Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tracking the elusive Amur tiger by foot, ski, and snowmobile

09 Mar 2009
Researchers in the Russian Far East are tracking the elusive Amur tiger by foot, ski, and snowmobile this month to better understand the endangered species.

WWF-Russia, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Science are monitoring the rare Amur tiger in its habitats in Russia, in the remote Primorskii and Khabarovskii Provinces.

The Amur tiger, which can weigh up to 300 kg and measure around three metres from its nose to the tip of its tail, has come back from the brink of extinction to its highest population for at least 100 years. Only about 40 were alive in 1950 but nowadays there are around 450, one of the strongest tiger populations in the world.

This year’s monitoring area will cover 23,500 square kms with 16 search plots -- that cover one tenth part of tiger’s habitat -- in the Khabarovskii and Primorskii Provinces. A total of 6,000 km of transects also will be covered, where researchers will map all animal tracks registered on the plots.

For each search plot, researchers will coordinate experienced wildlife managers and trappers from local hunting clubs, who will conduct three to four day overnight searches of each plot, spending their evenings in small wooden hunting lodges in the forest. They will use snowmobiles to cross transects along river valleys in the region, and don specially-designed wide hunting skis to climb through hills and passes during the searches.

As part of the monitoring, scientists will follow the tigers to collect information on the sex and age characteristics of tiger populations, as well as behavioural habits, tiger mortality, and a range of other scientific data.

“Monitoring has been conducted for 12 years already and has provided information for analysis of tiger number dynamics and characteristics of its distribution and reproduction from year to year. Another important goal of the research program is controlling large wild ungulates’ status as well as changes in tiger habitats quality and its food sources,” said Pavel Fomenko, biodiversity conservation coordinator at WWF-Russia, Amur branch, and one of the initiators and participants of the annual tiger monitoring.

WWF Russia has funded monitoring activities to the tune of 12,000 euros on six plots located in WWF’s model areas with two of them located in Ussuriiskii and Lazovskii Nature Reserves. The Russian Academy of Science has provided 22,000 euros, or more than half of the funds needed for this month’s monitoring.

“For the first time this year, monitoring of the Amur tiger number has been covered largely by the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Science. This is a good sign but it would be better to receive funding from Russian Ministry of Nature and Ecology and Federal Service of Natural Recourses Exploitation that are both responsible for tiger in Russia,” Pomenko said.

“Funds needed for tiger research should be allocated in the budget of a special Program on tiger conservation in Russia,” Pomenko added.

Results of the field research will be completed in April and a special report will be prepared and forwarded to the governmental agencies responsible for tiger conservation in Russia. WWF-Russia, active in efforts to protect the Amur tiger for many years, awaits elaboration of a new strategy for tiger conservation in Russia and hopes that this rare predator will receive not only governmental status of protection but also funding for its conservation.

http://www.panda.org/wwf_news/news/?158402/Tracking-the-elusive-Amur-tiger-by-foot-ski-and-snowmobile

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