Amur tigers come back from the brink(2)

2015-04-10 10:59:59China Daily ECNS App Download

Jilin has banned commercial logging, to boost the recovery of wood resources and wildlife habitats, and will also "establish three to five nature reserves to protect Amur tigers and their habitats," as well as gradually form a tiger protection network on Changbai Mountain, according to Lan Hongliang, director of the provincial forestry authority.

Wang Jihui, deputy director of the Suiyang county forestry bureau, in Heilongjiang, described his authority's policy as "tigers advance, people withdraw".

Many residents of Suiyang have already been moved out of key protection zones since the establishment of nature reserve and the banning of commercial logging. Although it has cause financial loss, Wang said it was necessary. Employees at forestry farms have adjusted their work from logging to wildlife protection.

"Tigers need space," Wang said. "And as our environment keeps improving, we can attract more tigers from Russia."

A national protection plan is expected soon. In March, Zhao Shucong, director of the State Forestry Administration, called the tigers a working priority and said China is cooperating with regional authorities, as well as university and academy experts, to formulate a strategy.

"China is going to conduct a national survey of wild tigers to provide a base for research and management," he said.

Chang Youde, a senior officer for WWF China's Asian big cats program, said the Amur tiger is an "umbrella species" whose survival indirectly protects many other animals in its habitat. "Protecting tigers is protecting other wildlife," he added.

Just like Chinese and Russian tourists, increasing numbers of Amur tigers are crossing the border, and according to the WWF, a fourth corridor used by migrating animals has recently been identified.

Shi at WWF China said the route runs through Xiaoxinganling Mountain, in northeast Heilongjiang, and along the Heilongjiang River, which marks the boundary between China and Russia. Observers spotted the corridor thanks to Kuzya, an Amur tiger released by Russian President Vladimir Putin that traveled south looking for prey.

Russia is conducting its once-in-a-decade census of Siberian tigers, with 2,000 people searching for signs of the animal in the country's far east. The Russian government hopes to show the numbers in the wild have risen from 450 in 2005 to 600, according to The Guardian newspaper.

"The size of the population in Russia means that the Siberian tigers have reached saturation point," Chang said. "The construction of corridors provides opportunities for tigers to migrate to China."

Making space

Despite the promising situation, conservationists say habitat fragmentation and an unbalanced food chain remain major challenges for tiger protection efforts.

Wu Jingcai, a researcher at the State Forestry Administration of China's Feline Research Center, said more woodland is being used for city construction and highway projects.

"We have called for wildlife habitats to be taken into consideration when making plans for infrastructure construction, so that we leave space for connecting habitats and corridors for animal activities," he said.

Chang at WWF China also expressed concern about the lack of funding from the central government to build nature reserves. "It's not easy to build a nature reserve on a local level, not to mention a national level," he said. "It needs large investment from the start and beyond."

Although the ban on commercial logging had removed another avenue for local authorities to make money, he predicted officials would be more proactive if the central government provided more funding and personnel.

"WWF China has made many plans with local governments, but all projects need funding, possibly tens of billions of yuan," Chang said. "If there were national tiger protection projects, just like for the giant panda, it could work. If not, the plans will just remain plans."

When it comes to prey for the tigers to hunt, he added that the problem is not density, but the type of animals roaming the forests.

Since 2010, the WWF has carried out an annual survey on ungulates - hoofed mammals - in Northeast China. Generally, it has found the numbers are growing.

Wang Fuyou, who helped set up Wangqing National Nature Reserve, said in 2011, when the reserve plan was mooted, the main issue was the lack of prey for big cats. "When we did the first survey, we felt like even 1,000 square kilometers area couldn't support one tiger," he said.

The situation today is better, with "definitely one roe deer within 1 sq km in some areas", according to Chang. The gap in density compared with Russia is narrowing, he insisted, but the problem is whether the density and balance can be sustained.

"For example, now we have many boar and roe deer but fewer spotted deer. This is not good for the tigers," Chang explained. "As they hunt, a tiger consumes energy. A spotted deer can support a tiger for seven days, but a roe can only support it for one or two days.

"In Russia, the prey structure is balanced. In China, the whole ecological system still needs time to recover."


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