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Wednesday, October 8, 2003. Page 8
Paw Prints Disappearing for Siberia's Amur Tiger
By Yulia Solovyova
Special to The Moscow Times
Amur tigers running through a habitat in the Moscow Zoo.

Paw Prints Disappearing for Siberia's Amur Tiger

Their numbers in the Khabarovsk region have been in sharp decline.

Photo: Vladimir Filonov/MT
Amur tigers running through a habitat in the Moscow Zoo.
Their numbers in the Khabarovsk region have been in sharp decline.
Over the last six years, Yury Dunishenko has walked 12,000 kilometers through the snow.   He has been looking for paw prints left by Amur tigers, an endangered species in the Far East Khabarovsk region.
To operate such a large scale monitoring project, Dunishenko and his colleagues from the Khabarovsk Wildlife Management Institute teamed up with a group of experienced local hunters.
Although the unlikely partnership proved successful, its findings were depressing.   The number of trails on which tiger prints were found fell from 80 in 1997 to 30 this year, and the amount of prints themselves decreased dramatically.
Even more alarming was the fact that the number of tiger cubs dropped from 28.5 percent of the total population in 1997 to just 9.5 percent this year.
"The risk of the species' extinction has not been averted," Dunishenko said last week during a meeting in Moscow celebrating 10 years of working to save the tigers.   "The research showed that the population has lost its ability to reproduce normally."
There are only 60 Amur tigers left in the Khabarovsk region and more than 300 still roaming the vast Primorye region.   Dunishenko said that if conditions remain unchanged, the tigers will disappear from Khabarovsk in 20 to 30 years.
Illegal poaching, depletion of prey, loss and fragmentation of habitat
Vast effort and serious investment has gone into keeping the Amur's numbers stable, but saving a large predator such as this is a monumental task.   The enormous political, economic and social change that Russia has endured since the initiation of these efforts has not helped.
"This change has been negative," said Ed Anhert, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation, which has donated more than $2 million to the Save the Tiger Fund.   "But there is an important story to be told.   Saving the tiger is not just nature preservation, it's building strong civil society in the Far East."
Amur tigers, like tigers everywhere in the world, have long suffered from illegal poaching, depletion of prey and loss and fragmentation of habitat due to forest fires, roads and human expansion.
Their numbers, reduced by vicious extermination at the beginning of the century to roughly a dozen, started slowly picking up in the 1930s.   In 1947, the Soviet Union banned tiger hunting.   In 1972, the Amur became an internationally recognized endangered species.
But with the arrival of the market economy came some backsliding.   Impoverished Russian hunters began placing ads in Vladivostok newspapers offering tiger hides for sale.
Soon, they gained access to consumers willing to pay $120,000 for an Amur tiger in neighboring China, where tiger hides and bones are used in traditional medicine.   Customs officials often allow poachers to cross the border in exchange for a bribe.
Research findings illustrate the scale of the poaching problem.   According to Dale Miquelle, the Far East coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, 80 percent of the 47 tigers given radio monitoring collars in the course of 11 years died of unnatural causes.
Most were poached.   Some were killed by farmers retaliating after tigers ate their cattle.   (This is often a result of the fact that tiger prey — deer and wild pigs — are also being hunted to extinction.)
All the same, some efforts made to protect the tiger have been reasonably successful.   A group of international nongovernmental organizations have worked together to create private anti-poaching teams, train customs workers and educate the locals about the tiger's plight.   By 2002, the volume of illegal contraband produced for the Chinese market had decreased dramatically.
Logging and deforestation difficult to prevent
But an important part of the process — lobbying for new legislation — has stalled, particularly since the State Nature Committee, the government environmental watchdog agency, was disbanded in 1999.   The Ministry of Natural Resources, which is now in charge of both use and protection of the environment, shelved the World Wildlife Foundation's project to create natural parks and protected areas.   Moreover, the existing ones are increasingly under threat.   Logging and deforestation have become difficult to prevent there.
Although the Russian government has been increasingly concerned with preservation, allocating three times the funds to the environment last year than it did in 1999, neglect seeped in when the State Nature Committee was disbanded.
"The numbers of rangers and inspectors dropped," said Igor Chestin, director of the WWF Russian branch, which acts on behalf of the Siberian tiger in the State Duma.   "And pollution, particularly air pollution, grew immensely.   We taxpayers are paying three times more money for environmental protection that is much worse than we used to get."
Because the tiger can only survive in a healthy ecosystem of the Far Eastern boreal forests — which, incidentally, produce most of the oxygen for the Earth's atmosphere — its survival can stand in for the survival of our planet as a whole.
"When we cut down these forests, which happen to be the natural habitat of the Amur tiger, or allow them to burn, we are stepping on our own throats," said Anatoly Astafyev, director of the Sikhote-Alin reserve, home to 90 percent of all remaining Amur tigers.
"If we save the tiger, we'll save ourselves."
© Copyright 2002, The Moscow Times.  All Rights Reserved.
Friday, 21 January, 2005
Norway to kill 25% of its wolves
By Alex Kirby
BBC News website environment correspondent
Grey wolf   WWF-Canon/Chris Martin Bahr
One wolf pack is to be shot
Image: WWF-Canon/Chris Martin Bahr
The Norwegian government has decided to kill five of the country's grey wolves — a quarter of the entire population.
It says the decision is necessary to protect domestic livestock, but one campaign group has condemned the cull.
WWF-Norway says two wolves have been shot already, one of them from a pack which has not been targeted and which it fears may now not manage to survive.
Wolves are protected in Norway, and are listed as critically endangered, and WWF says many people oppose the cull.
The decision to kill five animals out of the 20 remaining in Norway was taken by the nature directorate, which advises the government.   WWF-Norway is calling for an immediate halt to the hunt.
Survival 'at risk'
Its head, Rasmus Hansson, said: "If the Norwegian environment minister does not stop this hunt, he will have the dubious honour of allowing the regular hunting of a nationally endangered species.
Two grey wolves.

Breeding may be at risk.

Photo: WWF-Canon/Chris Martin Bahr
Breeding may be at risk
Image: WWF-Canon/Chris Martin Bahr
"The culling of 20-30% of a population this size is a serious threat to the survival of this species in Norway.
"This practice is contrary to internationally accepted standards for wildlife management.   No other country that I know of has such an aggressive policy towards its wolves."
The Norwegian parliament decided last May the country should sustain at least three family packs of wolves.
Packs can range in size from two adults to 10 or more animals covering several generations.   WWF says the current hunt will reduce the number of packs to two at most.
Mr Hansson told the BBC: "One wolf from the pack to be culled was shot on 15 January, and another female from a different pack on 21 January.
"We don't know the exact size of the targeted pack, because we don't know whether it produced any cubs last summer.   If it did, they will be left orphaned.
Grey wolf in snow.

Norway's wolves are now very rare.

Photo: WWF-Canon/Roger LeGuen
Norway's wolves are now very rare
Image: WWF-Canon/Roger LeGuen
Steady decline
"Now, in all likelihood, by killing the wrong animal they've ruined another pack.   The animal was an alpha female, so breeding may be affected and the pack could dissolve."
WWF says there were an estimated 50-80 wolves in the southern part of Norway and Sweden in 2001, consisting of several families.
That year Norway approved the culling of eight out of its 25 wolves, leaving 20 today, because the target was not met.
A recent study of the wider Scandinavian wolf population concluded there were 120 at the most.
Mr Hansson said: "There is a serious risk of genetic degradation in this population because of its small size.  A genetically healthy population... should have at least 800 individuals."
He told the BBC: "The cull is meant to protect sheep.   Sheep farming occupies 90% of Norway's territory.
"We have 250-300,000 moose and 30,000 reindeer.  In that perspective 800 wolves shouldn't be too many, though we've never suggested it — it's just a biological fact."
Rare leopard 'faces extinction'
By Richard Black
BBC environment correspondent
Amur leopard in the wild.

Amur leopards are a little lighter in colour than other leopards
Amur leopards are a little lighter in colour than other leopards
The world's rarest cat, the Amur leopard, is facing extinction in the wild, conservationists have warned.
They have blamed a recent decision by the Russian government to approve an oil pipeline through the leopards' only habitat, on the harsh eastern coast.
It is estimated that only about 30 of the animals survive in the wild.
Human settlements and forest fires have already pushed the Amur leopard to the brink of extinction — there are more incaptivity than there are in the wild.
At the end of December, Russia approved a plan for a pipeline bringing oil from Siberia to a new terminal on the coast, opening up export routes to east Asia.
The pipeline will pass through the Amur leopards' only remaining range — and conservationists working with the Zoological Society of London say it could be the last straw.
They are appealing to the Russian government to re-route the pipeline and give the world's rarest cat one more life.
Friday, 13 September, 2002
Struggle to save the Siberian tiger
Caroline Wyatt
By Caroline Wyatt
In the Russian Far East
The few Siberian tiger cubs left in the wild need protection
The few Siberian tigers left in the wild need protection
At first sight, the Far-Eastern Russian city of Vladivostok is unlikely tiger territory.
Seven time zones away from Moscow, it looks like any other post-Soviet port city — with the rusting ships in the harbour serving as a reminder that this was once a closed military region.
Paradoxically, that is one factor that allowed the Siberian or Amur tigers and leopards to take refuge in Russia over the past century.
Driven out of north-east China and Korea by rapid human expansion, they sought out the empty forests of the Russian taiga instead.
The big cats can thank Stalin for their initial survival here — he ordered much of this land to be turned into nature reserves or "zapadevnik", where any development was forbidden.

People are beginning to realise that these animals are part of their heritage

Dr Dale Miquelle
But since the collapse of communism, the tigers and leopards have found their very existence under threat: from humans competing with the animals for increasingly scarce resources.
Last survivors
With few jobs here, hunting and poaching have become a way of life for many people.
Poachers also vie with the big cats for their prey, the wild boar and deer that live in the forests.
Many local Russians have been baffled by the efforts of Western conservationists to save the very animals they see as a threat or competition in the struggle for survival in this harsh landscape.
The few Siberian tiger big temptation for poachers
A big temptation for poachers
Dr Dale Miquelle, a tiger expert with an infectious enthusiasm for the animals, is a conservationist in Vladivostok.
He is an American biologist who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society.
He came here 10 years ago to study the tigers, and has been here ever since trying to save them.
"This is the last surviving population of Amur tigers," he says.
"There are only about 330 to 370 adult tigers left, who exist over a vast territory called the Sikhote-Alin mountain range.
A tigress needs about 450 square kilometres (175 square miles) as its territory."
But even here, he says, humans are encroaching on the animals' habitat.
Legal and illegal logging is a threat.
Thanks in part to Dr Miquelle's efforts and those of other conservationists, the tiger population now appears to be stable — though its survival is far from guaranteed with such a small number of animals.
However, the Amur leopard is close to extinction here, with just one small population of between 20 and 40 of the animals left in only one location.
Health indicator
The conservationist says the Russian response to their efforts has ranged from incomprehension to enthusiastic agreement.
"Attitudes are slowly changing," he says, "and people are beginning to realise that these animals are part of their heritage, something to be proud of."

People need to eat, so they poach and sell everything — fish, caviar, deer, tigers, even leopards.

Dr Dale Miquelle
Many also hope that the tigers and leopards — if they survive — could form the basis of an eco-tourism industry, with visitors travelling to see the unspoilt beauty of this landscape and its creatures.
That day is still some way off, but it is a possibility in the long-term, as we saw for ourselves.
Dr Miquelle takes a group of us on a trek around the edges of the wildlife reserve.
No-one, apart from the park rangers or scientists is allowed inside the reserve itself, so that the 8 tigers who are known to live here are not disturbed.
When we reach the top of a hill to see a spectacular vista of untouched forest in every direction, Dr Miquelle explains that since 1990, poaching has become a serious problem.
The few Siberian tiger Anti-poaching officers are watching
Anti-poaching officers are watching
Tiger skins can fetch up to a year's salary for people here, while their bones and organs and valued in traditional Chinese medicine.
So why save the tiger, and not first the humans struggling to make a living here? Dr Miquelle believes the two tasks go hand in hand.
"The tigers act as an indicator of the health of the ecosystem," he says.
"If there's a healthy population of tigers here it's a good indicator that this ecosystem is intact and functioning.
And so it's very important to retain them as part of the ecosystem and to know that there are tigers here not just for their sake, but for our sake as well."
Tough job
Dr Miquelle's team uses remote cameras to capture images of the tigers as they prowl the forests.
The photos help show how many animals live and hunt here, as well as how healthy they are.
Dale Miquelle is cautiously optimistic
Dale Miquelle is cautiously optimistic
The conservationists also work closely with Russian anti-poaching patrols.  Their job is a tough one.
They work over a vast area of land, and the laws against poaching make it hard to prosecute anyone effectively.
Anatoly Belov, the head of the anti-poaching patrol, sighs with resignation as they catch yet another unlicensed hunter out with his gun near the wildlife reserve.
"There's so much unemployment here," he explains.
"Everything these days comes down to money, and of course people need to eat.  So they poach and sell everything.  Fish, caviar, deer, tigers, even leopards."
Learning the lesson
That message is also getting through to the young in this area.
With the help of colour picture-books, children in local schools are being taught the importance of taking care of the environment.
We go to watch the lesson, given by an enthusiastic teacher, who shows the children a video of the magnificent tigers and leopards prowling the wilderness.
Tiger conservation class.

Many children, at least, are tiger fans.
Many children, at least, are tiger fans
Afterwards, at least one 12-year-old boy, Gena, has become a convinced conservationist.
"We have to remove the poachers," he says earnestly when we ask him what he's learned today.  "We have to stop them killing the tigers and leopards."
For now at least, the children are eager converts to the big cats' cause.
But whether that enthusiasm continues as they grow up and struggle to make a living in the villages here is another matter.
Dale Miquelle and his colleagues are cautiously optimistic.
Though they struggle against the Russian bureaucracy that can make the simplest task a mammoth feat, they hope that both the leopards and the tigers can be saved.
SEE ALSO:
Kyrgyzstan plans wolf cull
04 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Rare leopard 'faces extinction'
22 Jan 05 | Environment
New threat to Siberian tiger
23 Apr 01 | Media reports


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For archive purposes, this article is being stored on TheWE.cc website.
The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.