Trekking for Tigers!

The reason for the challenge

Having visited the Tiger Protection and Conservation Unit (TPCU) in Sumatra back in 2009, Rebecca Willers from Shepreth Wildlife Park was so impressed by their passion and commitment that she promised to raise crucial funding and awareness for their work when she returned to the UK.

The UK zoo team of participants

After successful fundraising efforts including a sponsored Channel swim and Kilimanjaro climb, in October 2015 Rebecca and a team of zoo colleagues took on their latest challenge, a seven-day trek across the Kerinci-Seblat National Park (KSNP). The team included Sarah Forsyth and Clive Barwick (Colchester Zoo), Hayley Potter (Animal Encounters - Team Leader and Head of Conservation at Woburn Safari Park), Charlotte Corney (Isle of Wight Zoo), Lynn Whitnall (Paradise Wildlife Park), Cheryl Midgely (Linton Zoo) and Olivia Walter (Wildlife Vets International).

The group slept in open pondoks and spent daylight hours traversing ridge edges, rivers and slopes. Throughout the week-long trek they collectively covered 120km over two provinces, reaching heights of almost 2000m, whilst successfully feeding hundreds of blood-thirsty leeches!

Trekking activities

As they walked they came across bird traps, poacher camps and hides, snares, illegal logging sites and even a few pug marks (tiger paw prints) on the way. They returned to base camp with seven green birds seized from a bird poacher camp, two active snares, four deactivated snares and even a chainsaw confiscated from the illegal logging camp.

This is of course just a glimpse into the real work of the TPCU. Formed in 2000 with just two teams, the TPCU has continued to grow and with more rangers trained, there are now six patrol teams conducting investigations and conflict mitigation. The teams operate in 20-day cycles from base camp, often living away from family for long periods of time. Patrols into the forest last four to eight days on foot and since 2004 these patrols have removed over 300 tiger snares and around 4,000 active deer snares. Over the last 12 months they have walked more than 1,230 miles on 115 patrols.

Organised criminal networks of poachers

Debbie Martyr, TPCU Manager says; “We’re dealing with greed not need. Poor villagers can’t afford to spend loads of money and time hunting a rare animal like a tiger, especially if their investment is likely to be wasted because the TPCU destroy their $25 snares. As a result, tiger poaching detected between 2004 and 2012 reduced almost every year, because the hunters stopped as it wasn’t worth it anymore.”

More recently, however, organised crime syndicates have moved into the area, funding poachers through local criminal networks and providing snares along with promises of safety. TPCU saw a jump from just 11 active tiger snares recorded on three out of 81 patrols in 2010 to 61 records in 2014.

Tiger poachers are no longer perceived as poor people, with many owning motorbikes and even cars. They often have other sources of income and of course they are now being funded by criminal syndicates too. Some are also involved in other crime including making and selling guns. To date, Debbie reports that more than 40 tiger poachers and traders have been arrested, all of whom went through the court process and were sentenced. “What we need now is action at an international level, including Vietnam and China, against the organised crime syndicates who are driving the threat to the tigers and maintaining demand for tiger body parts,” she said

Huge respect for the anti-poaching teams

Returning from their trek the zoo team said; “We feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to spend time with the TPCU patrol teams in the jungle. Witnessing the unforgiving terrain, the sheer weight of their rucksacks and the amazingly beautiful and yet hostile flora and fauna these men endure on their patrols, truly leaves you both in awe and with deep gratitude to them for their continued, tireless efforts to protect this magnificent animal.”

Amounts raised and the fundraising continues

Through sponsorship, the UK zoo team raised over £15,000 for the TPCU, and will be hosting several ‘Tiger’ events over the next few months to raise further funds and to highlight the crucial work being carried out by TPCU.