Amur Tigers and Far Eastern Leopards; Research, Training, and Capacity Building 2009 - 10
The Amur or Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) remains severely threatened, although numbers were stable for several years, surveys in 2009 suggest that numbers may be once more be in decline.
As a classic landscape species inhabiting a variety of human-influenced terrains, tigers compete with man for critical habitat and resources. Their populations remain perilously low and, in the Russian Far East, international efforts to save them from extinction have been conducted for more than 15 years.
Southwest Primorye is currently the subject of high conservation interest and value for many reasons. Here, isolated from the main population of Amur tigers to the north, tigers exist as a subpopulation at the southern edge of their current geographic range. Southwest Primorye borders China’s recently created Hunchun Tiger-Leopard Protected Area, as well as other important tiger habitats in China.
The area is the focus of several proposed or ongoing development programmes including an improved and expanding road network, railway development, expansion of the electricity grid, mineral/coal extraction, and potential development associated with the Tumen River Area Development Programme.
Data is urgently needed on which to base recommendations to minimize the impact of development projects, and to develop a more detailed protected area plan that includes well defined movement corridors between Russia and China, and between north and south tiger subpopulations.
Tigers in this region also coexist with the world’s last population of Amur leopards (about 30 individuals). Tigers may have a significant negative impact on leopards, and areas of conflict between conservation of the two species must be identified for successful conservation of both species in the area.
In October 2006, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Russia Programme began a new telemetry-based field research project designed to collect ecological and biomedical data on Amur tigers and Amur leopards in southwestern Primorski Krai.
This project is developing a database on the subpopulation of Amur tiger ecology in Southwest Primorye for use in conservation planning. As mentioned above, data is needed to identify movement corridors (or the lack thereof) between this population and the main population to the north, and between Russia and important habitats in China; and to identify problems associated with inbreeding and disease for both tigers and leopards in the area. This project also serves an important training and capacity building function. There are far too few young biologists and conservationists in the Russian Far East today, and future scientific and conservation efforts in this region will rely on better and more effective training, along with incentives to pursue studies in conservation biology. WCS Russia’s cooperative relationship with Russian Institute of Biology and Soils, Russian Academy of Science will provide further training in field techniques, data analysis, report and grant writing, and publication for Russian biology students. Biologists trained and supported by this project gain valuable knowledge that will help them to more effectively conduct tiger conservation activities in the future.
More information on the work of WCS Russia can be found on their website.