The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in West Bengal’s Darjeeling has received two Siberian tigers from Cyprus as part of an animal exchange programme. The tigers, named Lara and Akamas, are the first pair of Siberian tigers in India after 12 years. The last such big cat died in Nainital Zoo in November 2011 due to age-related problems.
Lara and Akamas arrived on Sunday night in two special ambulances from the Kolkata airport. They were flown from Cyprus’s Pafos Zoo, which received a pair of red pandas from the Darjeeling zoo in return. The red panda is a flagship species of the Darjeeling zoo, which has 25 of them and is internationally recognised for its conservation and breeding programme.
The Siberian tigers have been kept in quarantine in separate enclosures and would be shifted to another enclosure for public view after a month, according to the zoo director Basavraj Holeyachi. He said that the zoo was happy to host the endangered animals and hoped to contribute to their conservation efforts.
Siberian tigers face extinction threat due to poaching and habitat loss
The Siberian tiger, also known as the Amur tiger, is the largest of the six subspecies of tigers and can weigh up to 300 kg. It is native to the Russian Far East, northeastern China and possibly North Korea. It is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which estimated that there were around 265 to 486 Siberian tigers in the wild in 2022.
The main threats to the survival of the Siberian tiger are poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, human-wildlife conflict and climate change. Poachers target the tigers for their fur, bones and other body parts, which are used in traditional medicine and as status symbols. Habitat loss and fragmentation are caused by logging, mining, road construction and other human activities that encroach on the tiger’s territory. Human-wildlife conflict occurs when tigers prey on livestock or attack people, leading to retaliation killings. Climate change affects the availability of prey and the quality of habitat for the tigers.
Several conservation organisations and governments are working to protect the Siberian tiger and its habitat. Some of the measures include anti-poaching patrols, law enforcement, community education, compensation schemes, habitat restoration and transboundary cooperation. The goal is to increase the population of the Siberian tiger to at least 700 individuals by 2024.
Darjeeling zoo is a pioneer in wildlife conservation and breeding
The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, also known as the Darjeeling zoo, is the highest altitude zoo in India, located at an elevation of 2,134 metres above sea level. It was established in 1958 and covers an area of 67.56 acres. It is home to several rare and endangered animals, such as the snow leopard, the red panda, the Himalayan wolf, the Tibetan sand fox, the Himalayan salamander and the Himalayan monal.
The zoo is a pioneer in wildlife conservation and breeding in India. It started the first ex-situ snow leopard conservation breeding programme in 1986, followed by the red panda project in 1990. It has successfully bred and reintroduced several animals into the wild, such as the Himalayan tahr, the goral and the serow. It also participates in various research and education programmes to raise awareness and generate scientific knowledge about the wildlife of the Himalayan region.
The zoo is a popular tourist attraction and receives around 300,000 visitors annually. It is also a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and the Central Zoo Authority of India (CZA). It has received several awards and recognitions for its conservation work, such as the International Award for Excellence in Conservation Breeding from the WAZA in 2014 and the Earth Heroes Award from the Royal Bank of Scotland Foundation in 2016.