BY LISA VAN SLETT
When megafauna, such as the tiger, are labeled as an endangered species, scientists usually have a multifaceted approach to save the species. Conservation groups, such as the Prusten Project, will continue to work on tiger protection in their native habitats, but what else can be done to help save the species? When populations are small, maintaining a high level of genetic diversity is one of the keys to success in population planning. One way to maintain genetic diversity is to allow breeding between different tigers with low kinship and to make sure that certain genetic lines are not over represented. To accomplish this, tigers have to be transported between zoos for breeding. While this is still the most effective way to produce cubs, it comes with challenges. Transporting tigers can be time consuming, expensive, and there is still no guarantee that the tigers will be compatible once they meet. Building off the successes seen with other species, such as elephants, artificial insemination (AI) is a tactic that specialists are starting to implement. Sounds like a great solution doesn’t it? Well, it’s not quite as easy as it sounds.
Tigers, just like all cats, are induced ovulates In a natural breeding situation, that means that the male will stimulate the female to ovulate by breeding repeatedly. Once the female ovulates, the egg will drop and have the opportunity to be fertilized. This means that they cannot become pregnant after one breeding attempt. Female tigers generally go into estrus for about 7 days, and the male takes full advantage of that time to increase his chances of producing offspring. Herein lies the challenge. How do scientists replicate this? While this has been more successful in smaller cats, the technique is still in the beginning stages for tigers.
There are multiple ways that AI can be done, but before the big day, there is hormone manipulation. Each female tiger will have their own estrus pattern that is unique to them (similar to humans, the basics are the same, but there are individual differences). To control the timing of this, regumate can be given for 30 days. This is an oral medication that inhibits endogenous ovarian activity to gonadotropins and also increases the follicle-stimulating hormone that stimulates the growth of oocytes- the key to success. It is then timed to pick when the estrus cycle should begin. Once the female is taken off regumate, she should start to show estrus signs. 5 days before the AI procedure is scheduled, the female will receive Equine Chorionic Gonadotropin (eCG) hormone injection. 82 hours after that injection she will receive a second injection of Porcine Luteinizing Hormone (pLH). The timing is key to ensure the tiger is ovulating during the AI procedure.
The simplest, is vaginal AI. This is really just mimicking natural breeding, but eliminating the presence of a male. This method requires a high volume of sperm. To give you some perspective, for a domestic cat 80 million sperm gives about a 75% chance of pregnancy. Vaginal AI with tigers requires a volume of 500 million sperm, and there has only been one pregnancy ever. Uterine AI is where the sperm are inserted past the cervix, which is closer to the oocytes than vaginal. This can be done either surgically or non-surgically, although the surgical version of this is considered the most successful with felids overall. Laparoscopic oviductal AI is a surgical procedure where the sperm are deposited on top of the oocytes, which requires a greatly reduced amount of sperm for tigers.
Specialists have come very far with fine tuning this procedure, even though it has not been very successful in tigers yet. Each time there is an opportunity, such as a routine exam, the specialists working on this project collect semen from the male tigers and bank it for future use. These are the samples that are used during the AI procedures. One pattern noticed by specialists is that the quality of tiger sperm has decreased overall, which reduces chances of pregnancy. However, if they are able to perform AI with the reduced volume of sperm, a male with high-quality sperm can be used on several females to increase the chances- without ever meeting them!
Although this may all sound very sci-fi, it is the wave of the future for some species. It is our way to ensure genetic diversity while lowering the risk that comes with transporting animals in human care. Male tigers do not participate in the rearing or raising of cubs, therefore removing them from the picture will not change the natural process of raising cubs. If we can help the female tigers become pregnant, they can take it from there!
BY NEELA EYUNNI
For many of us, wildlife trade is something we rarely, if ever, think about. The occasional news story may remind us of the harm it can do, but it’s often still difficult to make a connection between the trade in wildlife and our daily lives. That is, until now. Today it’s a major topic of discussion because of its link to the coronavirus. In January, China banned the trade of wild animals after discovering the source of the outbreak was a wildlife market.
But what exactly is wildlife trade? What are the pros and cons? And how are we a part of it?
Wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC defines the trade as “any sale or exchange of wild animal and plant resources by people.”
When legal and adequately regulated, wildlife trade can be a source for good. It can have a positive impact on communities by bolstering local economies and providing funds for healthcare and education. Those communities, in turn, are often incentivized to protect nature and conserve wild animals.
The trade in wildlife, however, has a dark side. Illegal and unregulated trade poses major security and health risks in addition to driving up crime and corruption. Perhaps most evident, however, has been its devastating impact on wildlife populations. Second only to habitat destruction, the wildlife trade is the most serious threat to the survival of species, including tigers.
Poachers target tigers for their fur, whiskers, and bones, which are then traded globally. Some body parts are incorrectly thought to possess medicinal properties, further fueling demand. Today just 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, a tenth of what the population was a century ago. The good news is that we can help. We, as individuals, have the power to help combat the illicit trade by being responsible consumers and active community members. Here are four things we can do.
1.) Just Say No
There are several products to avoid altogether. These include everything from carved ivory to anything made from sea turtle shells. For a more complete list, check out the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance’s website and scroll down to their “Never Buy” section.
2.) Be in the Know
For all other items, make sure to ask questions. Get the facts on where it came from and what it’s made of. The same goes for exotic pets. Find out the country of origin and if the animal was captive-bred or captured in the wild.
3.) Choose Sustainable Seafood
Illegal fishing and harvesting of aquatic species are decimating populations and threatening several species with extinction. Make sure what you’re eating has been sustainably caught by heading to www.seafoodwatch.org and downloading the SeafoodWatch app.
4.) Take Action
Encourage your local lawmakers to support legislation to end wildlife trafficking. If you’re in the U.S., visit the Wildlife Trafficking Alliances Legislative Action Center to pledge your support for various acts.
BY CARL BOWDEN
The year 2020 is the year where our world needs wildlife and natural resource conservation at its forefront. With extinction rates at their highest ever and massive losses in wildlife habitat due to mismanagement of land and increased risk of global climate change, our world needs to come face to face with our current crisis at hand. We need to protect our natural resources! We need to be happy with what we currently possess instead of always seeking more and more unnecessary things that keep delivering false promises. We have the ability to change our future to help provide for future generations of all living things. This will be the decade where we choose to put our Ecosphere first rather than our own ambitions. We can make a life on planet Earth worth living. Our cultures can choose to live for each other and provide resources for all, or we can choose to live for ourselves and deplete all life on Earth that sustains us and its living creatures. It’s time to decide.
It is clear that the Earth has rapidly changed over the past century by human-caused activities such as the use of fossil fuels, increased production to support our elevated population, as well as the rise in occurrences of weather events that have been seen across the world. The Earth is in a constant state of change, but with a sharp spike in human interactions among our natural world, we have experienced the greatest change in our climate, habitat, and biodiversity than any other time in human existence. There are many things we can point at for the cause of our current ecological state, but what is really causing this to happen? Could it be fossil fuels? What about consumption levels of each individual? Could we say it’s population levels? As these topics could be an explanation for the causes of ecological degradation, there are many things we can point the blame at for our current ecological crisis, but what it comes down to is creating a change from within. Each person must individually change. Our Earth cannot support our current rates of consumption. There must be communities that come together that build cultures around living on less than what we may think we “need”. Being ok with our current possessions and not worrying about what others have that we don’t, is a quality our world must apply to become a more sustainable society. This can happen! It must be done in order to save what we love most, our natural world.
There are many ways to get involved with saving what we most love. We can help support organizations by giving to those that help with conservation. We can volunteer for a non-profit that helps with habitat management that focuses on one of our favorite species, or we may want to help educate our friends, families, and others who haven’t heard of the current crisis at hand. The important thing is this; we need to act. Action will get us where we need to be. Only talking about our concerns won’t solve our problems. If we want to make a change in the future of our world, we must act now. There's a popular Chinese proverb that says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” If we want to see true growth in a more healthy, sustainable future for tigers and all other living organisms, we must act now.
For those of you who want to make a difference, we encourage you to help support your favorite conservation organization, whether it may be The Prusten Project or others that you believe can make a big difference in supporting our world’s biodiversity.
If you would like to help with our efforts in supporting tiger conservation and make 2020 the year of our world’s greatest support in wildlife and natural resource conservation, please follow this link to help save the species. We appreciate your support!
BY LAUREN TOIVONEN
Hello Tiger Byte readers! Lauren (Outreach Coordinator of the Prusten Project) here, and I’m taking over the blog this month. I’d like to share some fun facts about North America’s largest wild cat, the mountain lion.
Why write about the mountain lion? Lauren has spent the last 7+ months working as a mountain lion researcher in the Nebraska Pine Ridge. Photo credit: Nebraskaland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Click here to learn more about mountain lion research.
Firstly, the mountain lion is a well-known household name, but have you heard of cougar, puma, panther, and catamount? Did you know that all these different names refer to the same species? They certainly do! The mountain lion, scientifically known as Puma concolor, is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most common names- over 40! Mountain Screamer is my personal favorite. Not only does this species have the most names, the cougar has the largest distribution of all land-dwelling mammals in the Western Hemisphere, ranging from Canada all the way down to the southern tip of Chile. To continue the trend of being the cat with the most, cougars are also the Western Hemisphere’s largest native cat. To top it all off, cougars are the largest of all cat species to purr and because of this (aka the presence of the hyoid bone), cougars are more related to our house cats than tigers.
Due to European settlers exterminating nearly all of North America’s large carnivore (wolves, bears, lions) population, pumas do not inhabit the landscape like they once did a few hundred years ago. However, their population is on the rebound, and they have been expanding their distribution eastward as many western state populations are booming. While it is very unlikely you’ll ever see a puma, they are solitary cats who move around mostly at night after all, sightings do occur. If you’re lucky enough to see a puma on your trail, camera, or with your own eyes, you’ll definitely have a story to share for the rest of your life. However, more often than not, common bobcats, house cats, and even dogs are confused as pumas. Additionally, I’ve heard countless stories of people coming across a black panther. There has never been a documented black mountain lion in recorded history. Chances are what was seen was a bobcat, house cat, dog, or maybe even a black bear. I feel like black panthers are equivalent to bigfoot, there have been many “sightings” but zero scientific evidence.
Lastly, looking for pugmarks (animal footprints) is a fun pastime but can be confusing. I could talk about identifying animal tracks all day, but for the sake of reading time I’ll get to the point: the easiest way to tell the difference between a cat and a dog print is to look for lobes and claws. The number of lobes found on the bottom side of the paw pad is very revealing: dogs have two, so the lobes make the paw pad look like an upside-down heart (because man’s best friend, aww), while cats have three lobes. Additionally, dogs have their claws out 24/7/365 while cats are able to retract their claws. If you see claw marks with your pugmark, very likely it’s not a cat. Also note the size, if it’s a cat print but it’s small….most likely not going to be a mountain lion.
Time to wrap this blog up, but if you’d like more information, click on the links below:
Black Panthers: Cats of Mistaken Identity (via eMammal)
How to identify cougar, coyote, and bobcat tracks (via Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
Lessons from Cat Country (read about my job working with mountain lions! Via Nebraska Game and Parks Commission)
Mountain lion kitten video taken in the Pine Ridge (via Nebraska Game and Parks Commission):
Greetings from Cat Country- the Nebraska Pine Ridge
BY DANA GREEN
Here at the Prusten Project, we want to know how we can use the voices of tigers for conservation. Tigers use their true “roar” for long-distance communication, suspected to help with knowing “who’s who” and establish home ranges. But did you know that tigers aren’t the only mammal to do so?
Picture, if you can, a small carnivorous mammal.
Now picture that smaller.
What you probably don’t imagine is a tiny, North American mouse called the grasshopper mouse! The Prusten Project's Dana Green, volunteer coordinator and PhD student, studied vocal communication in grasshopper mice, applying much of what she learned to the larger tigers! Dana studied the long-distance vocalization of grasshopper mice. She explored how their vocalization travels across the landscape and whether their hearing physiology was “tuned in” to those vocalizations. Like tigers (and unlike most other mice) grasshopper mice are predatory, solitary, and have large home ranges. When they make their iconic vocalization, the stand on their hind feet, throw their head back, and HOWL! This trait gave them the nickname the “wolf of the mouse world”.
Grasshopper mouse standing and vocalizing
Based on her research, it was discovered that these small mice are capable of projecting their voice 50 meters, or about a quarter mile. For a small mouse, that’s quite impressive! Dana hopes that’s her knowledge about vocal communication, long-distance vocalizations, and know-how on acoustic equipment will aid in further research with the Prusten Project.
So even between mammals as different as a mouse and a tiger, there are some amazing similarities. As researchers, it is important to apply whatever knowledge and skill we have to other animals, exemplified here. As always, it is also important to remember that not all who ROAR are large.
Dana Green, volunteer coordinator and PhD student, with a mouse in Arizona
BY AARON SPACHER, DVM, DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION AND OUTREACH
From a young age, I have been fascinated with animals. My dad would bring me to farms and zoos to awe at all the different species as much as possible. I could never pick out my favorite though. They were all uniquely fascinating. We also had our own zoo at home; dogs, cats, fish, chickens, rabbits, and ducks. I have since cut down to two dalmatians. But they seem to use up just as much time, and I get to see plenty of animals at work.
My passion for animals later turned into a passion for their conservation after learning about endangered species’ statuses at zoos, TV heroes like Steve Irwin and through World Wildlife Fund. The question of how people can poach these wonderful animals or destroy their habitat began swirling in my head. I felt like I couldn’t protect them. I was just in grade school after all, but I learned I was able to make small changes in my life like using reusable water bottles and recycling to help the environment. And so I did. As I got older, this wasn’t enough for me to feel as though I was helping, so I found an opportunity to be more hands on.
The first time I worked with an endangered animal was when I traveled to South Africa to rehab African penguins. It was such an exciting experience that built my appreciation for all the hard work that goes into saving endangered species – it was the best workout of my life. You learn so much about a species when you work with them. For instance, African penguins are incredibly strong and like to defecate on your crocs. What else was great was that during these life-changing experiences, you will work alongside like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds throughout the world who become life-long friends (shout out to all my SANCCOB people!).
It was during this time at SANCCOB that I met Courtney Dunn, the future founder of The Prusten Project. Her passion for helping endangered species was contagious. I had no idea a few years later she would ask me to be a part of The Prusten Project. I of course said yes, and it has been an honor to teach the young and old about tiger conservation and what The Prusten Project does ever since.
While I may not reach the amount of people Steve Irwin had, it is a great feeling to know I may have touched a few people’s lives and got them interested in conservation. The world needs conservationists. They are the ones that decide if a species goes extinct by being the voice for these animals. You can start your love of conservation in small ways like I had; use a reusable water bottle, recycle, clean up liter on a beach in your community. These actions will grow and so will your positive effects on our planet. I wish you all the best on your conservation journey, and I hope you help others start a conservation journey of their own.
BY LISA VAN SLETT
Our team at the Prusten Project always has tigers on our minds, but it doesn’t stop there. Conservation is a fantastic goal, but it is broad and can be overwhelming to think about where to start or how to be effective. You want to save tigers-great! But how? You’ve already found a great place to start by following the Prusten Project and being part of the education process. As educators, it is our responsibility to continue expanding our skills and knowledge to ensure we are at the forefront of the field. Education is incredibly important, which is why I have chosen to go back to school to get my Masters of Arts degree in Biology from Miami University through Project Dragonfly.
Project Dragonfly uses inquiry-driven learning to teach students. Where typical education presents information and allows you to study it in a classroom, Project Dragonfly allows us to apply the skills we’ve learned through actions. Graduate students are required to complete three Earth Expeditions that apply to our field of interest. As a first-year student, I completed the Baja: Field Methods program. This was a 9-day course where our time was split between the desert and the sea, although those two aren’t as different as they may sound!
The team met in San Diego, California and made the long 15-hour drive down Highway 1 through the Vizcaino Desert in Baja, Mexico to Rancho San Gregorio, a family-owned ranch that is home to some of the most unique desert plant species on Earth. This includes the world’s largest cacti, cardon (Pachycereus pringlei) (pictured to the right), and boojums (Fouquieria columnaris). We spent three nights sleeping out in the open, looking up at the Milky Way. During the day we learned how to do action-driven inquiry. We developed comparative questions based off observations, then data was collected through well-thought-out methods, statistically analyzed, and then presented to the group allowing for deeper discussions on findings.
Conducting our research allowed us to hike through the desert where we saw turkey vultures, crows, roadrunners, scorpions, rattlesnakes, lizards, bats, and more! Hiking there was a challenge, not only for the heat, but for the chollas or jumping cacti! If you even brushed up near one of the cacti, you would have a whole bunch of thorns stuck to you. There was an underground spring near the ranch, which is the source of life in the desert. Being fully immersed in this landscape gave us a deeper understanding of how life can thrive even when water is scarce. We were lucky enough to hear from the ranch owner, Rafael, whose family has run this ranch for centuries. He taught us about the native plants and their medicinal purposes. He also shared the story about how his family almost gave up on the ranch, but then instead partnered with the McDonald family to turn the ranch into a place for students to visit and learn in partnership with the Vermilion Sea Institute.
The road to the Vermilion Sea Institute was hand cleared through the rocky desert, weaving between the mountains. As we drove from one end of the peninsula to the other, you could see the landscape changing. The closer we got to the Sea of Cortez, the less vegetation we saw. After several days looking at reds and browns in the desert with a splash of green cacti and agave here or there, the sight of the blue sea was shocking. The Vermilion Sea Institute is in Bahia de los Angeles, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and biosphere reserve right on the shore of the sea. The sea is a deep blue with brown mountains in the background that are sparsely scattered with small vegetation.
At the sea station, we spent four nights on cots on the beach, waking up to the sunrise each day. We were encouraged to snorkel off the beach and investigate the sea life as much as possible. Each day we went out on boats exploring different islands. We saw dolphins, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, brown pelicans, gulls, starfish, puffer fish, isopods, and whale sharks! We once again did inquiry-driven research where we developed comparative questions and collected data, but this time in the water. Some groups snorkeled to count fish while others explored the tide pools along the island. Having the opportunity to apply our work, rather than just think about what we would do, gave us a better perspective on the process. There are so many other variables that might affect your data, such as the rate at which the tide changes. This kind of education will stay with us and help us develop better future research projects. It was also incredible to see the amount of life that can exist with so little plant life. Each island has its own ecosystem that was delicately balanced between the sea birds, fish, and insects.
Baja was an amazing place that truly gave me a deeper appreciation for both the fragility and strength of nature. The desert and the sea can both be harsh places, but the closer you look you can see that life finds a way. Bahia de los Angeles is a small fishing town that has a deep appreciation for what they have, and it is clear they are trying to protect it. They have already experienced the loss of the vaquita, so they are trying to make sure nothing else disappears. Ecotourism is developing for the whale shark tours, but it is strictly controlled and monitored. Communities play a huge role in conservation, and their values and needs must always be factored in for a chance at success.
These concepts can be applied in any conservation situation, and they teach us to look at the bigger picture, rather than just focusing on one aspect of the problem. Each time we broaden our perspective it will help us to achieve our main goal- conservation of the natural world!
BY NEELA EYUNNI
Travel, the six-letter word synonymous with exploring new places and cultures, learning about biodiversity, and hopefully having unforgettable experiences. Today, however, travel has a dark side. In our rush to see the world, we have neglected to notice the negative footprint we so often leave on the places we visit.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Travel and tourism can actually have a positive impact on the environment, local culture, and wildlife.
So what can we as individuals do?
The first step is research, research, research. Different locations offer unique attractions and activities. They also have different cultures, species, and environments. Make sure to study up before you book your trip. Whether you’re selecting a destination or excursion, it’s important to find out if it relies on sustainable practices.
But how do I know if a place or activity is committed to being eco-friendly?
Ask yourself some key questions. I spoke to conservationist and ecotourism expert AA Yaptinchay, who created a list of questions that should be answered with a “yes.”
What about wildlife tourism and animal attractions?
This is a vital question considering such tourism has skyrocketed in recent years. The good news is some travel sites have already compiled research and tips for you. One example is TripAdvisor. Animal-related activities on the site are labeled with a paw print. With a simple click, visitors can access an educational portal featuring advice from leading animal advocacy and conservation groups. These include the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Oxford University WILDCRU, and World Animal Protection.
Here are also a few questions to ask yourself.
Furthermore, stay away from places that offer “animal selfies” by forcing animals to act unnaturally. In the case of “tiger selfies,” many of these animals are declawed, drugged, and chained down for a photo op. Cubs are often bred solely to be props and forcibly separated from their mothers.
In the end, a few hours or even minutes on the computer can make all the difference when it comes to experiencing the diverse places of the world and wildlife without exploiting them.
BY AARON SPACHER
We are always excited to reach out to groups across the world to discuss what The Prusten Project does whether in person or by an online google hangout session. But what will your group learn about during one of these sessions? Below is a list of everything we cover.
1.) Why do we need to study tigers?
Tiger populations have had a severe decline since the 1990s. Bengal, Amur, Sumatran, Malayan, South China and Indo-Chinese Tigers are all at least endangered while the Bali, Javan and Caspian species have gone extinct. Because of these extreme declines in populations we need to understand why tigers are going extinct and what we can do to prevent this and increase populations.
2.) What is The Prusten Project?
The Prusten Project is an innovative project which combines the fields of conservation biology, bioacoustics, animal behavior, and ecology to study the social vocalizations of tigers. Determining if tigers do have unique vocalizations per sex, age, or individual could lead to new methods of remote monitoring which could allow a more efficient as well as minimally disruptive census of critical populations where dense jungle prohibits visual confirmation
Bioacoustics is a relatively new way to research species but is growing rapidly. We can install our recorders in zoos or in the wild to study tigers. The price of these recorders continues to decrease, and battery life continues to increase which means data doesn’t need to be retrieved as frequently. With some accuracy, we can currently determine the sex of tigers through their chuffs (roars) but hope to learn much more which can help us determine population density and the health of tigers in areas where our recorders are installed.
Below are just a few of the zoos and sanctuaries that we work with:
3.) What can we do every day to help increase tiger populations?
The Prusten Project is happy to give you even more information about tigers and what we are doing to save the species. Please contact us at email@example.com to set up a time to talk to your group.