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- #iccb #tiger -

The Society for Conservation Biology 25th Annual Meeting concluded on Friday. This was the first SCB meeting I'd been to since the Hilo meeting in Hawaii.

My fear that my paper on the tiger black-market inside China would have poor attendance (it was literally the last paper of the last session in the last day) was poorly founded. The room was fairly packed with people standing in the back.

In terms of other tiger news, well, Emma Stokes from WCS confirmed that even if there are tigers in Cambodia, there's no breeding population left. That pretty makes Thailand the most important range state for the Indo-Chinese subspecies now.

The more positive news is that Petri Viljoen has succeeded with the rewilding of the S China tigers in South Africa. The S China subspecies was only known from zoo populations a few years ago, and had less than 100 animals. A small population was translocated to South Africa to undertake a rewilding programme, and this has grown (there are second generation tigers present now). Eight tigers are now rewilded and can hunt an ungulate of similar size to the sika deer (this would be its main prey back in China). The tigers actually proved very adept at learning to hunt by themselves, and have even managed some successful strategies for hunting in the open. In some ways, this isn't a surprise as the tiger is an extremely adaptable predator. Its range extends from Siberia all the way to the tropical islands of Indonesia.

This rewilding is actually pretty big news. It means that say, if Australia and NZ wanted to reintroduce Sumatran tigers back into the wild, there is now the techniques to do so. Australia and NZ zoos decided to coordinate and specialise in a captive breeding programme of the Sumatran tiger some years ago. We have an important backstop population, but prior to this, no actual way to put tigers back into the wild.

I confess also to some perverse pleasure at the success of the rewilding. I had been assured by various tiger "experts" that rewilding tigers was actually impossible. The claim was that cubs needed their mothers around to teach them how to hunt prey.

In less positive news Davidar reported on the decline in tiger numbers in the Similapal Tiger Reserve in the W Ghats. Numbers have declined from about 100 to an estimated 22. One of the causes of continued wildlife decline is the insurgency. A significant number (28%) of reserves in India are also the scene of insurgency. The insurgents are drawn from tribals living within the reserves. In Similapal the megafauna (tigers, elephants) are being killed as icons of the state the insurgents are fighting against. They're not being poached for any commercial gain, just killed and left there. It's getting hard to be optimistic about the future of tigers in many Indian reserves.