Since 2002 WCS has been using camera trap monitoring in an attempt to understand the dynamics of the world’s last remaining Far Eastern leopards, which are hanging on only in Southwest Primorye, a sliver of land on the Russian-Chinese border. Just as interesting as what is happening to the leopard population in this region, however, is another question – What is going on with tigers??
Experts estimate that an isolated group of 10-13 tigers co-habits Southwest Primorye together with leopards. Over the last few years, the tiger population in WCS’s camera trapping study area appears to have remained stable, with the number of resident adult females perhaps even increasing. And as this photo of three cubs just taken in February 2011 confirms, tiger reproduction in the area appears to be going strong.
The mother of these cubs has long been known to WCS scientists, falling regularly into camera traps starting in 2003, and during much of this time (2003-2007) representing the only resident adult female tiger photographed in our study area. What is it like for her to raise a litter today – will she be able to ensure all three of her cubs survive to adulthood? And if they do, where will they settle down? Could they cross the border and survive in Northeast China, an area with sufficient habitat but low prey numbers due to ungulate poaching? Might they cross the nearly insurmountable barrier of roads, railways, and agricultural lands to move east into the Sikhote-Alin Mountains, where the vast majority of Amur tigers now remain? Or will there be enough room for them to take up residency in Southwest Primorye along with their mother? Finally, what changes will these three little ones witness in their adult years, as human population and development pressures continue to rise?
Through research and conservation programs ranging from tiger and leopard population monitoring in Russia to removal of snares set for ungulates in China, WCS is working to shed light on these questions and to ensure a future for tigers and leopards in this transboundary region. Southwest Primorye is, after all, the most developed region in the Russian Far East, and Northeast China is even more heavily settled by people. But despite these challenges, thus far people and large cats have found a way to co-exist on the Russian side of the border. The prospect of preserving that co-existence into the future is indeed an inspiring one, and a rare opportunity. Almost, perhaps, as rare and inspiring as three tiger cubs posing in one camera trap photo.
- Cheryl Hojnowski from the Far Eastern Leopard Project