SIBERIAN TIGERS CONSERVATION

EFFORTS TO PROTECT SIBERIAN TIGERS

Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: In the 1990s, "Along with the contraband, information on what was happening with the tiger made its way to the West. International organizations researched Chinese markets and a report was published containing documents, photographs and other indisputable evidence. A huge scandal broke; the Chinese government was forced to crack down on customs control and enforcement officials. Economic sanctions were introduced against Taiwan. Markets for tiger parts almost disappeared. Russia also clamped down on the tiger trade," enforcing a ban on tiger hunting made in Russia in 1947 "and adding the Amur tiger to official Endangered Species on both the Russian federal level and the Khabarovskii Krai regional level. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]

Efforts to protect Siberian tigers have included increasing the amount land in reserves, strengthening anti-poaching squads, and giving stiff sentences to convicted poachers. The key to their survival is making sure they have enough natural prey to hunt. The Siberian Tiger Project was set up in January 1992 in the Ussuri region at Terney, a fishing port about 350 mile northeast of Vladivostok. It was rung by Russian authorities and Dr. Maurice Hornocker and Dr. Howard Quigley of the Hornocke Wildlife Institute and University of Idaho. In 1995, the Russian Prime Minister Chernomydrin issued a decree to protect the Siberian tiger.

As of 2005, there were eight anti-poaching teams operating in area where the Siberia tiger is found. The members were given $5,000 a year, a good salary by Russian standards, are supplied with jeeps, gasoline, fuel and tracking dogs. Wildlife departments often had no money to patrol the tiger's habitat and officials were susceptible to bribes. The fine for killing a tiger was a million rubles but people who didn't pay the fine were not sent to jail.

Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: "We need to admit that it’s impossible to post an inspector behind every hunter. Tiger conservation will be effective only when everyone recognizes that a live tiger is more valuable than a dead one. When this happens, the road to reckless adventures will be blocked once and for all. A good hunter can easily spot a snare set in his territory. He can read road tracks better than any criminologist. But for the time being, we cannot take for granted that every hunter will voluntarily contribute his share to tiger conservation; we’ll have to pay for the strict control ourselves. If we don’t, and the current threats continue to grow, it may soon be too late to do much of anything. That’s the issue!

Russian Government and Siberian Tiger Conservation

In 2010, Russia launched a national strategy to protect Siberian tigers. Matthew Shaer wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “It has helped that the Russian government, under Vladimir Putin, has turned its attention to the plight of the Amur. In 2010 Putin presided over an international tiger summit, in St. Petersburg, where 13 countries pledged to double the world’s tiger population by 2022. And in 2013, the Russian president spearheaded the enactment of a strict anti-poaching law that raised the penalty for possession of tiger parts from a minor administrative fine to a criminal offense punishable by a lengthy spell in prison. [Source: Matthew Shaer, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015 \*/]

Before that national and local government roles in helping tigers in Russia were questioned. Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: "The Russian government has never been much of one to fund tiger conservation. But there are caring people on the planet and they are providing funds to implement specific parts of our tiger program. Some things have already been done to provide some protection. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]

" A national strategy for conserving the Amur tiger population has been developed and approved, a similarly entitled government proclamation has been issued, and a federal program has been developed, promising sizable funding to ensure implementation of tiger protection measures necessary to protect the tiger. In reality, there is no money for the program, and where it is going to come from is anyone’s guess. This is Russia and it has a government that is not even willing to pay people their hard-earned wages.~~

"We often hear from the foreigners: “Yes, but what has your government budgeted?” One tries to look to the side, embarrassed, mumbling something about the difficult economic times in the country. Although the truth is that just the revenues from the sale of the vodka that despairing people in forest villages drink would be enough to get the work started. That is, if the vodka was not sold on the “sly,” and if the regional government were to earn something from it.~~

"Officially, the government Committee on Ecology is responsible for the fate of the tiger in Russia. But since the Committee does not have police powers, its responsibility remains purely symbolic. The Hunting Inspection Agency deals with the tiger as if they are merely a side project. Sometimes this agency does nab tiger poachers. But hunting organizations are not very interested in having the wild animals that they protect and breed eaten by the tiger. That is why the agency’s guardianship of the tiger in Khabarovskii Krai is rather halfhearted.~~

"Chukenskii and Mataiskii nature reserves, which enjoy Krai level status, have already been created. Work continues to create the first national park in the Russian Far East, in the Anyuskii River watershed, as well as other protected territories. The international community has recognized these efforts. A specific example of this international recognition is inclusion of Khabarovskii Krai into the International Club “Protectors of the Earth.” ~~

"The Far Eastern Branch of the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute for the Study of Wildlife Resources (VNIIOZ) studies the rare predator, that is, when there is funding to do such studies. It is true that since 1997 monitoring work has been going on in the context of the Federal Target Program, but the funds to support this work have derived solely from the local budget and from WWF, and so, unfortunately, there is no assurance that this work will continue. And nevertheless, since 1990, for better or worse, much new, interesting information has been gathered on the Amur tiger, information that makes it possible to seriously correct what has been written to date.~~

Foreign NGOs and Siberian Tiger Conservation

In the late 1990s, the Tiger Trust and the World Wildlife Fund provided vehicles and supplemental pay for Russian wildlife rangers. ExxonMobile’s Save the Tiger program has donated $2.2 million to help protect tigers in Russia. International funding supported field inspector teams in Primorskii Krai. New reserves and zapovedniks were planned. Books and pamphlets were written and published.

Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: In the 1990s "representatives of the international community met in Khabarovsk in March 1993 to develop a plan. Many of these same people had met previously in India, in Great Britain, in the USA, in Nepal, in Japan. Resulting from these meetings were joint tiger conservation action programs that in rough outline are made up of several components. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has spent almost a million dollars on tiger conservation. The US National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Tiger and Rhino Fund, the Hornocker Wildlife Institute and other international organizations are also providing generous assistance in the name of tiger conservation. Everyone is helping out as best they can, that is, with the exception of the Russian government. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]

"As a rule, these specialized NGOs, which combine scientific specialists with activists, are free of partisan or business pressures. This approach means that the funds won’t just completely disappear into the vortex of the ever-emaciated government budgets. Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and the honorary president of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), came to Khabarovsk in 1997 as volunteer for the “Living Planet” campaign. Important symbols of this campaign are the tiger, the African rhinoceros and the panda.~~

"A brochure about the “Living Planet” campaign reads as follows:“We stand before a colossal challenge here on the edge of the new millenium. The destructive heritage of the “human footprint” has grown by two thirds in the last three decades, while all over the world forests, wetlands, oceans and coastlines are being degraded as a rate never before observed. The world’s forests are being destroyed more quickly than ever: each year we cut down or burn 17 million hectares, an area four times the size of Switzerland.” By joining the international “Living Planet” campaign, Khabarovskii Krai obliged itself to increase protected territories to ten percent of the total area of the Krai. The Krai needs to expand its system of zapovedniks, national parks and reserves, connecting them with ecological corridors that support animal migration. International donors will provide funds to restore the tiger’s prey, but only if they are convinced that their contributions will do more than to merely ensure that people have more deer and wild boar to shoot. That is it is critical that hunters need effectively manage their own hunting territories." ~~

Poachers, Rangers and Saving Siberian Tigers

Sometimes poachers include rangers, park officials and other people that are supposed to protect animals rather than kill them. There generally is isn’t very much money to pay such people. Reserves that were well protected and well staffed in the Soviet era had only a fraction of the employees in the 1990s that they once had and they were very poorly paid.

Rangers and naturalists are uncommon and underpaid. In 1997, parks received only 5 percent of the funding they received in the Soviet era. Rangers need money for things like radios and vehicles. Rangers have been murdered and had their cabins burnt down by rangers. In some cases, poachers are equipped with modern weapons while rangers have World War II-vintage rifles. The penalties for poaching are relatively light.

Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: "The first and most immediate measure for tiger conservation is to find a way to fight poaching. A number of approaches have been suggested: improving the legal aspects of tiger conservation; strengthening customs control and hunting inspection services, including the formation of specially trained, mobile units; determining the responsibilities of those who manage wildlife resources. Programs have also been developed to defend people from the tiger’s actions. These programs often include creation of procedures regulating the removal of tigers that threaten human life; compensation payments for losses caused by tigers; and the identification of locations where the coexistence of humans and tigers is undesirable or unacceptable. As it stands, the outside world realizes that the Russian government is not especially concerned about the tiger; it has enough of a problem trying to feed its hungry masses. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]

Matthew Shaer wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “Battling poaching in the Far East has always been a difficult proposition: People are poor and often desperate, and the sheer size of the area makes law enforcement difficult. WCS has teamed up with other organizations to educate locals about the importance and fragility of the Amur population. But Miquelle remains under no illusions that he will get through to everyone. “We talk about tragedy in terms of tigers, but you’ve got to think about tragedy in terms of people. Sometimes, poachers are poaching because they’re starving, and they need food for their families.” In the Far East, a dead tiger can go for thousands of dollars. “You’re never going to be able to beat out poaching unless the economy drastically changes,” Miquelle says. “There will always be that temptation.” Yet there has been progress on cracking down on poaching, including the widespread adoption by parks across the Far East of the SMART-based protocol—a computer program, now in use in dozens of countries, that collects and collates data from patrols and poaching busts and allows managers to better evaluate the effectiveness of their teams.[Source: Matthew Shaer, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015 \*/]

Difficulties Protecting Siberian Tiger Habitat

Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: A key "component of the tiger conservation program is dedicated to habitat protection and to improving natural conditions that will ensure the tiger’s survival. This component incorporates a very broad rang of strategies: there is a need to increase the number of wild ungulates; to create wildlife refuges and reserves; to develop special natural resource use zones. Additionally, an integrated economic development program must be created for the areas that are currently recognized as tiger habitat. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]

"This will be a tough thing to do in Russia. In America it’s easier to resolve such matters: “greens” can use the environmental impact assessment process to demonstrate that a timber harvest will degrade the habitat of an endangered spotted owl. What follows is a lawsuit against the timber industry. While the courts consider the case, all harvest is halted in the habitat of this poor owl. A year, maybe two years pass before the court issues a ruling and reach an agreement on compensation measures. If you were to try to argue in the American fashion here in Russia, then you’d be in for a good laugh. That is why achieving habitat protection will be a long process. For the time being, there isn’t even money to develop certain parts of the tiger program. It is true that United States Agency for International Development has promised to provide some support. And to provide it more quickly than our government could ever dream possible.~~

"Of course, protecting tiger habitat on a regional scale is beyond the capacity of individual hunters and nature lovers. Each of them is in a position, however, to put out a single forest fire or to go out to save a stand of trees. It’s not just the timber companies that are creating problems; it’s also the individuals who work in the forests. A guy sitting at the controls of a bulldozer is positioned to fight the power of nature in equal terms! He can grind his way up the channel of a forest stream, turning it into a lifeless current for dozens of years. He rips open a path on a steep slope for a skid trail and, for years to come, rains will wash away trees that had been growing on there for hundreds of years. To make an opening for a lower log deck, he uses his blade to level out a meadow that happens to be a natural salt lick, once and for all depriving local animals a source of mineral supplements that they have used for millennia." ~~

"But this is a rhetorical question. Since time immemorial, every effort has been made to extinguish forest fires in Russia. As soon as a forest sparked, the entire village, young and old, would rush to put it out. That was just thirty or forty years ago. What is happening with us? Who are we now, a bunch of “new Russians” who might at any time can split the scene with our cash, just to pump up the economy of some other country? But most of us are going to have live here on the ash pile on this trashed-out and scalped landscape. This “to hell with it” attitude has really gotten out of control." ~~

Local People and Siberian Tiger Conservation

Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: "The people of the Russian Far East can provide real and effective help in protecting tiger habitat. Hunting clubs can carry out forage enhancement measures: sowing and planting fodder grains in forest openings, setting up salt licks (but not just with the intention of shooting the animals!), and feeding animals during the deep, spring snows. Farmers can leave small amounts of grain in the fields during harvest. Even individual hunters can try to find ways to compensate these animals for what has been expropriated by humans. Feed, refuges, human impact and climatic conditions all help to determine the number of animals that can be supported in a given area. But the main factor is food. When there is enough food, even heavy snows are not too destructive, just as long as animals are not forced to shift from one spot to another or are mercilessly shot next to the road. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]

"Organizations are now appearing here in the Russian Far East. The Khabarovsk Wildlife Foundation, organized by a group of scientists in the Krai, has gained international acclaim. Once we were surprised when, visiting a remote community in the US, our introductory remarks about our region were met with the response, “Oh, Khabarovsk, the Wildlife Foundation!” But unlike foreign funds, our Foundation does not have its own funds — the government doesn’t provide us a kopeck of support. The Foundation is a volunteer organization. The situation overseas is a bit different. Governments and individual people concerned for the planet provide money to large international and local foundations that hold competitions to provide yet other funds with modest funding. Upon receipt of a grant, these latter funds then hold competitions to find groups and individuals capable of carrying out programs that are in accordance with the funds’ objectives. The lucky ones who receive grants use the money to carry out their work. This grant making process assures multi-level control of the funds and inappropriate use is practically excluded.~~

"Are we going to save the tiger? If you judge by what is being done right now, there is some basis for optimism. The tiger isn’t going to disappear in a single year, and it might even last a couple of decades, maybe three, but then again, maybe not that long. We could gather a bit more material on the tiger, set up a mathematical model, and predict, with an indifferent machine, exact date when people will catch their last glimpse of the tracks of the last tsar of what, by then, will be (please forgive me for the expression) no longer a wild jungle.~~

"Starting with kindergartens, and the earliest grades and continuing all the way through high school, everything must be done to introduce students must urgently be exposed to these issues. We must try to instill in them a deeper understanding of nature so that those who come after us will be zealous protectors of this place we call planet Earth. This kind of education process has been going on in other civilized countries of the world for a long time. In Russia, environmental education is a great challenge — we still have to teach the teachers. Naturally, you aren’t going to reorganize public education just for the tiger; neither the funds nor the opportunities to do this exist. But much can be accomplished using resources already at hand. Almost every village has a literate biologist or a wildlife manager or a forest engineer. These people have a wealth of useful information that can be shared with both children and adults! There are plans to develop new teaching methodologies and a textbook for teachers. Substantial funds, hundreds of thousands of dollars, are needed for environmental education in Russia.~~

Inspection Tiger

Inspection Tiger is an organization that has been set in Siberian tiger country to protect tigers. John Vaillant wrote in “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival”: "With financial assistance (and pressure) from international conservation agencies, the territorial government created Inspection Tiger in the hope of restoring some semblance of law and order to the forests of Primorye. Armed with guns, cameras, and broad police powers, these teams were charged with intercepting poachers and resolving a steadily increasing number of conflicts between tigers and human beings. [Source: John Vaillant. “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival” (Knopf, 2010) <<<]

“In many ways, Inspection Tiger's mandate resembles that of detectives on a narcotics detail, and so does the risk: the money is big, and the players are often desperate and dangerous individuals. Tigers are similar to drugs in that they are sold by the gram and the kilo, and their value increases according to the refinement of both product and seller. But there are some key differences: tigers can weigh six hundred pounds; they have been hunting large prey, including humans, for two million years; and they have a memory. For these reasons, tigers can be as dangerous to the people trying to protect them as they are to those who would profit from them. <<<

“The territory covered by Yuri Trush's Inspection Tiger unit in the mid-1990s was centered around the Bikin (be-keen) River. You can drive a truck on the Bikin in winter, but in summer it has a languid bayou feel. For many of the valley's jobless inhabitants, the laws imposed by the river and the forest are more relevant than those of the local government. While most residents here poach game simply to survive, there are those among them who are in it for the money. <<<

“In 1997,Inspection Tiger had been in existence for only three years; given the state of the Russian economy in the 1990s, its members were lucky to have jobs, particularly because they were paid in dollars by foreign conservation groups. Four hundred dollars a month was an enviable wage at that time, but a lot was expected in return. Whether they were doing routine checks of hunters' documents in the forest, searching suspect cars en route to the Chinese border, or setting up sting operations, most of the people Inspection Tiger dealt with were armed. As often as not, these encounters took place in remote areas where backup was simply not available, and they never knew what they were going to find." <<<

Inspection Tiger Leader

The leader of Inspection Tiger is Yuri Thrush. John Vaillant wrote in “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival”: “Trush stands about six-foot-two with long arms and legs and a broad chest. His eyes are colored, coincidentally, like the semiprecious stone tiger's eye, with black rings around the irises. They peer out from a frank and homely face framed by great, drooping brows. Though frail and sickly as a boy, Trush had grown into a talented athlete with a commanding presence, a deep resonant voice, and an ability to remain composed under highly stressful circumstances. He is also immensely strong. [Source: John Vaillant. “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival” (Knopf, 2010) <<<]

"As a young soldier in Kazakhstan, in the 1970s, Trush won a dozen regional kayaking championships for which he earned the Soviet rank Master of Sports, a distinction that meant he was eligible to compete at the national level. It was a serious undertaking: he wasn't just racing against Bulgarians and East Germans. "I was," he said, "defending the honor of the Military Forces of the USSR." In his mid-forties, when he joined Inspection Tiger, Trush won a territory-wide weightlifting competition three years running. This was not the kind of weightlifting one is likely to see in the Olympics; what Trush was doing looks more like a contest devised by bored artillerymen during the Napoleonic Wars. It consists of hefting a kettlebell — essentially a large cannonball with a handle — from the ground over your head as many times as you can, first with one hand, and then the other. Kettlebells are a Russian invention; they have been around for centuries and their use clearly favors the short and the stocky. So it is surprising to see someone as attenuated as Trush, who has the Law of the Lever weighted so heavily against him, heave these seventy-pound spheres around with such apparent ease. <<<

“Trush learned to shoot, first, from his father and, later, in the army. He also studied karate, aikido, and knife handling; in these, his rangy build works to his advantage because his long reach makes it nearly impossible to get at him. He is so talented at hand-to-hand fighting that he was hired to teach these skills to the military police. Trush's physicality is intense and often barely suppressed. He is a grabber, a hugger, and a roughhouser, but the hands initiating — and controlling — these games are thinly disguised weapons. His fists are knuckled mallets, and he can break bricks with them. As he runs through the motions of an immobilizing hold, or lines up an imaginary strike, one has the sense that his body hungers for opportunities to do these things in earnest. Referring to a former colleague who went bad and whom he tried for years to catch red-handed, Trush said, "He knows very well that I am capable of beheading him with my bare hands." This tension — between the kind and playful neighbor, friend and husband, and the Alpha male wilderness cop ready to throw down at a moment's notice — energizes almost every interaction. It is under the latter circumstances that Trush seems most alive." <<<

Development, Logging and Siberian Tiger Conservation

Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: "Another component of the tiger conservation program is even more expansive and complex. It is dedicated to the issues of developing sustainable natural resource use in the mountain forests of the Sikhote-Alin...In Khabarovskii Krai, we are talking about the middle portion of the Khor River watershed and its tributaries. These particular waterways form ecological corridors along which the entire tiger population is connected as a whole. Questions of employment and increases in the standard of living of people living in forest villages must be given special attention. Local value-added production facilities, gathering of non-timber forest products, bee-keeping and safe forms of ecotourism are proposed as alternatives to timber harvest. If we are to get serious about this, then the start-up capital, the equipment and technologies could be obtained in the form of investments into the region. The rest will depend upon the people living on the land. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]

"Scientists and the interested public who discuss the tiger issue have no quarrel with the value of environmental education. That bulldozer operator that we mentioned earlier was raised as a child on newspaper articles with headlines like “Attacking the Taiga” and “The Taiga is Being Rolled Back”. The taiga has been attacked like a dreaded enemy. And it is attacked according to the rules of war. Without any common sense or basic understandings; illegally and cruelly, and with great success. View it from an airplane and you’ll be convinced that this endless sea of forest has been damaged to the breaking point. As Felix Shtilmark, the well-known popular science writer, wrote: “There is no longer any taiga; it is a sea of everything but wilderness.” And amidst this sea all that remains are a few pitifully small islands to remind us of a once great abundance.” ~~

"People have yet to give any thought to the fact that we are cutting our feet out from under us. And yet, we continue to do this; we continue to cut. In our work for the Amur tiger, we seem to spend a lot of time out on our forest roads. And oh how barbarically we have treated Mother Nature! No matter how many times you see these hellish pictures, there is simply no way to get used to the scenes. In many areas of the Krai gullies are laid out with neatly stacked piles of huge Korean pine trees; you’d be hard pressed to find trees of this size growing anywhere nowadays. They were cut to specific lengths and then were left to rot; trees grow on them in a shameful attempt to cover over the results of the madness of an accelerated attempt to build socialism. Millions of cubic meters of logged timber are scattered throughout the forests of the Russian Far East, hundreds of millions of trees cut down to meet a plan. Now the size of the trees is smaller; you can’t squeeze out as many “cubic meters” as before, and yet still there are new stacks out there in the forest, feeding the bark beetles and the other forest pests. ~~

"And yet, right near by, people are cutting down even more trees, and they’re moaning and wailing about not getting paid; that there is nothing on which to haul the trees out; that there is no one out there to buy the timber they are felling; and on and on and on. But they keep cutting! Is it a hobby? Is it indifference? Is it environmental ignorance? It’s as if someone needs to explain to people just how long it takes for a tree to grow, how difficult and expensive it is to reforest a harvest site that otherwise will be instantly overgrown with raspberries and tall grass. They have to be told that the enormous volume of timber left in the field and then pounded into the ground by tractor treads, is now a dangerous tinder box. In these circumstances a forest fire will burn all living matter down to the bedrock, leaving us with a lunar landscape. ~~

Hope for Siberian Tigers

Siberian tigers have a good chance of survival wrote Matthiessen because "It is essentially a single population in a single habitant that is more or less continuous in its range. No other tiger is blessed with a vast and mostly roadless area of forested mountains, very thinly populated by human beings. Poaching rates of Siberian tigers appear to have dropped off since 1995 after a conservation strategy was worked out and Moscow provided funding. Local officials have blocked the construction of logging roads that would disrupt the tiger's habitat.

Naturalist Dale Miquelle told National Geographic, "yes, there's a lot of logging. Yes, there's too much hunting of ungulates. But there is still a big stretch of more or less intact forest. Human pressure is low—and not likely to rise. If the Russians can extract timber at a sustainable rate, if hunters can be persuaded to remove prey at a rate that allows tigers as well as themselves to eat, if the need or desire to poach tigers can be eliminated, tigers will survive in Russia for the foreseeable future."

Tiger tours from the Nezhino began in the spring of 2005. Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: The Ussuriiskii taiga "remains a remarkable place. It offers many, simple, down-to-earth pleasures. Pure mountain streams. Sleepy spruce forests. Enormous, park-like Korean pine cathedrals. Low shimmering stars. Fresh morning fogs. To say nothing of the clean air." ~~

Dale Miquelle and WCS Russia

The Russia Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, an American nonprofit,Dale Miquelle, an American scientist based in Primorsky, told Smithsonian Magazine that WCS Russia as both research and conservation organization—“with the research making the conservation possible." The group oversees what is generally agreed to be the longest-running field research project on the Amur in history. Using GPS collars and other tracking techniques, it has established an unrivaled library of data on the Amur tiger. The information the group has gathered has helped the Russian government pick areas that need to be better protected, and to help establish new reserves in Russia and China. “The effectiveness of conservation grows proportionally in relation to how much you know about the animal,” Miquelle said. “You can’t go at it blind, you know?” [Source: Matthew Shaer,Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015 \*/]

Matthew Shaer wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “Miquelle is a gruff, laconic presence—an action man and not a classroom man, who, by his own admission, is much better suited to fieldwork than to interpersonal politics...As animals go, Miquelle is more bear than tiger—broad-shouldered, shambling, with meaty paws and unruly black-and-white hair. Now 60, Miquelle was raised outside of Boston and studied at Yale (he was originally an English major), before moving on to the University of Minnesota for his master’s degree and the University of Idaho, where he received his doctorate in biology in 1985. His specialty was moose. In 1992, shortly after the Soviet Union was dissolved, Miquelle was part of a small delegation of Americans dispatched to the Far East to work with Russian scientists to study the habitats of the dwindling Amur population. The other Americans went home several months later; Miquelle has never left.

"There are only a few scientists alive with his skill for tracking and catching live tigers, and when a big cat is found anywhere in Russia’s Far East, Miquelle and his team are usually the first summoned to lend a hand. That morning he had an itinerary ready for me: a ten-hour drive north to an old mining village called Roshchino, where we would catch a ferry across the Iman River and drive another hour to Udege Legend National Park. There we would trek up into the hills to set up camera traps, invaluable tools for monitoring wild animals: Placed correctly, the combined infrared and photographic lenses stir to life at the first sign of motion or heat and provide imagery and data that might otherwise take months of backbreaking work to obtain. A few cats had been seen in Udege Legend, Miquelle told me, and he wanted to get a grip on their numbers.

In the mid-1990s, Miquelle worked for the Hornocker Wildlife Institute, an organization founded by the scientist Maurice Hornocker that later merged with the WCS. Although Russian field men had already done good work counting and studying the remaining population of Amur tigers, they were limited to working in the winter, when tiger prints were visible in the snow. The Hornocker Wildlife Institute brought radio collars, transmitters and the telemetry experience necessary to track big cats remotely. It was a depressing time: Almost every tiger the group collared seemed to be poached. Sometimes the poachers would cut the collar off the animal with a hunting knife; sometimes they’d blast it with a rifle, to halt the transmission of the radio signal.

Reintroducing Siberian Tigers to the Wild

Siberian Tigers have undergone training be reintroduced to the wild and have then been released and have managed to survive. The program began in the 1990s with experiments in which young tigers, who had never seen a real deer, were trained to hunt them by charged a foam deer model scented with deer urine. They also climbed trees to get at the skin of a wild boar.

Matthew Shaer wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “The practice of rehabilitating wild predators to prepare them for release back into the wild is not unheard of. It has been accomplished successfully, for example, with bears, the lynx in North America and, once, in India with Bengal tigers. But it is new enough to remain controversial, and for WCS and the other organizations involved with the Alekseevka Center, the release of Amur tigers represented a tremendous risk. A few years earlier, a wild cat that had been captured and collared by WCS staff killed a fisherman outside the coastal community of Terney, in Primorsky; Miquelle, who lives in the village, told me that the incident turned the town against him and his employees. If one of the rehabilitated cubs became a so-called “conflict tiger,” Miquelle told me, “it could easily set back tiger conservation in the region a hundred years.” [Source: Matthew Shaer, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015 \*/]

"But the upsides of reintroduction were enormous: If left-for-dead orphaned cubs could be rehabilitated to the point of mating with wild tigers, they would not only provide a boost in the local population but, in the aggregate, perhaps reclaim regions that hadn’t seen healthy tiger communities in decades. Beyond that, the hope was to establish a model that scientists in other countries could perhaps one day duplicate." \*/

“ Beginning in late 2012, five new orphaned cubs were brought to the Alekseevka Center for rehabilitation: three males and two females. Last spring, they were outfitted with GPS collars and reintroduced into the wild. One of the tigers, Kuzya—known as “Putin’s tiger,” because the Russian president was said to have personally sprung the cat from his enclosure—has become famous for swimming across the Amur River into China, where, according to Chinese state media, he gobbled five chickens out of a rural henhouse. The colored lines on the Google Earth display represented the tracks of the five orphans...Two of the male cats proved to be wanderers, ranging hundreds of miles from their drop site across mountain ridges and soggy marshland. The third male and the females staked out an area and remained near it, making shorter trips within the taiga to hunt for prey." \*/

Rescuing an Injured Siberian Tiger

Matthew Shaer wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “From its origins in Russia’s remote Primorsky Province, the Krounovka River wends northeast, passing through ridges red with willow trees and barren stretches of grassland, before finally joining a larger river known as the Razdolnaya. By modern standards, the river valley is all but unpopulated, save the odd logging outpost, but in the winter months the region fills with amateur sportsmen who come to stalk the abundant sika deer and the freshwater trout. [Source: Matthew Shaer, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015 \*/]

"On a frigid afternoon in February 2012, a pair of hunters working the Krounovka were halted by an unusual sight: a 4-month-old Amur tiger cub, lying on her side in a drift of snow. A typical Amur, hearing the sound of human footsteps, will either roar in an attempt to scare off the interlopers or melt away entirely. This cat was different. Her eyes were glazed and distant, her breathing shallow. The hunters tossed a blanket over her head and carted her into a nearby town, to the home of Andrey Oryol, a local wildlife inspector. \*/

"Oryol immediately recognized the severity of the situation. The cat, who was eventually given the name Zolushka—Cinderella, in English—had clearly not eaten in days, and the tip of her tail was black with frostbite. Oryol made an enclosure for her in his wood-lined banya, or steam bath, and fed her a steady diet of meat, eggs and warm milk. After a few days, her vitals had stabilized; after two weeks, she was back up on all four paws, pacing restlessly. Heartened, Oryol reached out to Dale Miquelle, an American scientist based in Primorsky, and asked him to come at once. \*/

"“My first thought was that the mother had probably been poached, and that the poachers couldn’t find or had no use for the cubs,” Miquelle recalled recently. “Mothers are a lot more vulnerable to poaching than other tigers, because they’ll try to stand their ground—a mother doesn’t want to abandon her cubs, and she might not have time to get them together to escape. So she ends up getting shot.”

Miquelle arrived at Oryol’s house shortly after lunch, along with Sasha Rybin, a WCS colleague. Oryol showed them into the banya. Immediately, Zolushka began to snarl. Adolescent tigers, despite their relatively small stature—Zolushka was about the size of a golden retriever—are dangerous animals, with sharp claws and teeth and a frightening growl that’s almost like an adult’s. “It can really knock you back,” Miquelle told me. He used a stick to distract her while Rybin jabbed her with a dart containing Zoletil, a tranquilizer. Once she had collapsed, they lifted her out of her enclosure and placed her on a nearby table, where a pair of local veterinarians performed surgery to amputate the necrotic tip of her tail. Bandaged and sedated, Zolushka was moved to the Center for the Rehabilitation and Reintroduction of Tigers and other Rare Animals, 50 miles to the south in Alekseevka.

Wild Siberian tigers orphans are being bred with zoo tigers to enrich the gene pool. Howard Quigley, a research biologist, found four cubs left behind by a mother tiger who had been poached only weeks after she had been outfit with a radio collar. To take care of the paperwork necessary to get the cubs out of the country took six weeks. To keep them from poachers the cub's cages were protected around the clock and secured with two locks. Zoo officials in Nizhny Vovrogood threatened to set two tigers loose in the city unless local officials raised some money to feed them.

Training for Reintroducing Siberian Tigers to the Wild

Matthew Shaer wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “Zolushka was the first tiger to arrive at Alekseevka—the test case. In the early months, she was fed primarily meat, dumped into the enclosure through one of the slots in the fencing. In the summer of 2012, a pair of young scientists from Moscow, Petr Sonin and Katerina Blidchenko, traveled to Vladivostok to help inaugurate the next phase in Zolushka’s rehabilitation. Sonin and Blidchenko presented Zolushka initially with rabbits—fast, but ultimately defenseless.

"The next step was wild boar, a thickset animal with formidable tusks and the low-slung center of gravity of a tank. The boar seemed at first to confuse Zolushka. She could catch up to it easily enough, but the kill itself was harder to accomplish. A rabbit was downed with a single snap of the jaws; a boar fought back. “It was like a kid trying to figure out a puzzle,” says Miquelle, who was a periodic visitor to the center in those weeks. “She got it, but it took a little time.” Three boars in, and Zolushka was driving the animals to the ground with grace and skill. She did the same with much larger sika deer, which were pushed through a chute and into the enclosure. She was healthy, she was growing fast, and she could kill as ably as many wild tigers. [Source: Matthew Shaer, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015 \*/]

"Opened months earlier by a coalition that included the Russian Geographical Society and the government-funded group Inspection Tiger, the Alekseevka Center spilled over eight acres thick with brush and vegetation. There was sheeting on all the fences, so that captive tigers wouldn’t be able to see outside, and a series of chutes so that prey could be introduced surreptitiously, a system designed in consultation with Patrick Thomas, an expert from the Bronx Zoo. Meanwhile, a battery of cameras allowed scientists to observe the animals from a control center without disturbing them. “There were two main goals,” Miquelle recalled. “Don’t let the animal get acclimated to humans. And teach her to hunt.”

Releasing a Reintroduced Siberian Tiger to the Wild

Matthew Shaer wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “In May 2013, a little more than a year after she arrived at the Alekseevka Center, the decision was made: It was time for Zolushka to be set free. In the weeks leading up to her release, the team at the center had considered a range of options for the reintroduction site, but settled on Bastak Zapovednik, in Russia’s remote Jewish Autonomous Region, some 300 miles to the north. “The thinking was that Bastak had plenty of boar and red deer,” Miquelle told me. “But most importantly, this was an area where there were once tigers, and now there weren’t. It was an opportunity to actually recolonize tiger habitat. That’s totally unheard of.” [Source: Matthew Shaer, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015 \*/]

Removing Zolushka from the Alekseevka Center turned out to be much more difficult than getting her in. As a cub, she’d been drugged and carried through the gates; now, as an adult, she had grown comfortable with her surroundings, and at the sound of humans approaching, she’d wade toward the middle of the pen and flatten herself in the undergrowth. It would have been suicidal for the WCS staff to chase after her on foot, so Sasha Rybin, the same fieldworker who had tranquilized Zolushka a year earlier, climbed up into an observation tower and shot her with a Zoletil dart. Zoletil sedates an animal and slows its breathing without halting it altogether, and one of the uncomfortable realities of tranquilizing big predators is that their eyes remain mostly open. Zolushka, now weighing more than 200 pounds, was rolled onto a stretcher and carried to a nearby truck. \*/

"Fourteen hours later, the vehicle arrived at the release site. The door on Zolushka’s crate was lifted remotely. She sniffed around uneasily and then, her truncated tail extended, she leapt down and waded into the brush. From his home in Terney, Miquelle watched the GPS data for evidence that Zolushka had passed a vital test: her first kill in the wild. At the Alekseevka Center, her prey had been fenced in as certainly as Zolushka herself; here, it could run for miles, and tigers tire easily. Zolushka would have to be patient and cunning. Otherwise, she’d die." \*/

Set Backs and Success with a Reintroduced Siberian Tiger

Matthew Shaer wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “Five days after her release, Zolushka’s GPS signal went stationary—often an indication that a tiger has brought down prey and is feasting on the carcass. Rangers waited until Zolushka had moved on, and then trekked to the site, where they found the remains of a sizable badger. In the ensuing months Zolushka killed deer and boar; initially, she was disinclined to wander, but soon she was making regular forays far afield, at one point walking a few dozen miles north, to the adjoining province of Khabarovsk. [Source: Matthew Shaer, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015 \*/]

"Then, in August, utter calamity: Zolushka’s GPS collar malfunctioned, leaving no surefire way for scientists to track her remotely. “I was really freaked out,” Miquelle told me. “She’d survived the summer, but winter is critical. A cat has to be able to eat and stay warm.” If it can’t, it will often approach villages to search for easier pickings, like cattle or domestic dogs. Humans are put in danger, and the cat, now a “conflict tiger,” is often killed. \*/

"In September 2013, a month after Zolushka’s collar had stopped transmitting GPS data, the monitoring team was able to use the collar’s radio signal to roughly pin down her location: She was still within the reserve, somewhere near the Bastak River. Last winter, Miquelle traveled to Bastak to find out what had happened to her. Working off the radio signal data, he and a pair of Russian scientists were able to find a set of recent tracks, which met at several points with boar prints. Curiously, there was a set of larger prints, too, with distinctive digital pads: another tiger.

Camera trap images soon proved what Miquelle and others had previously dared only to hope: The second tiger was a healthy male. The male: a thickset cat who had been given the name Zavetny. Zavetny and Zolushka now seemed to be sharing a range, at one point apparently feasting together on the same kill. And on several occasions rangers have found “hump tracks”—evidence that Zavetny and Zolushka, who is now of breeding age, have mated. Whether or not they have produced cubs isn’t yet known. But Miquelle is hopeful that one day very soon, he’ll receive a photo from a camera trap showing Zolushka with a line of cubs trailing behind. It would be a milestone: the first rehabilitated tiger in history to mate and give birth in the wild. Miquelle smiled. “Wouldn’t it be amazing?” he asked. "

Putin’s Tiger Blamed for Killing Chinese Goat

In early 2014, one of three Siberian tigers released into the wild by Russia’s Vladimir Putin was blamed for killing some goats in China. Ben Quinn wrote in The Guardian, “Months after it was released in the wild by Vladimir Putin, a Siberian tiger is being fingered as the culprit behind a cross-border raid that has resulted in the deaths of a number of goats in north-east China. The big cat was one of three freed by the Russian president in one of the wild animal-themed public relations events favoured by his spin doctors. Now, however, Chinese state media have reported local authorities as claiming that the tiger, known as Ustin, has killed two goats. Three others are still reported missing, according to the official Xinhua news agency. According to a witness, the dead goats’ skulls had been crushed with puncture holes “the size of a human finger clearly visible”. [Source: Ben Quinn and agencies, The Guardian, January 25, 2014]

Ustin reportedly crossed into China in October with another of Putin’s tigers, both of which carry tracking devices. It is not the first time that the tigers have been accused of killings after crossing from Russia to China. Another of the big cats, known as Kuzya, was alleged in October to have attacked a henhouse in north-eastern China, raising concerns that farmers might hunt it down. On that occasion, the alleged victims were five chickens at a farm in Luobei county, Heilongjiang province. Xinhua did not say how Kuzya was identified as the culprit, although she had been fitted with a tracking device that had previously signalled that she was entering China.

The tiger cubs had been found starving two years earlier in the Ussuri Taiga forest near the Russia-China border, Russian media reported. They were rehabilitated, taught to hunt, and released back into the wild. The other tigers remain in Amur. Russia adopted a national strategy to protect the endangered Amur tiger in July 2010. Putin has been personally involved in the promotion of conservation efforts.

In 2008, Putin was praised by Russian media for saving a television crew from an attack by a Siberian tiger. The Russian president apparently saved the crew while on a trip to a national park to see how researchers monitor the tigers in the wild. Just as he was arriving with a group of wildlife specialists to see a trapped Amur tiger, it escaped and ran towards a nearby camera crew, the country's main television station said. Mr Putin quickly shot the beast and sedated it with a tranquilizer gun.

Chickens and Dogs Killed by Putin’s Tiger

In December 2014, Kuzya—one of the Siberian tigers—released by Putin was blamed for killing some hens and dogs in China. Ollie Gillman of the Daily Mail reported: “An endangered Siberian tiger released into the wild by Vladimir Putin has continued its killing spree, feasting on a pet dog. Kuzya was filmed devouring the hound for two hours on Heixiazi island, which sits on the Amur river between Russia and China. The beast, who has also killed a flock of chickens on its rampage across north-east China, is now believed to have returned to Russia. Kuzya, seen wearing a GPS tracking device, attacked and killed the pet dog in the early hours of December 2014, China Central Television reported. [Source: Ollie Gillman, MailOnline, December 15, 2014]

Satellite tracking showed the rare Amur cat swam across a river - evidently in search of a Chinese meal after a shortage of its staple of deer in eastern Russia. In October Kuzya, who is 21 months old, attacked a hen house in northern China, eating five chickens and infuriating farmers. Animal remains were found near the tiger's tracks, and feathers and blood near a smashed hen house. The big cat was spotted again in Taipinggou nature reserve in Heilongjiang province and some 60 cameras have been set up in a bid to track him.

The Russians alerted Beijing through diplomatic channels amid fears angry farmers might shoot the tiger. Chen Zhigang, the nature reserve director, said a Russian expert had informed him of Kuzya's location and had 'expressed hope that we can protect it'. Last month another of the tigers, Ustin, followed Kuzya into China, killing two goats, with another three going missing. The dead goats' skulls had been crushed with puncture holes 'the size of a human finger clearly visible', a witness said.

Despite the attacks, the foreign ministry in Beijing pledged that Putin's tiger would be protected, citing an existing agreement on cross-border protection of Siberian tigers. 'We will make joint efforts with the Russian side to protect wild Siberian tigers which travel back and forth between China and Russia,' spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement.

Earlier Russian ecologists expressed fears for the animal in China. Vasiliy Gorobeiko, deputy head of natural resources management in the Jewish Automomous Oblast republic in eastern Russia - where the tiger was roaming before he crossed the border - said China was more populated and he could be shot for worrying farm animals. 'Certainly, China will be informed about President Putin's tiger via Foreign Affairs ministry channels but time is needed for this information to reach local ecologists, and before then the tiger may well alarm the local villagers and may even suffer,' he said at the time. 'Kuzya knows how to avoid people and did so well in Russia but in that agricultural area of China, it will be hard for him.'

How to Help Siberian Tigers

Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: "In a word, the tiger issue is not that simple. From the very start, the Far East has been settled by hunters whose heritage is based in the use of wildlife. It is in our “blood,” in our genes. And as for the native peoples, hunting is not merely a tradition; it is a way of life. "Historically, our people, trying to feed themselves, have ventured into the forest, treating it as if it belonged simultaneously to everyone and to no one. Out there, the only rule that applies is one’s own conscience. The idea of the commons has been corrupted for us and that is why there are so many problems. So we had better try to solve them together.[Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]

"We need to take a look around and realize that the wildlife manager, the scientist, the hunting inspector are not enemies. They aren’t going to go without work; the less wildlife there is in the forest, the more work there is going to be for them. They’ll have to breed, distribute, prohibit, close down and protect large territories. But even if they are successful in their efforts, our generation is not going to enjoy the benefits; the gains will be for future generations. Restoring what has been destroyed is a lengthy and involved process.~~

"Our story on census work will hopefully inspire people living in the forest to take a more active role in tiger protection. We hope they will improve their understanding of the issues and will take the responsibility to make an impact on problems. As you must already understand by now, saving the tiger is not just to benefit the tiger alone. Large predators are always the first to react to a deteriorating environment, and the tiger’s predicament merely mirrors that of its environment. If we can provide for the tiger’s survival, that means we have successfully resolved the challenge of overall biodiversity conservation in the Ussuriiskii taiga and that we have moved closer to protecting at least one oasis of life for the indefinite future.~~

"We hope that for many decades to come, tourists will continue to stand in awe and admiration as they gaze at a fresh tiger print left in the wilds of the Ussuriiskii taiga by this most ancient of animals. These people will remember us and will be grateful for the few brave souls who took the time and made the effort to save this miracle of nature. For some reason the tourists seem to be a long time getting here; when is all this going to happen? Yeah, in Russia, the first try is always a flop. There was a rush of tourists at the beginning of the 1990s, and then it stopped. At the first sight of “green backs,” people rushed to saddle this “eco-tourism” horse. Half-drunk guides, barely able to speak Russian (to say nothing of the languages of their clients), dirty huts with mice turds on the table, bed bugs and tics. And instead of the specialists and sensible, quality information, what the tourist got was a lot of beating around the bush, huge quantities of vodka and unfamiliar food of dubious quality, high costs and unreliable transportation.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2016

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