy (as the average is birth to high school about $2000,000 to raise one) (5), or do you think about the big population picture?

 We wouldn’t let the population of any other species of animals get out of control. But yet we are scared to come up with any plan or estimated limits or even converse about our own. Are we waiting until 8 billion to worry about it? 10 Billion? Mass riots, or die offs due to not enough food or clean water?
Do we really think the zombie apocalypse will take care of it all?
We are better than that I would hope.
And since people don’t seem to do something for nothing- Do we need to come up with a reward system for not having children or having one less? (6)
Yeah, that wouldn’t be controversial now would it! People hate the government telling them what to do, let alone opening up any topic about how many kids is a good amount.
And how would we even know if someone is indeed having one less than they wanted to? And some would say the reward would be the extra income saved by not having the child, but we childless still pay for others children and the growing population in ways like rising health care cost, insurance cost, rising property taxes going somewhat to the schools to educate your children, etc..etc.. So really, what do we do?
I am interested in your comments as I know this is a very personal and sometimes heated subject, but in the end we all want a good and healthy planet to live on and for most of us to raise our children on. Even the snot nosed ones :)








Interesting sites:
Population counter:

Mother The Film.

Population Connection:

April 29, 2011

Saving The Cats

*Welcome to the first edition of the Brian's Art for Animals blog.
Tiger-Wildcat Sanctuary, MN
  With recent movies like National Geographic’s The Last Lions and Disney’s African Cats, the plight of not only lions, but all big cats are once again in media’s attention. But I often find myself wanting to know more about these magnificent animals current situations. So I asked some of the leading people in both the wild and captive cat world some questions to hopefully make it a little easier to understand what is going on out there and if there is any hope for these cats in today’s world. My hope in writing this is that with this understanding it will make it easier for you to want to help out these organizations featured and do what you can to save the 40 or so species of wild cats.
  Far East Russia is home to both the Amur tiger and the Amur leopard. While the tigers population has somewhat held for a while, the leopards has fallen to under 40 and is critically endangered. Dale Miquelle the Director of WCS Russia was kind enough to answer these questions:
What are the most recent wild population numbers for the Amur Tigers?
(DM)Last count was 2005 - 430-502 animals was the estimate.

What is an aspect of Amur tiger conservation that is unique to this
species of feline rather that in trying to save a lion for example?
Because productivity of the land is so low compared to other places where tigers live, prey densities are naturally low, and consequently, each tiger needs much more land than, say, your average Bengal tiger.  Average adult Siberian female home ranges are at least 400 km2, vs about 20 km for Bengal females.  Hence to save a population of tigers of any given size requires about 20 times more land in Russia, than India, for instance.

What has been the most recent road block in tiger conservation, and do you honestly feel the recent Tiger Summit will help with this?
Poaching of tigers, prey and their habitat are the biggest issues, and these issues can only be solved at the national level.  Getting national-level commitment to tiger conservation is therefore key, and hence the Summit has a great potential to increase focus of national governments on tiger conservation.

Is there a magic number on Amur tigers that would result of you all
saying: ok, we did our job close shop they will be fine, or will we
always need to be involved in their conservation?

Unfortunately, no such magic number exists. As long as humans are continuing to exploit and convert land and natural resources, there will be continuous threats to tigers and all species.  We can only hope to transfer responsibility for conservation to the next generation, and do our best to minimize losses and acquire gains whenever possible.

Why did you personally get involved to save an animal that you may
never or very seldom see in the wild, and is also an animal that could
kill humans?

Tigers are an iconic species.  If we cannot save tigers from extinction, we need to ask whether we can save our selves.  So, in a very real sense, you can say, if we save tigers, perhaps we get to keep the planet.

Most cats have to deal with human encroachment and how we will
deal with the (taboo subject it seems) global population rising so
quickly and our usage of natural resources, do the
Amur tigers even in
their remote location have to factor this in?

Russia has the lowest population density of any country where tigers currently exist, so population density per se is not the threat it is in other countries.  But in nearby China, recovery of tigers will be hampered by the high densities of villages here.

Is there any current legislation pending that may hurt or benefit the
tigers that the average person should know about?
Is there anything the average American can learn from other countries
in regards to tiger or feline conservation?

Russia has a system of protected areas called zapovedniks, which do not allow entry by anyone except forest guards and  the occasional researcher.  Such a system is unheard in most western countries. But creating lands that are truly free of human impact is a lesson worth considering by any country.

The recent ratified Federal Tiger Conservation Program and the associated Action Plan lay out details of what needs to be done to save tigers.  If that plan is implemented, there is a good chance we will have a secure tiger population.

With terms of poaching or illegal logging, it seems we might jail or
an anti poaching unit may even kill one poacher, but that doesn't stop
the bigger outfits and the big crime bosses if you will, from getting
another poor person to put their life on the line to kill an animal. How
do we get the illegal trade in parts and the high demand for furs under
control and how do we in a bigger picture even try to remove mankind’s
basic greed for money/power emotion that leads to so much wrong doings
in this world like the illegal trade in wildlife parts?
Bigger outfits need to address by cooperation of national governments and agencies like Interpol that deal with organized crime. There are mechanisms to address such issues - the problem is getting governments to concentrate on them in regards to wildlife trade issues.

Is there a way to protect the Amur tigers natural prey species and is
it working?

Wildlife law enforcement officials are generally dedicated people, but resources available for them to do their job are meager.  Better support to these entities and people will be critical to protect the prey base of tigers.

Captive Snow Leopard-Tampa, Fl.

 One can argue that the Snow Leopard is simply one of the most beautiful animals on this earth. But will its beauty be enough to get people interested in conserving it along with its habitat? The snow leopard’s habitat crosses many borders and touches base in countries that have political and poverty struggles along with other problems to contend with before they even think of helping some wild cat up in the mountains. The Snow Leopard Trust is here to make sure that its conservation remains in the forefront of every ones mind. Brad Rutherford is the executive director and he answered the following question asked:
What are the most recent wild snow leopard population numbers?

(BR) Because the cats are so elusive and difficult to count the number that most scientists are using is still a broad range of between 3500 and 7000.  The data coming in from the long-term ecological study in Mongolia is showing very large home range but larger overlap than we would have anticipated.

What is an aspect of snow leopard conservation that is unique to this species of feline?

On the good news front one of the unique things about snow leopards is there has never been a confirmed killing of a person by a snow leopard which is an advantage for saving the species.  While we have conflict with herders who lose livestock to the cats at least we are not facing the type of animosity that comes with losing a family member to a cat that is sometimes faced by leopards or tigers.

What has been the most recent biggest set back in snow leopard conservation, and are you finding locals killing more or less leopards recently?
Adequate funding for our conservation programs remains the single biggest hurdle.  We’d love to be expanding our Community Based Conservation programs like the livestock insurance, livestock vaccination, and Snow Leopard Enterprises to more areas but we just don’t have the funds.  The expansion of these programs and development of new ones is the single biggest obstacle to protecting more snow leopards.  We are also seeing an expanding of threats with the expansion of mining into snow leopard habitat occurring in several snow leopard range countries.

Is there a magic number on leopards that would result of you all
saying: ok, we did our job close shop they will be fine, or will we always need to be involved in their conservation and remain aware of their situation?

This is a great question that we can’t answer yet but are working hard on it.  One of the reasons for launching the first ever long-term ecological studies of snow leopards is to develop an understanding of the cats needs to a level that will allow us to set a target of what it would mean for the snow leopard to have a healthy population that would allow it to come off the endangered species list.

Why did the Snow Leopard Trust catch on so well with selling products the locals made?
I think there are two main factors to why the handicraft program has really taken off.  The first is the simple concept that buying the products directly helps protect snow leopards.  That is what the program was founded on and it was a huge factor then and is huge today.  But the cause and the story only get you so far.  At the end of the day folks want good quality products if they are going to keep buying and our ability to raise funds to help develop new products and provide training to the herders has been key to upping the quality of the products and ultimately grow sales.

Is there any current legislation pending that may hurt or benefit the snow leopard that the average person should know about? And how do general American politics play a role in conservation?
There is a Big Cat Rare Canid bill that includes snow leopards but that is basically dead and I can’t think of any action people could take to help revive it.  The Snow Leopard Trust receives all its funding from either individuals, private foundations, or zoos so we really don’t have a lot of connection with American politics.  The possible changes to the tax laws that might impact charitable giving might have an impact on us.

What is it about the snow leopard (an animal so rarely even seen) that makes it so important for all of you to dedicate your life to save?

Once you look a snow leopard in the eye, as I think you know, there is something about the cats that really draws you to trying to help ensure their survival.  As George Schaller said a spark in the mountains would be lost if snow leopards were to ever become extinct.  On the more practical side because the Snow Leopards are the keystone species for the high dry mountains of Central Asia if they were to be lost the entire ecosystem would be failing.  So saving the snow leopard has as a much broader impact on wildlife conservation than just the cats themselves.  And finally I truly believe in the Trust’s approach to Community-Based Conservation.  If the Trust’s approach was save the cats and forget the people in the region I wouldn’t be a part of the Trust.  For many reasons, most of the practical, I don’t think you can save snow leopards without forming true partnerships with the people who share the landscape with the cats everyday.

With recent radio collaring showing just how large of a territory these cats roam, how will that information help the trust and its research?
This is some of the really important data that is helping us be better conservationists.  What the early radio collar data is showing is very large home ranges for the cats.  And we are fairly certain that the size of their ranges is not being driven by food alone.  So while we don’t yet know why they are using such a big area we are fairly certain it isn’t to search for food since they are leaving areas with good wild sheep and goat populations which is the staple of the cats diet.  What this means for conservation is that most current protected areas are just too small to ensure the cats survival.  So while protected areas are important they are not sufficient for protecting snow leopards.  This adds to the importance of working with the communities in snow leopard habitat because we know the cats are going to be sharing the same space given their large home ranges.

There are some great organizations out there like the Zoological Society of London that seem to have their name on many conservation groups pages listed as supporters. Hats off to those in the captive field helping the projects that directly benefit the wild species. We all know how budgets in this economy can be reduced and sadly the contributions made to field projects get smaller. My thinking is that we in the captive field have roofs over our heads and food on our tables thanks to people’s desire to connect with nature and the fact that iconic species like the big cats draw people in to zoos and parks around the world. So the least we can do is pay them back by supporting conservation projects. Sort of a ask not what these animals can do for us, but what can we do for them mentality, which sometimes gets forgotten with the business side of what we do. With feline populations falling and re intro projects taking place or that will in the near future with lynx, cheetahs, Amur leopards, one can throw a good argument towards the importance of a good captive population. And always look into just what places you are supporting to make sure they are on the good side of this industry and not a place that is adding to the bad. For those who just simply don’t like seeing a big cat in a cage, we can and must still find common ground in the fact that we do need to support the efforts out there that help protect these cats in the wild.
Keeping track and supporting programs carried out by ALTA in the far east as well as the captive tiger populations in zoos is Jimi van Beuzekom who is the Species management assistant for both the Amur leopards and tigers as well as the Sumatran tigers involved in the European Conservation Program, the EEP.

How many Sumatran Tigers (the smallest sub species of tiger in size) are left out there?
(JVB) There are at the moment about 300 Sumatran tigers in the wild. Of course we can’t give an exact number because we can never be sure if we know about every cat in the wild.
What is something unique about their conservation?
The thing that is unique in Sumatran tiger conservation is that the Sumatran tiger is the most endangered tiger species along with the Malayan tiger. There is no other tiger species with less population in the wild. Also the location is unique. The name Sumatran tiger explains already that the tiger lives in the wild in Sumatra.

Captive Sumatran Tiger-Sandstone , MN.
What has been the most recent biggest road block in the captive EEP Sumatran Tiger program, and what is the hope in the future to overcome this? And can you explain the plans for the new tiger centre and how can people help?
I assume that you mean the new tiger enclosure in ZSL when you are talking about the tiger centre.  This enclosure will be over 5 times bigger than the one we have now and will be 2400m2. Also it will be an experience for the visitors to walk around and “through” the enclosure and they will have to search for the tigers. There will also be poles which are substitutes for trees and food for the tigers will be on top of it so they will have to climb in the pole. This is similar to the wild. People can donate through the website or send in cheques to ZSL mentioning that it is for Tiger SOS, but they can also hold fundraising events. A list of examples for fundraising can be found at: http://www.zsl.org/tiger-sos

Is there a magic number of sorts you would always like to have globally in captivity, and how realistic is it to work globally with other programs and not just the EEP on its own?
Another part of that-is it frustrating at all to see the number of "generic" tigers breeding in private hands in the US and or outside the breeding programs (one could argue they can offer some value in educating the public about the wild tigers, or the flip side that they are using up resources that could be applied to other tigers) while the SSP in the states for instance, at times struggles for space, and to keep its numbers up?
Preferably we would have no animals in captivity and only in the wild. Unfortunately that can only happen if the habitat will come back, the wild population has to increase and become stable. This hopefully will happen in the future but it will take a lot of time before we get there. Also we will need to increase awareness across the world so that humans know about the problems and will start to work on bringing back the animals in the wild. We do work together globally by transferring tigers to other zoos who are not in the EEP but for instance are in the US. This means we will breed tigers globally and may get their cubs back in the EEP to breed from them. So it is realistic to work together with other programs around the world, but it does take time and effort of course. It is indeed frustrating to see that tigers are bred outside our programs but this can not be prevented unfortunately. We do hope to decrease the number of tigers bred outside the breeding programs across the world but this will take time and effort as well.

And any captive program has its critics, so how do you respond to the following argument that new enclosures cost millions to house a few tigers but field projects like anti poaching teams, field medicine etc that can go on to save wild tigers goes under funded?
That argument comes up a lot but it really is an argument that hasn’t been thought through because what most people don’t realise is that the breeding can only happen in captivity and tigers in captivity will not breed if they are in small cages that aren’t similar to their natural environment. Breeding is needed to do research to help the projects in the field and also for possible reintroduction of tigers in the wild. So basically we need bigger and more natural enclosures which cost money to help the tigers in the wild. Unfortunately this is something most people don’t realise.

How are your captive tigers helping?
 ZSL funds research in the wild by camera trapping, this means that a
researcher places cameras in boxes on trees and when a tiger walks by
this tree the camera takes a picture and we are able to see the tiger
and its condition. Actually I have a link to a video of the first
Sumatran tiger caught on camera with two cubs. This is also from a
camera trapping box.
Another thing that is funded is anti-poaching teams, fire fighting teams
and ZSL also does a lot about education. The education of course
includes the new tiger SOS campaign.

We have thousands of tigers here in the United States, but only a few hundred are in accredited breeding programs and one of the people In charge in keeping track of the breeding in these programs is Michael Dulaney who works out of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden as Curator of Mammals and is the Malayan Tiger SSP coordinator
What are the most recent wild & captive population numbers?
(MD) It is estimated that there are only 500 Malayan tigers left in the wild and 55 animals managed by the AZA’s SSP Program in North America. Unfortunately I cannot provide an accurate number of animals being held in captivity in Asia.

What is an aspect of Malayan Tiger conservation that is unique to this
species of feline rather that in trying to save a lion or leopard for example?
There are no other countries outside of Asia and North America that have a program for the Malayan tiger. This can make it challenging to obtain new bloodlines to bolster our population.

What has been the most recent biggest road block in the captive Malayan Tiger program, and what is the hope in the future to overcome this?
Though it hasn’t become a road block yet one of our biggest concerns will be the ability to consistently obtain new potential founders to import into our breeding program. Many of the captive tigers in Asia are related to our founders. All of our potential founders have reproduced and have living offspring so our nine founders are all represented and at some time in the future we will need to expand that number by obtaining more genetic diversity.

Is there a magic number of sorts you would always like to have globally in captivity, and how realistic is it to work globally with other programs and not just the SSP on its own?
Since there really isn’t any other country outside of Asia that has a program for Malayan tigers we are somewhat working on our own anyway. Our target population in the U.S. is 150 animals. But having said that we also have to look at not only the numbers but the genetic diversity as well, it does us little good if we have 150 animals that are all related to one another. With the right genetics we could have a very viable “genetic pool” with fewer animals but reality may mean more animals to obtain a healthy gene pool.

Is it frustrating at all to see the number of "generic" tigers breeding in private hands and or outside the breeding programs while the SSP at times struggles for space, and to keep its numbers up?
We can’t dictate what goes on in the private sector but the tiger SSP program now manages the “generic” population of tigers in AZA zoos so that will give us better control of the tiger spaces for the managed species.

Can you explain the importance of keeping the genetics as pure as possible as to why can't (if there ever becomes a time) you just release a generic tiger into s/e Asia?
Tigers have evolved to fill certain niches in certain regions. Because of this they differ in size, coat thickness and, to some extent, color. Cold climate tigers are usually larger, have thicker coats and slightly lighter coloration, all advantages to living in a cold, harsh climate. Tropical tigers are smaller with shorter coats and have a darker coat color, which aids them in the dappled lighted hot, humid regions of southeast Asia. If you take a generic (hybridized) tiger is its’ size as well as its’ coat thickness and color advantageous  to allow it to survive say in Northern Russia or might it be too heavy of a coat and lighter in color that would work against it in the tropical jungles of Asia?

How likely is it that a wild caught Malayan tiger (be it a nuisance
tiger, or one injured enough that it would not be able to be released
into the wild) will come into the program (in Asia and then to the US)
to help with the bloodlines? Or has this taken place already?
We actually did receive 5 wild caught "problem" tigers in 2003 which
more than doubled our founder representation since all five of those
have bred and contributed to the gene pool here in the U.S. It is much
more difficult to import wild caught endangered species and a special
case was made with the five animals we brought in. We are hopeful that
as new bloodlines are introduced into the captive population in Asia
that we would be able to import first or second generation animals from
new, unrepresented lines into the U.S. Much of that though will depend
on the political climate in that region at the time animals are

The endangered tiger has been on every ones radar for sometime and not too long ago everyone thought the African lion would not have to worry about the fate that surrounds the tiger, but now with wild lion numbers dropping it is now more important than ever to get the message out that lions now also need our attention and help. A lion roaring can make someones day during their visit to their local zoo. One of the people working in the captive lion field is Hollie Colahan the Coordinator of the Lion Species Survival Plan who works out of the Houston Zoo as the Curator of primates and carnivores.
Wild Lion in Maasai Mara Kenya, Africa
What are the most recent wild/captive population numbers, and do you see any hope in raising wild lion numbers? Will we have a Lion summit, as seen with the recent tiger one?
(HC) There are about 350 lions in AZA zoos. I don’t have current numbers on other regions right now. We haven’t done as much global management with lions as there has been with tigers. I think part of the reason for this is that lions have not been as much of a conservation focus. Until recently, their numbers were strong and it’s only in the last 15-20 years that we’ve seen serious declines in Africa. The European program (EEP, run by EAZA) has focused on Asian lions because of their critically endangered status, but they are now expanding to include some of the African subspecies too. One of my goals as SSP Coordinator is to communicate more with my counterparts in other regions in the coming years.
Wild numbers have decreased dramatically in the last 50 years, with some estimates indicating less than 30,000 left in only 20% of their historic range.

What is an aspect of lion conservation that is unique to this
species of feline rather that in trying to save a tiger or leopard for example?

Being such a social species, this makes lions different from the other large felids and this part of their biology has to be considered in conservation strategies. I think the biggest challenge is raising awareness since for years lions were doing very well in the wild and not seen as a conservation priority.  The actual threats are similar to other cats – habitat loss and human conflict.

What has been the most recent biggest road block in the captive Lion program, and what is the hope in the future to overcome this?
This program started in the early 90’s and the biggest initial challenge was getting the cats to breed. The numbers did not increase as quickly as everyone thought, and this created a shortage of lions for zoos. Lions tend to be a prominent exhibit in a zoo and are very popular with guests so increasing numbers became our top priority for both this reason and the health of the captive population. In the last few years, this situation has improved and we are now able to meet the needs of zoos and we have a genetically healthy, sustainable population.

Is there a magic number of sorts you would always like to have globally in captivity, and how realistic is it to work globally with other programs and not just the SSP on its own?
And can you explain why in Tigers keeping the Sumatran, Amur bloodlines are so important, but in Lions they have just been for the most part thrown into one big pot even though some claim to be 7 different sub species?
For SSP programs, our goal is to have a demographically and genetically sustainable population. The number we use to measure that is we want to maintain 90% of the genetic diversity of the wild population for 100 years. Lions exceed that goal so we are very lucky in that regard. Currently there are about 350 lions in AZA zoos, but about half of them are of unknown pedigree and are not part of the breeding population. We also fortunate to not have the space issues that many other programs are facing, although if we continue to be successful, we will eventually run into this. Again, the social nature of these cats makes them different – the good part is we can house them in groups, but the bad part is those groups have more females than males so eventually you end up with males that don’t have a group. We encourage institutions to design flexible holding space to accommodate those males and also to consider housing multi-male groups, which is occurs often in the wild.
The taxonomic issues with lions are different that tigers, and this is another example of why it’s so important to consider the individual species when developing a conservation strategy. Overall, the tiger subspecies are much more geographically isolated than lions and their taxonomy is probably considered to be more established than lions, which is still being debated by some (the lack of geographic isolation contributes to the lack of clarity in taxonomy). Of course the Asiatic Lion is the exception, they are managed as a separate captive population in Europe. There’s not the space to manage multiple subspecies of lions and there no plans to use the SSP population for reintroduction so this influenced our decision to focus on southern African lions but not manage at the sub specific level. This is a classic “lumpers vs. splitters” argument and there are good reasons for both strategies.

Any captive program has its critics, so how do you respond to the following argument that for instance in the US, the AZA/SSP only takes care of small percentage of the endangered species recorded by the IUCN, and that zoos possibly divert funds by those who donate to animal charities in asking for help to build million dollar plus enclosures, while field projects like anti poaching teams, field medicine etc..goes under funded?
There is no way zoos can focus on every endangered species and in some cases even makes more sense for us to focus on a less endangered counterpart. Decades ago, all of us believed that zoos would be “arks” to preserve captive populations for future reintroductions and of course that has proven more difficult than we imagined. SSPs have played a role in the reintroduction of some species however, and that should continue to be the goal when it is feasible. Loss of habitat will continue to be the limiting factor for most reintroductions for the foreseeable future however.
For all the other species, we must take the approach that these animals are ambassadors for their wild counterparts. An up close experience with a wild animal is a powerful thing. I am lucky enough to have traveled to Africa to see wild lions but before that, I saw lions at zoos, and that is what inspired me to pursue a career that led me here. At a zoo, people get to know individual animals, learning their names, birthdays, and following the significant events in their lives. This makes people care, and when people care, they will take action. Most people will never see a wild tiger or lion and many people will never even go in search of the wildlife in their own backyard. But they will come to a zoo, where we can introduce them to all of this and hopefully inspire them to take some sort of conservation action.
I won’t argue that field projects need funding, in fact I would encourage anyone that wants to support them directly to do so because that is the critical work that will save these species in the wild. But I also encourage people to support good zoos and sanctuaries because their work is important too, not just supporting the animals that live there, but also inspiring the next generation conservation heroes. So I guess I don’t feel these two things are mutually exclusive, and many zoos have strong conservation programs that put hundreds of thousands of dollars into field conservation. I believe that rather than diverting money from field projects, zoos raise more awareness and get more money to the field.  I think what’s most important is that people get involved, either with financial support, their time, or even their career choice.

And with that excellent answer I want to say a big THANK YOU to all those that took the time out to answer the questions. As it seems I could go on and on with questions about cats, but it is equally important to take action. The following web sites are just some of the excellent places to go for up to date information as well as to donate funds, to help save cats.

Wildlife Conservation Society (Amur Tigers)
Snow Leopard Trust
ALTA (Amur Leopards)
Sumatran Tiger Trust
African Wildlife Foundation (Lions)
Malayan Tigers

My 2009 Interview with Bengal Tiger Expert Dr. Dharmendra Khandal, from Tiger Watch in India:

About the author: Brian's Art for Animals is my grassroots effort combining photos and videos (and now blogs) to gain interest and funds (thanks to Google's ad sense) to support wildlife efforts out there.
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