THE YEAR OF THE PATH OF THE TIGER
In Chinese medicine, this is the year of the Tiger… I have witnessed tiger parts being sold in Chinese medicine pharmacies in Hong Kong and think with horror of this dying breed and their extinction unless conservation and awareness are fostered among these perpetrators. I live in Costa Rica now and I have had the luck if seeing a black panther and a spotted panther, both in front of my car, one on the road from San Isidro to Dominical and one just south of Uvita. As a child, in Sumatra, Indonesia I used to sneak through the tiger grass around our home to go to the stream to catch tropical fish. One night we were visited by a tiger in our banana patch and found the paw prints the next morning. To this day I have many tiger dreams….all since I ate a tiger heart given to me by a Chinese Coolie who had just killed a man-eating tiger. He handed me the heart and told me to eat it….telling me “It would make me strong and fear-less”. I shudder remembering this incident. At one point I was going to go to Borneo to work with saving the tigers. I am now living in Costa Rica and two of my close friends here in Costa Rica have found themselves staring eye-to eye with a panther on their property. This last month a black panther with her cub were spotted on the property just above us. Today I write about extinction, eco-tourism, keeping the country Green, and plant medicine… all to raise awareness, change thinking and to foster change.
Many families here in Costa Rica have a “jaguar story” and superstitions abound. Natives of Costa Rica believe you can go in the jungle with spots and return sans spots. The Baruca Indians of Costa Rica still construct beautiful balsa Panther masks to scare away the Spaniards. They hold a three day celebration each year around New Years to demonstrate their boldness.
As development was occurring in Costa Rica, the awareness of the need to prevent extinction of these large cat species was fostered. It was discovered that felines like panthers, puma and jaguars need hundreds of hectares of habitat in order to hunt and successfully reproduce. One of the first efforts to save these large animals was to create sanctuaries with all the amenities of the jungle….. a ”hotel tigre”. These habitats needed to be large enough to sustain between 500 and 5000 individuals of each species. Anything less would lead to extinction, Over time and with observation and analysis these less than optimal sanctuaries proved to be unhealthy and insufficient.
In recent investigations of the jaguar genome, it was found that this gene pool is identical from Mexico to the tip of South America. What does this mean? It means these cats have traveled over the centuries, moving up and down whole continents to breed. This is necessary to keep the gene pool intermixed. To not allow this would dampen down the gene pool. The threat of global warming has also created a necessity for migration as food sources shift their habitats.
By the 90’s the area governments implemented the idea of a Paseo Pantera, an uninterrupted corridor of protected forest lands mostly stretching along the Caribbean coast of Central America. Indigenous and campesino groups protested as the governments took over their un-titled large tracts of lands. Fear of being removed and the wealthy elite taking over their lands occurred. In the late 90’s farmers and “campesinos” organized and asserted their role in assigning a large, unbroken land mass and habitat to both the native animals and plants. Mexico joined in and the “Paseo Pantera” expanded and became the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Today the aims of this corridor are to protect biodiversity, to connect large reserve sites and to promote social and economic sustainability and diversity with sensitivity to these issues.
Because of their habits and shyness, it was found these animals could live in areas with humans. How safe is this for the humans living in these areas? Interestingly, the jaguar-on-the-move is not a jaguar hunting for food. These are very shy, nocturnal animals. The key is not to threaten them. An occasional cow or animal may be sacrificed and, those farmers whose land may sit in the middle of a jaguar corridor have slowly grown accustomed to an occasional loss of a farm animal. Outreach people and programs have helped to pave the way to acceptance of these occasional losses.
Today, developers, outreach programs, the World Bank, countries and individuals are all working to maintain or create safe corridors between these older sanctuaries. It has been found these animals will sometimes risk crossing barriers such as the Panama Canal, four lane highways and so on to migrate and concern is raised that these may not be safe for these large cats. As more and more development occurs in Costa Rica, a conscious effort is being made to evaluate projects (developments, roads, malls, etc.) as to their effect on the large cats and to reduce them in size, forbid others or create limits as needed. Developers in Costa Rica must provide for the safe passage of jaguars through a project or determine if their project would inhibit the passage of the cats and then stop development or modify the project.
What can we each do to enhance awareness and save these magnificent beasts?
Rosemary MacGregor RN MS
506 27896 5300
Tags: extinction, Paseo de Tigre, Year of the tiger