(Amur Tiger) A Cinderella Story - Field Update 02/14/2014
The WCS Russia team is often called upon by the Russian authorities in helping to resolve conflicts between tigers and people. In some cases, we end up "saving" tigers from immediate death through capture and relocation, but we are often forced to deal with situations that are more "humanitarian" - rescuing tigers that will never make it back into the wild. Other times, we are releasing tigers back into the wild that may have little impact on the demographics of the local population, so again these actions are also largely humanitarian. There is some merit in such actions by propagating a sense of value for even wounded tigers to government authorities and local people, but such actions often have little conservation impact.
In winter 2012 we were asked to assist in what appeared to be a purely humanitarian rescue of a starving cub, apparently abandoned by her mother or perhaps a mother lost to a poacher. However, through an intensive program of rehab and management, Zolushka (which in Russian translates into "Cinderella") was released as a 20-month old into a part of Russia that lost its tigers some 40 years ago. In this case, we have the beginnings of what may be a real "Cinderella story" and a conservation success story - recovery of a young female, and through her, recovery of tiger habitat. In January 2014 (after the timeframe for the attached report) we also found tracks of a single male (who has apparently dispersed from the main Sikhote-Alin population) following the tracks of this rehabilitated tigress Zolushka. Thus, we may perhaps have the nucleus for re-colonizing tigers in their former range within Russia. More rehab tigers may follow Zolushka. How this all plays out is yet to be seen, but it is an example of how having the techniques for successful rehabilitation on hand, combined with the right timing politically, could result in a net gain of tiger habitat in the Russian Far East, and thus, one of the few examples of reclaiming lost tiger habitat in Asia.
Wildlife Conservation Society Russia Program
Khunta Mi Initiative
The Khunta Mi Initiative is an effort, in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society, to encourage greater commitment from the worldwide hunting community for conservation of the Siberian tiger. Approximately 330-370 adult Siberian or Amur tigers are left in the wild, all residing in the Russian Far East. Since 1992, the WCS Hornocker Wildlife Institute has conducted intensive studies of tiger ecology and initiated a series of conservation initiatives to save this big cat. Primary threats to tiger survival are habitat loss from intensive logging and development, poaching and depletion of prey from illegal hunting. In the Russian Far East, less than 20% of the habitat needed for the survival of the Siberian tiger is protected. All other tiger habitat exists as multiple use lands, where hunting is allowed. Therefore, tigers and hunters must find a way to live side by side.
Under the Soviet regime, natural resource management decisions were centralized in Moscow, eliminating local communities and hunters from management processes and decision-making. In 1995, new legislation provided opportunities for local people to create non-governmental ‘societies’ that could in turn obtain rights to manage hunting lands. This new arrangement does not provide land ownership, but it privatizes the right to use and manage game species on the leased territories. These revolutionary changes ushered in a new era of wildlife management in Russia. For the first time ever, local people were provided with the responsibility to manage wildlife. Rather than poach or take as much as possible from the once state-owned properties, people now had a reason to properly manage resources that were theirs, upon which they depended for recreation, income and food.
Now hunters and hunting societies are responsible for managing game species (including the deer and wild boar that tigers depend on) on over 80% of tiger habitat. With more than 40,000 registered hunters in tiger habitat, hunters form a primary stakeholder group that holds the fate of tigers in their hands. However, without adequate training, and with inadequate means to generate revenue, they lack the capacity to effectively cope with these new responsibilities.
WCS is committed to demonstrating that tiger conservation can go hand-in-hand with preservation of the rich hunting tradition in the Russian Far East. Both tigers and hunters have a common interest – high densities of red deer, roe deer, sika deer and wild boar. By helping local hunting societies better manage their resources we will be helping both tigers and hunters.
Since 1996, WCS has been working with hunting leases and hunters across the region to support newly established hunting leases; increase capacity for self-management and financial independence; increase wildlife populations (specifically ungulate populations) through effective hunting management on hunting leases; create well-controlled use of renewable wildlife resources; and disseminate information to the local hunters to improve and enhance their understanding of tigers.