New step in creation of Sino-Russian transboundary nature reserve for protection and recovery of Amur tiger and Far Eastern leopard
Both countries had passed a long and complicated way in creation of system of protected areas in Changbaishan/Eastern Manchurian Mountains landscape. Joint program on conservation of large cats here has been started in 2001, when Hunchun nature reserve, Jilin province, was established with WWF support on the border between Russia and China. By that time, they are 3 protected areas on Russian side: Kedrovaya Pad nature reserve, Barsovy federal wildlife refuge and Borisovskoe Plateau provincial wildlife refuge. All of them were weak in staff and budget and belong to different agencies. Only in 2012, the new national park incorporated wildlife refuges covering 60% of most of critical habitats of Amur leopard. Together with Kedrovaya pad nature reserve it manages about 280 thousands hectares by special united directorate “Land of Leopard” under the direct supervision of Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology.
The process of unification of different protected areas on China side was finalized only in 2017, when the pilot “North East China Tiger and Leopard national park” was launched on 1.46 million hectares, integrating existing Hunchun, Wangqing ,Laoyeling, Muling and Tianqiaoling nature reserves, and covering almost all suitable habitats of big cats along 270 km of Sino-Russian border. The main input in creation of this united protected area was done by Professor Ge Jianping, Vice President of Beijing Normal University and Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, who led the team in elaboration of scientific backgrounds and lobbying pilot national park in Government of People Republic of China.
Sino-Russian cooperation at Changbaishan/Eastern Manchurian Mountains landscape had been developing since the first Agreement between Hunchun Forest Bureau and WWF Russia was signed in 2001. The cooperation was scaled up on the level of Jilin province and Primorsky province based on Agreement of 2007. Under its frame a lot of exchange visits and expeditions were conducted by experts from WWF, WCS, Russian Academy of Science, Hunchun and Wangqing nature reserves. Joint efforts were resulted in slow increase of number of leopards (from 30 to 56 individuals) and tigers (from 14 to 27). But rapid growth of big cats’ populations was started after the establishment of national park “Land of Leopard”. This became possible only due to the personal involvement of Sergey Ivanov, Head of Administration of President of Russian Federation and founder of ANO “Far Eastern Leopards”. New federal structure had enough capacity to control protected area from poaching and forest fires, provide additional foraging for wild ungulates and ensure wide scale photo-trap monitoring.
Reproduction of the source population in Russia and adequate conservation measures in China gained a fantastic result. The total number of Changbaishan/Eastern Manchurian Mountains landscape was tripled and reached more than 120 leopards and 43 tigers. That is the real evidence of the great success of Sino-Russian collaboration. The newly signed “Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of the Amur tiger and Amur leopard conservation between the United Administration of the Kedrovaya Pad Reserve and the Land of the Leopard National Park of the Russian Federation and the Administration of the Northeast Tiger and Leopard National Park of China” (Changchun, February 26, 2019) had scaled up the work to new level. It is very important that both national parks agreed to join efforts in establishment of a transboundary protected area “Land of Big Cats” on the bordering territories of Russia and China.
In 2004, the first Plan for such idea was elaborated by the team of international experts under the frame of NEASPEC (UNESCAP). In 2010, in Tiger Year, Russian Government had proposed this initiative to the Government of People Republic of China, but the plan didn’t gain support from China State Forest Administration. Now, both Russia and China has adequate level of protected areas with sufficient budget and staff, which creates a unique opportunity to establish enormous Sino-Russian transboundary national park on 1.8 million hectares (180 thousands km2!) as the guarantee for long-term persistence of Amur leopard and Changbaishan population of Amur tiger.