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Unseen snowfalls may deprive the Amur tiger of prey

19 january 2015
The Russian Far East. Heavy snow that fell last year and forecasted precipitations jeopardize the Amur tiger survival.

WWF’s experts are getting ready to help the biggest tiger in the Globe to survive.

In November-December 2014, harsh abnormal snowfalls in Khabarovsky Province and in the south of Primorye caused wild animals many troubles. Thus, in early December 2014, within two days the monthly amount of snow fell on the ground covering the taiga with one-meter-high white blanket.

 

Let us remind that for roe deers and sika deers the 30 cm snow depth is considered critical, for wild boars and red deers it is 40-50 cm, while for elks it is 70 cm. So, the disaster is obvious. In some areas, many deaths of young animals have been already identified. And there remain two winter months still ahead of us with traditional heavy snowfalls in February and March.

 

Deep snow significantly limits the movement of wild ungulates their search for forage. They usually descend from the mountains concentrating in the river valleys and eating up available browse pretty quickly. Besides, in these unfavorable for wild animals conditions the poachers become very active - they easily catch their victims on snowmobiles and off-roaders.

 

Deep snows jeopardize the lives of ungulates and predators.

 

As Vasiliy Solkin, head of communications at WWF Russia Amur branch, notes «The tigers whose personal ranges have high concentration of ungulates feel quite comfortable. Having found a herd of wild boars a tiger becomes its “shepherd”. Adult boars lay a trail for the entire herd and this trench is used by the pigs. When trying to escape a chasing tiger the pigs jump out of the trench and immediately sink in the deep snow. A tiger has to only follow the track pit and pick up a pig for dinner».

 

Yet those tigers whose personal ranges are left by the ungulates are having hard times. In the search for prey they have to use human-made infrastructure to save precious calories: forest roads, snowmobiles tracks, and railway beds. Thus, the risk to be killed by a poacher’s bullet for those tigers increases sharply.

 

If a mass die-off of wild ungulates occurs the tigers eat dead animals and feel quite happy. They will face a tragedy next winter when there are no animals to prey on. It can take decades to restore the ungulate populations to the required level. 

 

Therefore, urgent measures should be taken to save at least the core population of ungulates from starvation death: buying feed, organizing supplementary feeding stations, and cutting young forage trees to increase the volume of browse.

 

But these measures may lead to the ungulate concentration in the areas that are easily accessed by vehicles. These grounds will become like a honeypot for all kinds of poachers.  Therefore, the enforced and continuous protection of such grounds is necessary. Moreover, rangers need to be equipped with vehicles with good cross-country capacity on a par with poachers’ ones.

 

WWF has already allocated about 5000K Euros for ungulates restoration activities. WWF model tiger-friendly hunting organizations have already started to lay supplementary forage and to enforce protection against poachers. But these hunting leases cover less than 10% of the tiger home range. At least 13000K Euros will be required to ensure protection measures in the most valuable tiger habitats located beyond the lands of model hunting organizations.

WWF Russia has launched a campaign to raise funds for the urgent measures to help the Amur tiger.

Past years’ experience

In the late 1980s, wild ungulates suffered high mortality. In some areas of Primorye and Khabarovsky Province their death rate reached 80% and in some places was even higher.

 

As WWF’s Pavel Fomenko recalls, «I happened to take part in a field expedition at that time to examine the results of those heavy snowfalls. It was a horrible picture. The entire valley of the Amba River, which is a big tributary of the Bikin River, looked like a cemetery. There were practically no animals survived – neither roe deer, nor wild boars and red deer”.

 

Next winter after this disaster, tigers rushed to human settlements as dogs, cows and horses remained easy and the only prey for them. According to the official data over 30 tigers were killed during that period as a result of human-tiger conflicts.

© Roman Kozhichev
© Roman Kozhichev