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WWF gets tiger protection boosted in Russia

29 october 2012
Following a conversation between President Vladimir Putin and WWF-Russia CEO Dr. Igor Chestin in August, the Russian Government called a meeting on tiger protection.

On October 25, 2012, a week after the meeting at Kremlin, Head of Presidential Administration Sergey Ivanov signed taskings regarding tiger protection in Russia. According to them, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation in cooperation with WWF-Russia will prepare a draft law that will make not only poaching, but also trade, transportation and possession of endangered animals a criminal, rather than civil offence.

It is a significant step towards protection of tigers and other endangered species threatened by trade and poaching. It is extremely hard to prove the fact of poaching, as tigers and other endangered species are killed in remote habitats. If stopped carrying the animals or their parts, poachers claim they found shot or captured animals dead”, says Igor Chestin, WWF-Russia CEO who was heavily involved in the preparation of the meeting at Kremlin and personally participated in it.

Until now, only killing an animal was considered a crime by the Russian legislation. Recently one man has been detected in possession of remains of 6 tigers, another one with 8 tiger skins. Under the current law they only may be eligible for an insignificant fine.

“Trade, transportation and possession of endangered species becoming a crime is a long-awaited measure that we believe will dramatically reduce poaching”, says Igor Chestin.

Tiger habitats was another item on the agenda and decisions are also stunning. The Administration of Primorsky region, where 90% of the Russian tigers live, was requested to ensure no commercial timber harvest takes place in the regional protected areas and nut harvesting zones. Sredneussuriysky sanctuary, one of the protected areas – designed, as many others, by WWF-Russia - was established just before the meeting. Regional administration was also ordered to prevent any commercial logging in upper and middle stream of Bikin River.

Nut harvesting zones allow local people to generate profit from forest without destroying it. With support from the German government, WWF has launched the first forest carbon project in the world, together with the local indigenous people – Udege – in the Bikin River Valley, inscribed on the Russian Tentative List for UNESCO Heritage. Now half a million hectares of primary tiger habitat are protected from commercial logging and benefit local livelihoods”, says Igor Chestin.

In the recent years, there have been aggressive attempts by logging companies to secure leases for commercial timber harvest in the primary tiger habitats – nut harvesting zones, regional protected areas, protective forests along the rivers and on steep slopes. Using legal loopholes, some of these devastating plans have been realized through the courts. Now all these deals are to be revised.

This happened a few days after the closing of the Second Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in Thimphu, Bhutan. The participants of the Conference met to reflect on their advances since the Tiger Forum hosted by the Russian Government in St.Petersburg in 2010 and concluded that despite some significant progress, “the threats to wild tigers and their natural habitats are seen to be increasing”.

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