BLOG: Modern Tiger History for Global Tiger Day

Posted on Jul 11, 2017 in Blog, News | 0 comments

tiger history

Amid the feel-good optimistic stories about the recent signs of growth in wild tiger populations, lies a sinister criminal element for conservation.  Those on the front line, have seen the threats facing wild tigers double in recent history.  Transnational Criminal Syndicates are channelling more money than ever into their exploits and we’ve seen the birth of the term ‘poach-to-order’.  The below is a blog straight from the field by Fauna & Flora Int, Tiger Protection Advisor, Debbie Martyr.

We thank her and the Units; as well as each and every single donor who has helped us begin to tackle this horrific crime.

CC & EC

 BLOG: Modern Tiger History for Global Tiger Day

“Mid-2011 and the tiger conservation community is still basking in the warm afterglow of the November 2010 St Petersburg Tiger Conservation Summit with all its Big Plans for a Global Tiger Recovery and actions against poaching and trade in tiger products…

Well, most of the tiger conservation community anyway. 

In a small town in western Sumatra,  yours truly is preparing reports warning that something is not right. Something has changed.

It’s a difficult report to write as the warning is based primarily on the results of undercover investigations by Tiger Protection & Conservation Unit rangers and covert interviews with suspected poachers or traders.

These advise that black market prices for tigers in the Kerinci landscape (and, it subsequently transpires, more widely in Sumatra) have more than doubled in the months since the St Petersburg ‘Tiger Summit’ and that traders have started to fund poachers’ activities.

However,  in the field,  ‘only11 active tiger snares have been recorded on three TPCU patrols over 12 months and on the face of it,  tigers in and around Kerinci Seblat National Park are thriving,  they are all where they should be (and on occasion, oops, in places where forest-edge farmers feel  they shouldn’t  be).  

All looks to be going well except that on one of those four TPCU patrols an unheard of eight active tiger snares were destroyed.

I take a deep breath,  worried that what I am about to write may seem ‘over the top’  – then solemnly advise that the reported move to a ‘poach-to-order’ system and huge increases in black market prices reported “dangerously changes the Risk-Reward Ratio calculated by poachers’ and is likely to result in an increase in poaching.

But so it came to be. 

2012 – 21 active tiger snares reported and destroyed by TPCUs,  2013; 51 active tiger snares (the black market price has risen still further) and a Bengkulu TPCU ranger telephones me, almost  in tears,  reporting that a poaching gang is boasting it has been supplied with 100Kg of the steel cable used to construct snares by a trader on the promise of ‘first refusal’ on any tigers poached.    

2014 –  61 active tiger snares destroyed,  more than 80% detected thanks to tip-offs from supportive forest-edge farmers …

But in August the team gets  a ‘break’ – a middle-aged man previously identified as an opportunist  ‘Del-Boy’ type telephones an acquaintance (who just happens to be an undercover TPCU ranger) and tells him of a tiger about to come up for sale.’  The phone call comes an hour or so before the TPCU’s Bengkulu coordinator gets a call from the Tiger Monitoring team, deep in the forest, reporting they have busted a poachers’ camp and seized a freshly killed Sumatran tiger all bagged up and ready to be taken out of the forest.  

 So…how did Buyung Gadang know about this tiger if he wasn’t well involved?   From being a peripheral baddie, BG moves up the list to become a focus for investigation … when the team isn’t in the forest tearing up poachers’ snares that is…

2015… A record 75 active tiger snares destroyed by TPCUs….albeit most detected through tip-offs and with investigations advising that fed-up traders are complaining about poachers ‘losing’ their steel cable snares to TPCU patrols and are telling them to go buy the *** cable themselves.

 In January 2016,  Buyung Gadang and one of his gang are arrested.   It’s taken time,  only on prime time TV shows do investigators wrap up a case in 30 minutes.   By now the team knows this middle-aged man is the leader of a tiger poaching syndicate operating in national park forests in areas of three provinces. He has boasted to a team investigator of having organised the poaching and onward sale of at least 30 tigers.   

Members of BG’s gang go on the run, hunters in neighbouring districts mutter about safety, citing the BG ‘bust’.   ‘Only’ 49 active tiger snares are destroyed over the year,  and those set by a small number of hard-case hunters who just ‘dont wanna learn’.   BG gets a three-year gaol term, his partner, a national record four years.  In North Sumatra and Aceh provinces,  in the eastern lowlands of Sumatra in Jambi and South Sumatra,  other tiger conservation teams are also supporting or leveraging tiger law enforcement, arresting poachers and traders and disrupting their networks.

And so to Global Tiger Day 2017…  since January 2017 four tiger poachers and three illegal wildlife traders operating around the Kerinci landscape (and in the case of the three traders, more widely) have been arrested and prosecuted or are waiting for their day in court.

TPCU investigators report major traders unwilling to go anywhere near Kerinci…(especially park-edge districts in Jambi and Bengkulu provinces) and poachers equally unwilling to leave their villages (“it’s dangerous innit”)  so leaving illegal wildlife trade networks log jammed and having difficulty in completing ’transactions’.   And tiger poaching?   So far this year, only seven active tiger snares have been recorded on four TPCU patrols – and three of those snares had been set by a hunter already under in police custody.  

But we aren’t there yet.  Not in Sumatra or in Nepal,  not in Malaysia or Thailand,  India,  Bhutan or the Russian Far East;   not for so long as international criminal mafia and their end-user customers continue to drive poaching and the illegal trade in tigers.

 If we are to see tiger populations stabilise and rise and meet all those nice targets set at St Petersburg all those years ago we have to keep up the good fight, in the forest and outside, in tiger range states and beyond.    But I do believe we can do it.  We are Family Tiger,  We are on the Tiger Side  # Time for Tigers!” 

D J Martyr

FFI Tiger Protection Team Advisor

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