Tiger Poaching rampant in Russia

Tiger Poaching rampant in Russia
Friday, 8 March, 2013
Bangkok, Thailand

An unprecedented string of tiger parts confiscations and capture of orphaned tiger cubs has conservationists in the Russian Far East, home of the last Amur tigers, worried that may be wiped out. In the previous 12 months there have  been a record number of confiscated tiger parts (belonging to 17-20 tigers) as well as a record number (9) of tiger cubs (representing at least four litters) that had to be rescued from the wild (their mothers most likely having been poached). No less than 30 to 33 tigers have been removed from the wild in the past 12 months (17-20 confiscated tigers, 4 mothers of cubs lost, and 9 cubs). 

“So much of the discussion here at CITES revolves around enforcement but so much more than improved enforcement is necessary. We know we are just scratchijng the surface of the issue with these seizures – it horrifies me to think how many tigers are being poached that we don’t know about,” said Masha Vorontsova, Director of IFAW Russia from the CITES conference in Bangkok, Thailand. “This population will face desperate odds if clear national plans for tigers are not approved at CITES with firm commitments, deadlines and dedicated funds to support them.”

While some of these cubs may make it back to the wild if rehabilitation is successful, such a large number of confirmed poaching episodes has never before been reported in Russia. Since detecting poaching cases is extremely difficult, this number could represent just a small percentage of the actual number of poached animals.  “These numbers could be just the tip of the iceberg” said Sergey Berezyuk, Head of the local NGO “Phoenix Fund.” which works to improve anti-poaching efforts in the region. “Recent monitoring data suggest that tiger numbers are on the decline” continued Bereznyuk, “and these events suggest poaching is culprit. It is clear that the present population, probably fewer than 400 animals, cannot sustain these losses”.

Based on the assessment of Victor Gaponov, Director, Vladivostok Branch of Federal State Funded Institution Special Inspection Tiger, incremental growth of the population since 1940s apparently stopped by 2005. Monitoring of the tiger population at 16 sample sites in Primorsky Krai indicates, in the last seven years there is a downward trend of the tiger population by almost 1,5 times, that is down from approx 120 in 2004-2005 to less than 80 in 2010-2011 at the monitoring sites. It is obvious that the general population decreased similarly.

President Putin submitted a draft law to the Russian Duma last week that will increase penalties for people caught poaching or trafficking in endangered species on Russia’s Red Data Book including Amur tigers.

IFAW provides ongoing and significant support to tiger anti-poaching work in Russia’s Far East. In the past ten years IFAW has provided quad bikes, vehicles, a boat and a delta plane in the battle with poachers.

An endangered Amur tigress (named ‘Zolushka’ – Russian for ‘Cinderella’) is undergoing rehabilitation at the Inspection Tiger Rehabilitation Center in Far East Russia. The orphaned tigress was barely alive when rescued as a cub (weighing only 16kg) back in February 2012.

Initially, IFAW provided funds to care and feed Zolushka for two months in 2012 and funded a vet visit in October to evaluate her chances of being released back to the wild. Fortunately, the tigress is healthy and fit for release. She is extremely reclusive and learning hunting skills she needs to survive in the wild all very positive signs.

Subsequently, IFAW committed, together with the Phoenix Fund, to support extended rehabilitation costs for seven months (November – May) at which time conditions will be ideal for the tiger’s release back to the wild.

IFAW is about to release funds to support the rehabilitation of three additional tiger cubs.“The support and nurturing of each individual cub is vital to the survival of the Amur tiger population. The Amur tiger population is under tremendous pressure from poachers and every individual saved, rescued and rehabilitated greatly increases the chance of survival just as every tiger lost to poaching increases the chance of dooming this fragile population,” concluded Vorontsova. 

A few tiger skins have been identified by Linda Kerley, a biologist working for the Zoological Society of London, as coming from Lazovskii Zapovednik and surrounding areas.  “The stripe patterns of every tiger are unique, so use of camera traps allows us to monitor individuals year after year, simply by ‘photo-capturing’ them. Using long-term camera trap studies of tigers over larger areas,” she continued, “and matching skins to known tigers, we are able to better determine where poaching is happening.” Currently, it appears that most of the confiscated skins came from outside protected areas (intensive camera trap monitoring is occurring in most protected areas), and all cubs were captured far from protected areas, also suggesting that poaching - at least in the past year - may be focused away from protected areas.

About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. News photos, audio and video available at www.ifawimages.com

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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Gail A'Brunzo, Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy