Monday, May 21, 2012

Is there a future for Amur tigers in a restored tiger conservation landscape in Northeast China?

The future of wild tigers is dire, and the Global Tiger Initiative's (GTI) goal of doubling tiger population size by the next year of the tiger in 2022 will be challenging. The GTI has identified 20 tiger conservation landscapes (TCL) within which recovery actions will be needed to achieve these goals. The Amur tiger conservation landscape offers the best hope for tiger recovery in China where all other subspecies have most likely become extirpated. To prioritize recovery planning within this TCL, we used tiger occurrence data from adjacent areas of the Russian Far East to develop two empirical models of potential habitat that were then averaged with an expert-based habitat suitability model to identify potential tiger habitat in the Changbaishan ecosystem in Northeast China. We assessed the connectivity of tiger habitat patches using least-cost path analysis calibrated against known tiger movements in the Russian Far East to identify priority tiger conservation areas (TCAs). Using a habitat-based population estimation approach, we predicted that a potential of 98 (83–112) adult tigers could occupy all TCAs in the Changbaishan ecosystem. By combining information about habitat quality, connectivity and potential population size, we identified the three best TCAs totaling over 25 000 km2 of potential habitat that could hold 79 (63–82) adult tigers. Strong recovery actions are needed to restore potential tiger habitat to promote recovery of Amur tigers in China, including restoring ungulate populations, increasing tiger survival through improved anti-poaching activities, land-use planning that reduces human access and agricultural lands in and adjacent to key TCAs, and maintaining connectivity both within and across international boundaries. Our approach will be useful in other TCLs to prioritize recovery actions to restore worldwide tiger populations.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Four Siberian tigers poached in two weeks

On April 18, a Chinese woman was detained on the Russian border in the Far Eastern region of Primorye with three Siberian tiger legs.

According to the press service of the local branch of the World Wildlife Fund, the legs (two from an adult male, the other from a young male or adult female) were hidden beneath her clothes.

At least four Siberian tigers have been killed in the past two weeks, Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency added, citing local law enforcement and customs officers. The population of Siberian tigers, also known as Amur tigers, in Russia's Primorye and Khabarovsk regions reportedly numbers up to 450 animals.

The report said that the tiger legs were "treated in a traditional Chinese method," implying that they were meant to be used for traditional Chinese medicine. Tiger bones and claws are used for various remedies, with powdered bone prepared as "tiger wine," an especially popular treatment for rheumatic pain, ulcers, malaria, and burns.

Poaching continues to be a threat to attempts to preserve the subspecies in southeastern Russian and northeastern China.

But as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reports, Russia on April 9 declared the merger of three existing natural reserves in the region into what has been dubbed the "Land of the Leopard" national park. The park will not only be a boon to the Siberian tiger but to the even-more-endangered Far Eastern (Amur) leopard subspecies, thought to number less than 40.

"We commend the Russian government for their foresight in creating this new protected area, and we are optimistic that it will provide a critical refuge for some of the most endangered big cats on the planet," WCS Russia Program Director Dale Miquelle said.

With this good news, one can only hope the tigers fare better than the poor beast that allegedly met its end for the benefit of a photo-op for once-and-future Russian President Vladimir Putin.