This news update finds us in improving weather conditions, deteriorating road conditions, and the heart of our camera-trapping effort.
In early March we started deploying cameras as part of our long term camera-trapping research, led by Alexander Rybin. We currently visit the cameras every couple of weeks to monitor the battery strength and replace film. So far this season we have photographed both tigers and leopards in our camera traps. We will continue this work into May, and we hope to document new leopards and tigers as well as identify individuals already photographed in years past.
While checking the camera sites across our study area, we have continued to closely monitor our four research animals (all Far Eastern leopards). During this winter we have documented leopard Ivan using the northern extent of his range more often than during the previous 2 years. Our second male leopard, Alexey, has been traveling further east than we have ever noted in the past. We will continue to monitor these animals to determine if they are shifting their home ranges. Our efforts this winter have shown us that both of our research female leopards have spent time in close proximity to males in our study area. We are all very hopeful that one of our research animals will successfully reproduce this spring.
Our snow tracking efforts have led us to many interesting kill sites recently. We have documented several kills of small prey, something we assumed happens more often than researchers have been able to document in the past. In the past several months we have located a raccoon dog, yellow throated marten, several hares, as well as many sika deer, all killed by leopards. We also located a red fox kill but we were unable to determine the predator. These findings continue to add to our evidence of leopards filling the role of a mid-level predator.
We have also been monitoring the tiger population in our study area, and have had some exciting days. This winter we spent several days snow-tracking a female tiger with two cubs, and one day we came upon very fresh tracks of a successful sika deer hunt. We also tracked a large male tiger for several days after he left a wild boar kill. Finding fresh sign of tigers in our study area always energizes the crew, and we will continue to gather as much data on tigers as we can.
As the weather continues to improve over the next several weeks, we will shift gears from our winter research into our spring phase. This involves continuing to track animals and visiting the camera sites. We are very hopeful to get approval for another capture season this spring, which will allow us to conduct biomedical examinations of individuals in the tiny leopard and tiger populations in SW Primorsky Krai, and help determine the risks posed to these populations by inbreeding and disease. Hopefully with the next news update we will have reports of new adult research animals, as well as two new litters of leopard kittens!
-Clay Miller, Far Eastern Leopard Project, WCS Russia