Sirajul Hossain

Photographer & Naturalist

Posts Tagged ‘nagorhole’

Death of Two Tigers: The Other Agendas?

Posted by sirajul on June 7, 2008

Sirajul Hossain


(Shorter version of this article was published on the The Daily Star on 07th June’08 with the title: On Death and Survival of Tigers)


The Daily Star published my article about the death of the tigers during research in Sundarban on the 22nd February 2008 (The Death of Two Tigers: Immature science in immature hands). Immediately this article was re-published or linked on many wildlife, conservation and veterinary related websites and forums on the net. As a follow-up there have been many discussions among experts like veterinary professionals and wildlife scientists worldwide regarding the safety and methods of collaring of wild tigers. In response to my article Adam Barlow of STP wrote a long article and Indian tiger expert Dr. Ullas Karanth wrote a letter to The Daily Star. Wildlife researcher Dr. Raghu Chundawat commented in a BBC interview and the producer of the BBC film the “Ganges” Dan Rees wrote letters to the editor of The Daily Star. I thank all for their interest and comments and I will try to discuss about the responses which are relevant to many of my comments and quotes.


Somehow the expert community who are closely connected to Mr. Adam got an impression that in Bangladesh there is ‘media hysteria’ against radio collaring, that some people do not understand the necessity of research and standing against collaring of tigers. Also there is an effort to give this discussion a political color that some people are against any foreign involvement in Bangladesh and they are doing propaganda against foreign scientists and their work. As a response I want to say, which was also reflected in my previous article, that I am not against research and not against collaring of tigers if it really helps conservation and done with a safe and up-to date procedure and transparency. I also want to say that, Bangladesh is a backward country in science and technology and without the assistance of the foreign expertise and support our conservation cannot succeed. But those supports should come with a complete plan which works ensuring that nobody can use it for their personal or group interest other then the main agenda. We all should acknowledge that we are discussing here standing over two dead bodies of tiger who were the subject of invasive research. Until there is a proper investigation to find the cause of the deaths, any peer leaning will not help the research or conservation.


Re-Darting The Collared Tiger, where the Tranquilizer Dart at Rear Right Leg and The Collar on The Neck, Both Is visible. – Screen Shot from the BBC Ganges


The initial questions after the death of both the tigers were very simple, if the drug had any effect on their death or if the drug was administered properly and in right dose. The second thing was to find the reasons of apparently abnormal behavior of the tigers from collaring to their death and the reason of re-darting the second tiger when she was already very weak due to starvation. But Mr. Adam not answering these basic questions is trying to prove from many angles that why radio collaring is important, why conservation is so necessary and how collaring is so successful in other countries etc.


Observing the events and by communicating with many vets and experts now it can be understood that, in developed countries like USA, Russia etc. where many tigers live in the wild or in captivity, strong regulations are followed while applying drugs to animal. They only allow certified vets to execute the process and they preserve all the necessary records. Investigations are mandatory by independent authorities in case of any incident like death or severe injury. Experts there use Ketamine/Xylazine protocol to immobilize tiger as a first choice and Telazol (or Zoletil, Tiletamine/Zolazepam) is not recommended except in an emergency to save life.


But a small group of scientists mostly from India is still using the drugs like Telazol which is not methodically tested for Bengal tigers and even is not recommended for tigers by the manufacturer itself. A spokesman for Fort Dodge, the company which makes Telazol, said “It had not performed any safety studies on its use on tigers, and does not market or recommend Telazol for this (tiger immobilization) purpose.” (BBC News: Tiger collaring project suspended, In the subcontinent in many cases like tiger collaring no proper procedure is being followed, not adequate record is maintained and no independent investigation follows after an incident like tiger death or missing. That might help continuing an unsafe procedure for long. All of Mr. Adams tigers die of old age soon after collaring, most of Mr. Raghu Chundawat’s tigers goes missing (Four of six collared tigers missing, Down to Earth, Vol. 13, No 22, April 05, 2005).


The project’s primary objective was collaring normal tigers to find their territory and behavior to build conservation strategy management but now Mr. Adam is trying to sell the importance of the project by emphasizing the necessity of working with problem tigers. These two contradicts each other. The data collected by collaring the problem tigers will not satisfy the primary research objective. It is also very strange that he is working with problem tigers at the eastern coastal forests when 99% of the tiger human conflict occurs or people die in the western Sundarban area.


Mr. Adam also commented in his article that many of the references I cited in my article do not have ‘actual data’ showing the adverse effects of Telazol. It is true that there is not enough actual data because there was no actual research done about the application of this drug on wild tigers. This also means that there is no actual data ensuring the safety of the drug too. Mr. Adam argued with the help of Dr Terry J. Kreeger that both the tiger did not die by the effect of the drug just because they didn’t die immediately after immobilization. Their prediction may be true for zoo and captive tigers. But anybody who has the basic knowledge about wild animal knows wild tigers are predators and has territorial conflict with other animals.  The physical and psychological effects for the drug can make them weak and may make them unable to hunt efficiently. They eventually can die of hunger and weakness or may be killed by other tigers or poachers easily when she becomes weak or looses her senses. The BBC footage shows such a thin and week tiger after immobilized by Telazol which can prove this argument. Dr. Kreeger also didn’t find any scientific data that proves that Telazol can have neurological effects like CNS signs in tiger. The answer is the same, field researchers reported from many places of this event but nobody did systematic research that the reference data can be available. Normally it is the drug manufacturer’s responsibility to do such research, but in case of Telazol, the manufacturer says they produce this drug for domestic cats and dogs only and not for tigers (BBC News above).           


I also quoted from some references which commented about the adverse effects of Telazol and the post anesthesia prolonged CNS signs to tigers. Mr. Adam through Dr. Kreeger claimed that the author’s references were old, do not have any research data behind it and Telazol had many formulation changes. This statement is untrue. In the drug industry, if any drug goes through any formulation changes, it cannot be sold under the same trade name. A very new and well acclaimed recent publication on anesthesia of wild animal says “Anecdotally, tigers do not appear to recover well after Telazol; therefore, its use is generally contraindicated” – (Zoo Animal and Wildlife Immobilization and Anesthesia, West et al; First edition, October 2007, pp.12). Another important book writes, “There is evidence of behavioral problems associated with the use of Telazol in tigers” – (Chemical Immobilization of wild and Exotic Animals, Nielson, L, 1999 Ed. pp. 246). Mr. Adam’s claim of formula changes of Telazol does not coincide with these very up-to-date references and most of Mr. Adam’s references supporting Telazol are very old from 70’s and 80’s.


Mr. Adam many times refers to the other collaring projects all over the world. Many times he cites about the success of the project with Siberian tigers in Russia but he never tells that those tigers were tranquilized mostly by using Ketamine/Xylazine protocol. Also he comments about my points of the danger of snare and bait for wild tigers. He again misunderstood me because my reason to bring up these topics to show that we put enough other risk on wild animals if we even uses a safe drug. So if this whole process of collaring does not give something very important to conservation, it puts unnecessary risk to this the already near extinct animal.


Mr. Adam portrayed the success story of collaring in Nepal but in this month (May’08 ) a Nepal national daily reports a tiger death in the Bardiya National Park (RBNP) after 12 days of radio collaring. The tiger found dead empty stomach and there were evidence of a fight with another tiger. The report claims with its ‘reliable source’ in the park that the tiger was not behaving normally after it was darted and was starving for days. The report also says, about two years ago another tigress were darted and she completely lost her senses after darting and died eating poisoned food. Several cubs of that tigress also died along with her. There were no third party investigation followed but independent sources and locals claim that almost all of Nepal’s collared tigers behaved abnormally after darting and there are direct or indirect connection to most of their deaths to darting and collaring –(Research, not poaching, killing tigers in Bardiya, The Rising Nepal, 3rd May’08).


Tiger sales! Any wildlife documentary which contains some tiger footage from the wild in it is a hotcake in the international media market. Filming in the forests with wild tigers is very expensive and difficult job. It needs expertise on the species and needs long time to get good tiger footage. Only they can shoot tiger from close by baiting which needs special permission from the government and incurs additional arrangement and cost. It is the easiest making films with collared tigers which doesn’t need many of the hassles and costs above. Openly there are direct beneficiaries of the project inside the country and abroad. Big film companies support and motivate collaring of tiger for their own benefit. The locals who provide support to the filmmakers get financially benefited if the process goes on. The acquired data from the collared tiger is very ‘valuable’ for publishing articles and books. Other agendas may become more lucrative and motivating then conservation itself. For these other agendas any of the wild tiger’s life should not be put on risk.



The Facial Marks Shows the Tiger Which was Collared (Night Shot) and the Tiger Which Was Claimed in the Film As Problem Tiger (Day Shot) was The Same Tiiger – Screen Shot from the BBC Ganges


There can be two explanations why Mr. Adam decided to re-dart a near dead collard tiger. The first tigress collared was found dead having the collar on which made a big media reaction. One explanation is, to avoid that media reaction they had decided to re-dart the tigress to remove the collar to declare the tiger missing in a suitable time. The other explanation is to capture a live darting sequence for the BBC film team. The normal darting procedure is difficult for filming. First they put snares and tie live baits (usually cows) in the potential roaming areas of the tiger. They do not know when or where the tiger will be caught. When the tiger get caught in the snare after a week or month, they come and dart the animal. This is a violent event to show on TV because the wild tiger fights viciously with the snare. Also in many countries it is prohibited to show contents filmed with the assistance of live bait. Avoiding all these, the ‘Ganges’ crews got great advantage from the project having the darting sequence filmed. In exchange they made the story of the tigers in the film as such that the film became a good alibi showing that the tigress was not eating and behaving ‘abnormal’ before darting and was a threat to the people in the village. But all those shots were taken of the collared tiger carefully obscuring the collar when actually her weakness was due to starvation and abnormal behaviors post collaring. In this way the project hiding the truth and twisting the facts tried to fool the tiger enthusiasts all over the world by the documentary. Adam is even saying in front of the camera “Her skins fairly… little bit… pretty slack, she is an old animal, I am not going to collar her”, when he just removed the collar from her moments ago by re-darting (BBC DVD, Ganges, Behind the Scenes, 0:22:56).  This was a win-win situation for the project and for the film team, but it was virtually killing an endangered animal in the wild to hide truth or to fulfill the other agendas of the researcher.


After the death of his two collared tigers Mr. Adam was rousing about the necessity of collaring for conservation of tigers in Bangladesh everywhere. After the suspension of the collaring permission he is now raising a new issue of dealing ‘problem tigers’ by collaring. Dr. Ullas Karanth and Dr. Raghu Chundawat, two Indian wildlife experts openly supported his causes. Mr. Adam claims that Dr. Karanth had no problem doing research in Nagorhole but Dr. Raghu Chundawat writes, “Tiger project in Nagarhole by Ullas Karanth has had to face tremendous problems in conducting research; more recently, several cases in courts have been slapped on him” (Tiger Task Force Report, MoEF, India, May 2005). Mr. Karanth argues in his letter to the Daily Star, “Unless mortalities actually occur during sedation, death of a collared tiger weeks or days later cannot be attributed to the research work.” He also says “The radio-collar does not bestow immortality on its wearer.” But application of inappropriate drug or improper application of a safe drug can make a wild tiger unhealthy. That can reduce the tigers hunting efficiency and can make her week and eventually the tiger may die weeks or months later. Shall we consider it a normal death?


Mr. Chundawat started his radio collaring project in Panna tiger Reserve in India around 1995. At that time Panna considered one of the best tiger reserve in India and the whole world supported Mr. Chundawat’s project. BBC made films on his work there (Tigers of the Emerald Forest) and many books and articles were published from the experience of his field research. For nine years he made Panna his home and collared at least eleven tigers. Even in an article in BBC Wildlife magazine (December 2003 issue) he writes “Against the backdrop of declining tiger populations, the restoration of tigers to their optimal population in Panna has been a real achievement. Few other examples of this exist in tiger conservation.” But soon after that he suddenly declares four of the six tigers, on which his team had put radio collars, were missing. He says “at least 13 tigers with radio devices attached to collars in the park and being monitored by his team had gone missing recently” (News,, 5th May, 2005). He claimed that all of them were killed by poachers. The authority, which gave permission of doing invasive research with Panna tigers became very upset with him and cancelled his research permission and even prohibited him to enter the park. Mr. Chundawat says about his own project “Tiger research project in Panna, Madhya Pradesh: After the death of radio-collared tigers due to poaching, death of prey species in snares and complaints made to chief wildlife warden regarding the lax protection measures and destructive management practices, the forest department started harassing the researcher and curtailing research activities in this case. After a petition was filed regarding the flawed management practices based on the information gathered by the researcher and following his whistle-blowing on the deteriorating status of tigers in Panna, the management began a harassment campaign against the researcher. It included acts like canceling research permission, refusing to renew the permission to monitor the radio-collared tigers, retrospective charges for using elephants as transport and legal notices to recover the revenue through forfeiting the researcher’s property and asking him to vacate his field camp, seizing the research vehicle and equipment etc.” (Tiger Task Force Report, MoEF, India, May 2005). Now it seems that Panna, which was famous as the reserve of the Emerald Tigers possibly going to be the next Sariska. In Sariska suddenly they found in one nice morning that there is no tiger at all.


Indian Express writes in March 2005, “In fact, a visit to the Emerald Forest there clearly shows that the Panna Tiger Reserve could be going the Sariska and Ranthambhore way. A well-known field researcher (Dr. Raghu Chundawat) has submitted a report this week that some 30 tigers may have died or gone missing in the Panna reserve over the past two-and-a-half years. And, the Central Empowered Committee, set up by the Supreme Court, warned last month that unless quick action was taken ‘‘the tiger may never recover here.’’


Rajesh Gopal IGF & director, Project Tiger New Delhi writes “The researcher (R. Chundawat), like many others who have done breast-beating in the media over tigers, also appears to have a hidden agenda. It is learnt he has set up an NGO near the tiger reserve recently to further his cause, which perhaps warrants an anti-system posture to gain credibility. Alas, these are the woes of wildlife conservation today!” (Indian Express 11th March’ 05)


Could these nine years of research and so much radio collaring data do anything to save the tigers in Panna? The wildlife department of India does not believe in Dr. Chundawat’s poaching claims that much. Xinhua reports about a tiger death in Panna,Doctors and park officials say the death was not due to poaching as the tiger’s body was ‘intact’ – no parts had been pulled out, but the conservationists say otherwise” – (People’s Daily, China, May 07, 2006). All agree that poaching is happening in India quite a lot but it is not easy poaching a normal healthy tiger in the wild underhanded. Researcher’s use live baits, put multiple snares and work day and night and wait weeks and months for a tiger to be trapped. Even if we accept Dr. Chundawat’s claim about poaching, why in Panna poaching rate went so high for a very short time? Were the drugs used made the tigers unable to hunt which weakened them and eventually were easily killed by the poachers? Or the drugs made them abnormal in their behavior and they lost the fear of human and went close to human habitations to have easy food that made their life vulnerable? Or poachers used simple radio receivers to track his collared tigers to find them? Who is going to answer those questions in a country in South Asia, where a neutral and independent investigation never follows through.


George Schaller, the world’s preeminent field biologist, and known as one of the greatest naturalist of the 20th century, sums up the issue beautifully by name. “Field biologists, such as Karanth and Chundawat, can use technology in the form of satellite radio-collars, camera-traps, DNA analysis of scats and other techniques to determine population size, movement patterns, and other aspects. That provides extremely valuable information. Such knowledge is essential for conservation but it is not conservation. Conservation, in the final analysis, is culture, economics and politics.” (Dataquest, October 10, 2007). Seems Mr. Adam is also walking through the same way that Dr. Karanth and Dr. Chundawat walked before in India. While facing questions and controversy, not seeing it as a positive criticism and correcting errors with honesty, rather rousing local people for grouping, making another tiger film or making more ‘friends of the project’ will initiate an unhealthy political dimension to the still immature tiger conservation in Bangladesh. Bangladesh forest department should motivate and integrate the whole nation to participate in the difficult task like tiger conservation in Sundarban, rather then depending on a small group of ‘experts’ who want to be famous even by cuddling dead tigers.


An independent multi government enquiry should succeed having the best veterinary and wildlife experts from around the world to find out what actually happened to all the collared tigers in this subcontinent. They should investigate about the history of their physical and mental conditions after darting. They also should try to find the cause of deaths of all collared tigers and should make a safe procedure and recommendations for future collaring practices for the elegant Bengal tigers. Stopping research is not an option and unmonitored field research and research for ‘other agendas’ without true and complete conservation plan also will not help surviving the rest about 2000 tigers in the subcontinent.


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