Give these great cats a chance to recover by supporting our efforts to protect them from further habitat loss and poaching.
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North of Ternei, in the province of Primorye where I conduct most of my research, there are no hotels and no restaurants. There are barely even people. There are only a half-dozen small settlements, logging towns or subsistence villages that are remote islands of humanity scattered broadly across a rolling sea of mountain and forest. When I travel to this wilderness it’s usually in a huge truck that doubles as a cabin, a hulking diesel we pack tightly with food and other supplies and assume it’s enough to sustain us. Read more here.
I feel a kinship with Vladimir Arsenyev, the Russian topographer who explored Primorye a hundred years ago. We both know the secret places of these forests: the rivers where salmon spawn and the rocky outcroppings where tigers den. Arsenyev left an indelible mark not just on me, but on people across the province, with an entire city, a river, several museums, and multiple streets named after him today. Jonathan C. Slaght’s translation of Vladimir Arsenyev’s 1921 book Across the Ussuri Kray (Indiana University Press, 2016) is an unabridged, uncensored, detailed account of Arsenyev’s 1902 and 1906 expeditions. Augmented by several hundred annotations, two maps, and nearly forty photographs, it is available August 29, 2016, at Amazon,Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, and elsewhere.. Read more here.
New photographs just released from Bastak Reserve in the Russian Far East confirm that a feline Cinderella story continues to unfold. Brought into captivity as a nearly starved, 3-month old cub, the tigress that became known as Zolushka (Russian for Cinderella) flourished in a rehabilitation center designed to prepare her for life back in the wild. Without a mother (probably lost to poachers) Zolushka learned how to kill natural wild prey presented to her in the rehabilitation center, where she was kept far from people to preserve her innate fear of humans. Read more here.
The temperate rainforests of Primorye become dense and green in summer, a vastness lost on those within it. Visibility can drop to almost zero along shrub-crowded game trails, where dew-drenched grasses cling like needy toddlers and spider webs tangle in the unshaven faces of those pushing through. Animals, resting nearby in the daytime heat, crash away unseen, and a discordant symphony of birdsong pulses from the canopy. Everything is immediate and aromatic; a box packed tight with vegetation, dirt, sweat, and humidity.Not the kind of box you want to be in with a tiger. Read more here.
In autumn 2012, hunters found a young osprey wandering the forest of coastal Primorye. Whereas most of these fish-eating raptors had long flown south for the winter this one walked, dragging its broken wing behind it through the fallen leaves. The hunters chased the bird down, put it in a cardboard box, and brought it to Sergei, a colleague of mine they knew worked for a bird conservation NGO. By the time the raptor reached him, however, the broken wing had fused. The osprey would never fly again. Read more here.
Why do tigers always seem to turn up when I’m looking for owls? My Russian colleagues and I spent about a month surveying for Blakiston’s fish owls in the Sikhote-Alin Reserve this winter, but mostly what we found was snow, cold, and tiger tracks. In fact, if we had been searching for tigers instead of fish owls, our expedition would have been a resounding success. Read more here.
One of my favorite Russian sayings, roughly translated, is that the better your off-road vehicle, the further you’ll have to walk to find a tractor to pull you free when you get stuck. I consider this phrase regularly during each Blakiston’s fish owl winter field season. We purposefully seek out the hard-to-reach places; the quiet corners of Primorye these secretive owls might be found. We cross narrow mountain passes, struggle through gauntlets of willow along overgrown forest roads, and gun it across rivers of uncertain ice integrity. Read more here.
National Geographic video channel recently announced a new documentary on Amur tiger conservation issues made by Emmanuel Rondeau. We decided to accompany this with a short introduction by Dale Miquelle director of WCS Russia about his acquaintance with Emmanuel. We offer you to watch this short video and also find excerpts from an interview of Emmanuel taken by Rachel Link from National Geographic. Read more here.
A training seminar titled "Using camera traps for monitoring and research of wildlife populations" took place over January 25-30 2016 in the Sikhote-Alin Reserve and at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s research center in Ternei. The seminar was attended by over 30 participants from different Nature Reserves, National Parks and Scientific Institutes from all over the Russia. Its goal was to provide background information for those wildlife practitioners who recently started using camera traps, for those who would like to start using them, and for those who already have some experience but would like more information on how to analyze and manage data they obtained. Read more here.
Orphaned tiger cub, rehabilitated and released into the wilds of the Russian Far East, has cubs. WCS and partners report the news from Bastak Reserve, a 162 square mile (420 km2) protected area in the Pri-Amur region of the Russian Far East, where a tiger cub who lost her mother and nearly died, became a “Cinderella” and is now a mother. Anxious waiting by biologists in the area was rewarded on December 9, 2015, when Ivan Podkolnokov, the reserve inspector responsible for monitoring Zolushka – Russian for Cinderella – returned from the field with historic photos: Zolushka standing under a huge Korean pine tree, with two small cubs huddled underneath her. Read more here.
Breakthrough for safeguarding wildlife and natural resources in the southern Russian Far East. Ternei County in the Russian Province of Primorye represents some of the best Amur tiger habitat in the world, with dense forests of oak and pine teeming with deer, boar, and other tiger prey species. Except for protected areas (where the ban on logging has always been strictly enforced), the region has been targeted by logging companies over the last thirty years, with the development of a dense network of logging roads to access and remove timber. Read more here
We recently collected images from camera traps placed in Bastak Nature Reserve in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, and were thrilled to see our old friend Zolushka (“Cinderella” in Russian). As was mentioned in previous updates, Zolushka was rescued as an orphaned cub in Primorye two years ago, and was released back into the wild in Bastak after a year-long rehabilitation period. Our colleagues and Bastak staff work monitor camera traps regularly—this involves installation and periodic checks to replace batteries and download photographs. This frequent monitoring allows us to receive important and timely data on the status of different animals in the reserve—first and foremost the young tigress Zolushka. She looks healthy and well-fed, meaning that she survived the most difficult season of the year for animals—winter. Read more here
Our program to study and develop management recommendations for musk deer began in 2010 as a joint effort with the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve (where the study is based) the Pacific Institute of Geography, the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution.
Our study area is focused in the northeastern portion of Sikhote-Alin Reserve. Data on musk deer ecology are collected using a variety of methods, including radio tracking, snow tracking, and camera trapping. Six animals have been tagged with collars and monitored daily since 2010; at present we are monitoring three individuals. Radio tracking allows us to understand home range sizes required by musk deer, habitat requirements, daily travel distances, behavior, food habits, and daily activity patterns. Read more here
The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Russia Program and the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik (SABZ) have jointly surveyed Amur tigers on SABZ territory using camera traps since 2006. On a recent routine camera trap check, it was discovered that one of the resident females, Varvara, has a new neighbor. This previously-unseen female was first photographed in November 2013. The territory she settled was once occupied by Varvara, as two years ago the tiger population in the reserve crashed and Varvara suddenly had an 800 km2 territory all to herself (which is approximately twice the normal home range size for a female Amur tiger). When Varvara gave birth to cubs (in 2012), her movements became more restricted as it likely proved impossible to patrol such a large territory and care for her young at the same time. Her prolonged absence apparently did not pass without notice, and hence the appearance of this new tigress. Read more
WCS Russia staff captured an incapacitated Amur tiger in the Amur region of the Russian Far East, but what ails the tiger is still a mystery. Sunday evening WCS staff members Nikolai and Alexander Rybin assisted in immobilizing the cat a second time to obtain x-rays and samples needed to determine whether diseases are affecting the tiger.
Although 300-400 tigers live in Khabarovskii and Primorskii Provinces of the Russian Far East, tigers disappeared from the more western Amur Province more than 30 years ago. Yet WCS received the unusual request to assist the Russian government agency Inspection Tiger to track down and capture a wounded tiger reported in the region. WCS has the only specialists in the Russian Far East trained in the capture and immobilization of the big cats. Read more
In mid-November 2013, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s office in Vladivostok received a request from the Ministry of Natural Resources of Khabarovskii Province to assist in capturing a conflict tiger in the village of Sukpai. This tiger had been preying upon village dogs for weeks, and the locals there were too frightened to go outdoors at night. News of this tigers exploits were a regular feature on the local news in Khabarovskii Krai, raising concerns amongst many local people even beyond Sukpai.
The Rybin brothers, Aleksandr and Nikolai, are WCS’s capture specialists. They have extensive experience in the capture and immobilization of large predators (tigers, leopards, bears, etc.), and have assisted provincial and federal authorities in human-tiger conflict situations for years. They quickly collected the necessary equipment and headed to Khabarovsk. Read more here.
In early September 2012, cubs were born to Varvara, one of the tigresses living in the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve (SABR). We knew this because Varvara had been tracked using a GPS collar since October 2011 under a joint monitoring program conducted by SABR and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Based on her GPS locations, it was clear that Varvara confined her cubs to a small area in a remote corner of the reserve during the first two months following birth. Only when the cubs became stronger and began tasting meat did she begin taking them with her, and leading them to the ungulates she had killed. In early December, after the first snowfall, researchers were able to look at their tracks in the snow and determined that Varvara had three cubs. And every once in a while, male tracks were found near those of Varvara and the cubs. These belonged to Murzik, which meant he was the father. Read more here.
Vladivostok — September 25, 2013 — In late August, the WCS Russia Tiger Conflict Team worked with a variety of partners to translocate two orphaned tiger cubs to a rehabilitation facility. The resulting events included a cameo by Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin himself. Read more here.
NEW YORK (September 23, 2013) — A camera trap set out for Amur tigers in the Russian Far East photographed something far more rare: a golden eagle capturing a young sika deer.
New York, N.Y. — August 15, 2013 — A study spearheaded by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Minnesota has shown that the world's largest owl – and one of the rarest – is also a key indicator of the health of some of the last great primary forests of Russia's Far East.
NEW YORK (August 14, 2013) – The first-ever published study to genetically characterize canine distemper virus (CDV) in tigers confirms that CDV acts as both a direct and indirect cause of death in the endangered big cats in the Russian Far East (RFE). The study was conducted by health experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo (WCS), the Primorskaya State Agricultural Academy, Sikhote-Alin Reserve in Russia,Ussurisk Department of Health Services and Terney County Veterinary Services in Russia, and the Albert Einstein College (AEC) of Medicine of Yeshiva University.
Over the course of the investigation, scientists from WCS and the Russian veterinary institutions performed a series of tests on tissues from five adult tigers that died or were euthanized in 2001, 2004, and 2010after exhibiting abnormal neurologic signs. Microscopic examination using routine and special immunologic staining of brain tissue (available from two of the tigers) were highly suggestive of CDV infection. PCR, a highly sensitive and specific test, was used to genetically confirm that CDV was the cause of disease and death in these two tigers and had infected a third. It was also noted that during the study, three tiger cubs died as a result of abandonment by their CDV-infected mother.
The study, Canine Distemper Virus: An emerging disease in wild endangered Amur tigers, appears online in the current edition of mBIO (http://bit.ly/mbiotip0813b).
These programs track the process of saving a litter of three Siberian tiger cubs in late November and early December 2012 after their mother was apparently poached. The film also features some of the first (and best!) video footage of tigers in Ussuriskii and Sikhote-Alinskii Zapovedniks (two of the most important tiger reserves in Russia), with some striking images of a young tigress in WCS’s long-term study area (who repeatedly visited a site where camera traps were positioned).
For a preview of the documentary click here.
These films do a nice job portraying the difficulties of trying to save tigers in the inhospitable environment of the Russian Far East, and demonstrates how much has been accomplished by WCS in our efforts to secure a future for tigers in Russia.
If you would like to support our efforts specifically to save the Siberian tiger, send us a note here and we will provide details.
A tiger captured on February 28th died 5 days later, suffering from peritonitis and impaction of the stomach. The animal, apparently in bad condition, consumed the hide of a wild boar (possibly remains from a hunter kill) and impaction of the hair in the stomach prevented normal digestive processes, leading to peritonitis and eventually death.
Last fall, in the frigid, snowy forests of the Russian Far East, three wild tiger cubs lost their most important ally: their mother. For us, the story began on Nov. 29 with a phone call to me at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) office in Vladivostok from Vladimir Vasiliev, the head of the regional wildlife department, Okhotnazor. He requested our assistance in capturing the four-month-old cubs, which had created a stir near a small village by attempting to make a meal out of a farmer’s dog.
Health experts from Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo, Primorskaya State Agricultural Academy, and Moscow Zoo uncover how distemper may be affecting Siberian (Amur) tigers.
On June 8-10th a three-day training workshop on the MIST program took place at Sikhote-Alin State Nature Biosphere Reserve in Primorsky Krai (Russian Far East), to train inspectors in the use of the latest techniques in wildlife protection. The training forms part of a collaboration between four State Nature Reserves/National Parks containing important tiger habitat - Lazovsky, Kedrovaya Pad, Sikhote-Alin and Zov Tigra - the WCS, USAID, Phoenix Fund and Zoological Society of London. The goal of this collaboration is to build capacity with protected area officials to combat poaching of the Amur tiger and to restore their populations. Read the full version of press release here.
The use of digital Panthera camera traps, new to us this year, has opened new possibilities for our work studying tigers and leopards in SW Primorye. Since using these new cameras we have documented tiger and leopard cubs, and recorded the continued survival of a known leopard. Furthermore, with sensitive motion detectors and fast camera speeds we have fantastic photos of a variety of fast-moving animals rarely captured before; such as the Siberian weasel, Far-Eastern wildcat, Manchurian hare and an array of bird species.
On a cold but bright and sunny day on 28th of January, tracks left in the snow by a female leopard lead us to the bottom of a steep slope and a clump of deer hair. We looked above us and saw a drag-line up the slope, the leopard had evidently pulled the deer kill up the rock-face. As we ungracefully scrambled up the snow-covered slope, grappling hold every tree to pull ourselves up, we admired the strength of the leopard required to pull a dead weight of at least 45 kg. After twenty metres we came to a rocky outcrop secluded by a fallen tree, an ideal spot for the leopard to hide the kill from scavengers.
With only 25-30 Far Eastern leopards left in the wild, it is a rare treat to capture two leopards in one photo (see left). As our automated camera traps use 35mm film, the quality of this photo is far from perfect, but it looks like a mother and her one-year old cub. If so, this is proof that the Far Eastern leopard population is reproducing in our study area. Evidence from our eight-year camera trapping survey in the region, moreover, demonstrates that the leopard population in our study area remains stable.
With a new radio-collar and a new litter of cubs, eight-year-old tigress Galia has been keeping very busy this spring, to the delight of WCS researchers and staff. With Galia's radio-collar batteries fading, in March Siberian Tiger Project specialists set out by helicopter to provide her a new collar. Under observation since 2002, Galia is one of WCS's longest-studied tigers, and as such she is not only a source of a wealth of important information needed for tiger conservation, but is also very dear to our hearts. And just two weeks ago, Galia gave us another reason to hope for the future of tigers -- she gave birth to three cubs, her first new litter in nearly four years.
A new tiger report card released by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reveals how the iconic big cats are faring in eight key landscapes spanning nine Asian countries. “In this Year of the Tiger, the best way we can celebrate these iconic big cats is by giving them a future,” said WCS President and CEO Steven E. Sanderson. Download the full Tiger Report Card to learn more about how you can support WCS efforts to conserve tigers in Russia.
There probably isn’t a single person in Southern Primorye who hasn’t felt some degree of discomfort due to the great volume of snow that fell this winter. The nuisances brought about by the December snowfall in Vladivostok are still fresh in people’s memories. We all wished for city administration to somehow improve our level of comfort, and no one wanted to leave their house unless absolutely necessary, as going outside was not only uncomfortable, but also very dangerous. With that in mind, imagine what it must be like in the forest, where there are no snowplows and no clean up crew. How must it feel for the forest dwellers?
In the course of our ongoing scientific research, on November 7, 2009 we have captured two 1.5-year old tiger sub-adults at the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve, whom we named Anya and Valera- a brother and sister. Anya received a GPS collar, while her brother was fitted with a regular radiocollar.
The wild population of tigers, estimated at 100,000 tigers around 1900, has declined to as few as 3,000 individuals today, with four of the eight originally designated tiger subspecies having become extinct in the wild. While numbers plummeted almost everywhere else in the vast range of tigers in Asia, the Russian population showed a remarkable opposite trend. At the start of the 1940’s the Amur tiger had been almost hunted to extinction in Russia with as few as 30 animals remaining. At this critical juncture the situation changed for the better when in 1947 Russia became the first country in the world to ban hunting of tigers. Hunting of the main prey species – ungulates – became restricted by an annual quota system. As a result of effective law enforcement, poaching of tigers became relatively rare and the Amur tiger made a remarkable recovery. In 2005 a full-range survey in Russia showed that the population had recovered to between 428 and 502 individuals (up from 415 to 476 in the previous 1996 count). Moreover, approximately 95% of the Amur tigers are part of one contiguous population, probably the largest in the world.
The Siberian Tiger Monitoring Program has released results indicating that Siberian tiger numbers are falling in the Russian Far East, primarily due to poaching and habitat degradation. The results can hopefully be used to improve conditions for tigers in Russia. Official estimates of Siberian tiger numbers in Russia come from full range surveys conducted only once every 10 years. The last such survey, conducted in 2005, revealed that 428-502 tigers resided in Russia. Yearly monitoring program was designed to act as an “early warning device” in case changes in the status of tigers occurred between full range surveys. In 2009, only 56 adult tigers were counted on 16 “early warning” survey units (in contrast to 115 tigers counted in 2005 at the same spots), representing a 40% decrease from the 12-year average.
For the first time ever, tiger numbers in the Russian Far East were estimated using remote cameras set in the forest to “capture” tigers automatically on film. Because the stripes of each tiger are unique, it is possible to differentiate and count tigers based on photographic evidence. Camera-trapping studies conducted in Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik (SABZ) from 2006 to 2008 provided the basis for providing the most statistically robust estimates of tiger densities ever derived for the Amur tiger.
We often hear the statistics of how many tigers are lost to poachers each year. But what the statistics don’t tell us is the story behind each event, the life that each tiger lived up to that tragic moment when a poacher ended its life. Nor do we hear of the impact of that loss on those people who live close to and care most about these magnificent animals. In 2001, Svetlana Soutyrina came to the village of Terney (base for the Siberian Tiger Project) from Siberia, and was instantly captivated by the region and its tigers. Over that past 8 years, she has worked for the WCS Siberian Tiger Project, and dedicated her life to the tigers she studies each day. Below is her personal account of the life and death of one such animal.
This past winter the village of Terney made international news as the “epicenter” of record snowfalls. Nearly 2 meters of snow fell in a span of three days, paralyzing and isolating Terney and nearby villages for days and weeks. Not surprisingly, the deep snows were catastrophic for many wildlife species as well. Our long-term research project on tigers – The Siberian Tiger Project - is supposed to go on, rain, snow, or shine. But as you can imagine, when serious weather hits, just surviving can be difficult, and conducting research can be nearly impossible. This spring, another epic weather phenomenon visited Terney. Below, Dale Miquelle, Director of the WCS Russia Program, describes his three days during record rainfalls in the village of Terney.
From May 25th through 31st, 2009, Chinese and international specialists gathered in Changchun City (capital of Jilin Province) to plan for a future in northern China that includes tigers. Such a meeting would have seemed absurd 150 years ago, when Siberian tigers were abundant and considered a pest in the forests of northern China – what was then known as Manchuria. (Click on article title to read more.)
The body of a Far Eastern leopard was found on the territory of the Nezhinskoye Hunting Lease in Southwestern Primorsky Krai on February 15. A necropsy was performed on the leopard, a female pregnant with one cub, but results pertaining to cause of death were inconclusive. WCS is working with partners to help ensure needed samples are taken in order to further analyze the situation.
On the night of January 27, specialists from Primorsky Krai's Wildlife Management Department and the Wildlife Conservation Society responded to a call about an abandoned tiger cub found near a village in southern Primorsky Krai. Dogs had chased the cub into a small space between two heating pipes. The cub was brought to a rehabilitation center in the city of Ussuriisk, where the next day WCS staff immobilized the animal and conducted a medical exam. The tiger turned out to be a female, 3-4 months of age.
In early January nearly 2 meters of snow fell in parts of northern Primorsky Krai, posing a significant risk to ungulates, which have difficulty finding food and moving about in such conditions, and also become easy targets for poachers. In order to help relieve the situation, WCS and the Russia Program of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are providing small, emergency grants to wildlife management organizations and nature reserves in northern Primorye, allowing them to undertake activities to help ungulates survive the winter.
Siberian Tiger Project specialists Nikolai Rybin and Ivan Seryodkin joined specialists from the Primorsky Krai Wildlife Management Department to help resolve the winter season’s first tiger-human conflict situation, involving a tigress killing dogs in a small village in western Primorye.
On Saturday, October 18, scientists working in southwestern Primorsky Krai, Russia under a joint project of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Institute of Biology and Soils (IBS), Russian Academy of Sciences Far Eastern Branch captured an adult female Far Eastern (Amur) leopard. The Far Eastern leopard, Panthera pardus orientalis, is perhaps the world’s most endangered big cat, with an estimated 25-40 individuals inhabiting a narrow strip of land along the Russian-Chinese border in the far southeastern corner of the Russian Federation.
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Just over a year after its opening, WCS’s Sikhote-AlinResearchCenter is already attracting young wildlife biologists from throughout Russia and from abroad. Currently 6 graduate students (5 Russian, 1 Canadian) are living at the Center, conducting research and participating in Siberian Tiger Project field activities.
On June 17th WCS staff wrapped up the Siberian Tiger Project’s 16th annual spring capture season, having radio-collared two young male Amur tigers, the cubs of seven-year-old radio-collared tigress Galya. Although the cubs “Ivan” and “Misha” were nearly two years old and larger than their mother, they had not yet begun dispersing from their natal home range when captured in May along the coast of the Sea of Japan
Late winter-early spring 2008 represented the sixth consecutive year in which WCS and the Institute of Biology and Soils, RussianAcademy of Sciences conducted camera trapping surveys to monitor Far Eastern leopards at the northern end of their range in Russia, in some of the best remaining leopard habitat. Eight different leopards, including 3 males, 2 females, one cub, and 2 unidentified individuals, were photographed using camera traps between late February and early May.
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