Two years after the Tiger Forum: time for a progress report
The meeting with Sergei Ivanov included WWF Russia participation and occurred simultaneously with the second meeting of ministers from tiger range countries in Bhutan. In that meeting the high-ranking participants also discussed results and measures taken on tiger protection.
In November 2010 the International Tiger Conservation Forum was held in St. Petersburg and attended by the prime ministers of tiger range countries. WWF Russia had made the proposal that it be held in the Russian Federation. The Global Tiger Recovery Program was adopted at the Forum with the ambitious goal to double tiger numbers by the year 2022. Two years passed and it’s time to review the preliminary results.
In spite of apparently serious interest expressed by the President of the Russian Federation in conservation of tigers and other rare species, no tiger poachers detained since the Forum have been jailed. Amendments to legislation to impose criminal sanctions for transportation and trade of rare species skins and derivatives have not been introduced. As a result two dealers detained in Primorye in 2012 – one with remains of 6 tigers, another with 8 tiger skins – more likely will face only insignificant fines. The destruction of tiger habitat continues. Protective forests, regional wildlife refuge and Korean pine nut harvesting zones are leased for commercial logging.
At the meeting held by Sergei Ivanov the decision was made to create maximum change in the shortest time possible by introducing namely criminal liability for both poaching and sale, excluding the possibility of a sentence without jail time.
“In our neighbor China the death penalty is imposed for killing or sale of tiger parts, in Russia the maximum penalty is a fine of 2 000 rubles [less than $100], not to mention that there is no penalty for transporting. We definitely do not suggest to introduce death penalty in our country, but poachers and dealers must be aware that in case of their arrest they cannot escape imprisonment, - says Yury Darman, director of WWF Russia Amur branch. – I hope that decorating the walls of elite houses with tiger and leopard skins will become not prestigious but punishable! And without demand, no gunshots will disturb our taiga forests”.
In preparation for the meeting Vladimir Miklushevsky, Governor of Primorsky Province, signed a decree on creation of the regional Sredneussuriisky Refuge on October 18, 2012. The territory is the only corridor connecting the endangered tiger population in China’s Wandashan Mountains to the main population in Russia. Though the Refuge creation was part of the Global Tiger Recovery Program adopted at the Tiger Forum and a feasibility analysis was conducted by WWF in 2010, the previous provincial administration not only declined to establish the Refuge, but also leased a portion of its territory to the timber company JSC Les Export for commercial logging. Only in the last days before the meeting was the new provincial administration able to convince the company to voluntarily cancel the lease contract.
But not all protective forests are under protection. A part of Pozharskaya Korean pine nut harvesting zone is still under lease to JSC Les Export. Moreover, this Chinese-funded firm is suing for the right to conduct logging operations in the Tayozhny Refuge, a critical breeding ground for tigers in the Sikhote-Aline Mountains. At the meeting it was decided to take all necessary measures to protect this territory.
Another topic of the discussion was the creation of a federal refuge in the middle and upper reaches of the Bikin River. This is the homeland of the indigenous Nanai and Udege tribes, so provisions must be made to accommodate their traditional way of life. Establishment of a protected area with a regime and management system agreed upon with local indigenous peoples is the best way to ensure that they never awake to the clatter of Harvesters felling their native forests on the basis of another corrupt timber auction.
“Two years have passed since the Forum, some important measures on tiger conservation have been adopted”, comments Igor Chestin, WWF Russia director. “Land of the Leopard National Park was created, wages for state inspectors were raised, funding of protected areas was increased. But fulfillment of some commitments is stalled. First of all, this is legislative initiatives and protection of tiger habitats from logging. Therefore, this August I asked Vladimir Putin to host a meeting to understand the reasons and plan our next steps. Vladimir Putin has charged Sergei Ivanov with the task and it was carried out. Of course, the meeting protocol and the list of official decisions are still under preparation but I think that solutions for all complex issues have been found.”