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 inconvenience of Vladivostok's first big snowfall is still fresh in people’s minds. We all wished for the city administration to somehow improve our level of comfort, and no one wanted to leave home unless absolutely necessary, as going outside was not only uncomfortable, but also 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?
The field team of WCS's Far Eastern Leopard Project has witnessed tragic scenes this winter: sika deer, who are very poor runners due to their physiology, become extremely worn out in deep snow, and are unable to run from people. While in December the deer were still well-fed and energetic enough to avoid humans, by March, after spending enormous amounts of energy finding food in the deep snow, the worn-out animals quickly abandoned their attempts to hide, thus becoming easy prey for poachers.
However, poachers are only half the problem. Many sika deer also die from starvation and exhaustion. During the last month of fieldwork, we have discovered large numbers of deer carcasses. In just one day, on an 8 kilometer track, we found 13 dead animals, all of them emaciated. It’s frightening to think of how many more animals have died from starvation on the entire territory that we study.
We’d like to believe that this sad situation will not substantially undermine the population of sika deer, which is an important prey species for both the Far Eastern leopard, which lives only ialong the Russian-Chinese border in Southwest Primorye, and a small population of Amur tigers living in this same region. We hope that a warm and sunny spring will soon come into its own, and significantly ease the burden on forest animals.