Countering Poaching of Amur Tigers

 

Patrol teams operating in protected areas use various transport means, including all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, four-wheel drive vehicles, boats and motorbikes. Analysis of patrol monitoring data show that foot patrols are most effective in detecting and apprehending poachers, but trespassing tourists are most often found during vehicle patrols. 


A "SMART Approach” for improving protection of Amur tigers and leopards in protected areas in Russia 

The most immediate threats to tigers and leopards in Russia, as elsewhere in Asia, are direct poaching, prey depletion (another form of poaching), or a combination of the two. Consequently, eliminating or reducing poaching pressure has become a top priority for securing a future for tigers and leopards in the wild.

Probably the most successful method to aid anti-poaching efforts, known as the "SMART Approach," combines monitoring patrols of rangers and an adaptive management cycle to improve efforts and results of these patrols. WCS is a member of the SMART Partnership of international conservation organizations that developed the SMART software program for storage, analysis and reporting of ranger-collected data on illegal activities, wildlife and patrol routes. The partnership has been very successful in promoting and supporting application of SMART worldwide. According to the partnership’s 2016 annual report, 350 terrestrial and marine conservation sites in 46 countries have implemented SMART-based patrol management to protect wildlife that suffers from poaching (e.g., tigers, elephants and rhinos) and their habitat. 

WCS Russia was an “early adaptor” of SMART (and its earlier iteration called MIST), when we first designed a system for patrol monitoring and management in Amur tiger habitat in the Russian Far East as early as 2007. Our first field tests were conducted by a law enforcement team in 2008 and 2009. Before the start of our program, SMART had not yet been tried in Russia.  

The long-term goal of our SMART-based program (illustrated here
) is to increase tiger, leopard, and prey populations in the Russian Far East.  

To meet this goal, we have worked since 2010 with the management of seven protected areas in the Russian Far East and together introduced the SMART Approach in order to improve effort and effectiveness of anti-poaching patrols. Our focus has specifically been on protected areas as they represent core breeding habitat; safe places where tigers can live and breed, and young can disperse to settle suitable habitat outside of protected areas.

When we began rolling out the program in 2010, we initially focused on two protected areas: Land of the Leopard National Park and Lazovskii Zapovednik. By 2017, given our demonstrated successes and subsequent invitations to new locations, we are now collaborating with seven protected areas in Russia that sustain tigers (in addition to the above, Zov Tigra National Park, Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve, Ussuriiskii Zapovednik, Annuiiskii National Park and Bikin National Park). Our newest site is the Bikin National Park where we started working in May 2017. This park, just created in November 2015, is the largest protected area with tigers anywhere in the world. With its size of 11,605 km2 (4,481 square miles) it is almost three times larger than the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve, now our second largest program site.

What is the "SMART Approach" for improving patrol management?

The "SMART Approach" is based on the use of patrol monitoring data in an adaptive patrol management process that is aimed at continuously improving patrol quality. The patrol monitoring uses GIS technology (Geographic Information System), which means that all data collected during patrols are linked spatially and can be shown on maps. Rangers that work at our SMART Program sites document their patrol routes with GPS units and record patrol observation data on specially-designed forms (such as data on violations, confiscated weapons, and observations related to key wildlife species). Patrol waypoints from GPS units and data from the forms are stored in a computer database using the SMART software program. Patrol data are then processed into maps, figures, and tables showing the patrol effort and results of individual rangers, patrol teams, or the protected area as a whole. The maps and figures are included in periodic patrol reports that are reviewed by site managers and discussed during regular feedback meetings with rangers to assess past effort, recognize strengths, weaknesses, missed opportunities, and set targets for the next performance period. Perhaps most importantly, these meetings demonstrate to rangers that there are people paying attention to what they do, value their contributions and input, and are assessing the relative effectiveness of all teams in their protected area. These reviews help build morale and foster a healthy sense of competition between teams. Together, these steps form an “adaptive patrol management” cycle aimed at achieving consistent improvement of patrol quality (see Figure 1.). If applied well, the "SMART Approach" can produce substantial improvements of patrol quality. 

  

Figure 1. A depiction of the SMART adaptive patrol management cycle.

Accomplishments

At the five protected areas where we have been working for more than three years (and thus have sufficient data to analyze), average scores for three indicators of patrol efforts (foot patrol distance, distance of motorized patrols, and total time spent on patrols) have increased by 142%, 211%, and 160% respectively. At two SMART sites for which we have reliable historic patrol data available, the number of citations for poaching violations and confiscated firearms increased 2.2 times in the first year of the SMART program in comparison to the average of the three years prior to the program. 


We have developed or supported camera trap monitoring of Amur tigers, Amur leopards and their prey at our SMART sites to determine to what extent improved protection has resulted in increased wildlife populations. The monitoring data show that tiger and leopard numbers have remained stable or increased at our sites since the introduction of SMART.

Open a map of the protected areas where the SMART project is implemented.