Third Annual New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival


How little do we know about Tropical Rainforests and the Threats to Forest Biodiversity?

A spate of studies highlighted both how little we know about tropical rainforests and the threats to forest biodiversity.  In May a report from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said that wildlife populations in the tropics have declined 61 percent over the past 40 years. The Living Planet Index tracks almost 10,000 populations of 2,688 vertebrate species in the tropics and temperate regions. The report was followed in July by a Nature study which found that half of assessed protected areas in the tropics suffered an “erosion of biodiversity” over the last 20-30 years.

Rainforest in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler ©
Rainforest in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler ©

In August, a study published in PLoS ONE documented large-scale die-off of mammal populations in long-ago isolated forest fragments in Brazil’s Mata Atlantica. Examining 18 mammal species across 196 forest fragments in the Atlantic Forest, the researchers found “unprecedented rates of local extinctions,” despite the fact that they purposefully visited the “most intact and best preserved” sites in the region. On average only about 4 target mammals were found out of 18 in each forest patch. The findings undercut assumptions made by the widely used theory of species-area relationships, which predicted that around 45-80 percent of the mammals would have remained. Worryingly even some large forest patches with intact canopies had been depleted of the target mammals.  In December, a comprehensive survey of arthropods in a rainforest in Panama found that 60-70 percent of tropical forest arthropods may be yet to be described by scientists.



Tigers Roar Back: Great News for Big Cats in Key Areas

December 26, 2012 — The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has announced significant progress for tigers in three key landscapes across the big cat’s range due to better law enforcement, protection of additional habitat, and strong government partnerships.

Camera Trap Image of tigers and cubs from Huai Kha Khaeng (HKK) Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand. © WCS

Camera Trap Image of tigers and cubs from Huai Kha Khaeng (HKK) Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand. © WCS

The successes are much-needed good news as tiger numbers worldwide continue to hover at all-time lows due to the combined threat of poaching, loss of prey, and habitat destruction. WCS estimates that only 3,200 tigers exist in the wild.

The news begins in southwestern India where WCS research and conservation efforts that began 25 years ago now show a major rebound of tigers in the Western Ghats region of Karnataka State. Over 600 individuals have been identified to date from camera trap photos during the last decade in this mountainous landscape. In Nagarahole and Bandipur National Parks, tigers have actually reached saturation levels, with surplus young tigers spilling out into forest-reserves and dispersing using secured forest corridors through a landscape that holds over a million human beings. The combination of strict government-led anti-poaching patrols, voluntary relocation of villages away from tiger habitats, and the vigilant local presence of WCS conservation partners watching over tigers has led to the rebound of big-cat populations and their prey. In newer tiger reserves including Bhadra and Kudremukh, numbers have increased by as much as 50 percent after years of neglect and chronic poaching were tackled.

In Thailand, WCS conservationists report a tiger comeback in Huai Kha Khaeng (HKK) Wildlife Sanctuary — a 2,700 square kilometer (1,042 square mile) protected area in the vast Western Forest Complex. WCS has worked closely with Thai authorities to beef up enforcement and anti-poaching patrols in the region. Last year, a notorious poaching ring was busted, and this year the gang leaders were given prison sentences of up to five years — the most severe punishments for wildlife poaching in Thailand’s history. Since their capture, there have been no known tiger or elephant poaching incidents in the park. Tiger numbers have been rising steadily in the park since 2007, with a record 50-plus tigers counted last year.

Meanwhile in Russia, government officials are drafting a new law that will make transport, sales, and possession of endangered animals a criminal offense rather than just a civil crime. This will close a loophole that currently allows poachers to claim they found endangered species like tigers already dead and thus avoid stiffer criminal penalties for poaching.

Russia is making progress in creating additional protected areas for tigers, too, declaring a new corridor called Central Ussuri Wildlife Refuge on October 18. The new refuge acts as a linkage between the Sikhote-Alin tiger population in Russia, which is the main population of Amur tigers, and some of the best tiger habitat in China’s Heilongjiang Province in the Wandashan Mountains. The creation of the new refuge ensures that tigers have the capacity to move across the international border between Russian and China in this region. WCS first identified this key corridor in 1999 after conducting joint wildlife surveys with Chinese and Russian scientists there. WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper said: “Tigers are clearly fighting for their very existence, but it’s important to know that there is hope. Victories like these give us the resolve to continue to battle for these magnificent big cats. While the news about tigers has been bleak, these recent developments clearly show how smart strategies and strong partnerships are ensuring tigers are saved for centuries to come.”

Read more: