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Wildlife Conservation Society Russia Program

ANNUAL REPORT 2014


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TABLE OF CONTENTS BACKGROUND………………………………..

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SIBERIAN TIGER PROJECT…………………… 3 Anti-Poaching…………………………….. Human-Tiger Conflict……………………. Infectious Disease…………………………. Monitoring…………………………………

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AMUR LEOPARD CONSERVATION…………… 13 BLAKISTON’S FISH OWL PROJECT………….. 15 MUSK DEER ECOLOGY……….………………. 16 FIRE MANAGEMENT…………………………... 17 TRAINING YOUNG CONSERVATIONISTS…… 18 OTHER PROJECTS……………………….…….. 20 NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS…………………... 22

WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY RUSSIA PROGRAM STAFF DIRECTOR: Dr. Dale Miquelle DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Tatiana Perova PROJECT MANAGERS: Dr. Jonathan Slaght (Grants, Blakiston’s fish owls, Road Closures); Michiel Hotte (Anti-Poaching, Anti-Fire); Dr. Ivan Seryodkin (Siberian Tiger Project); Anton Semyonov (Amur Leopard Conservation). FIELD STAFF: Aleksandr Rybin (Amur Leopard Conservation), Nikolai Rybin (Siberian Tiger Project), Volodya Melnikov (Siberian Tiger Project), Zhenya Gizhko (Siberian Tiger Project), Igor Kolodin (Anti-Poaching), Marina Miquelle (Sikhote-Alin Research Center management) Sergei Khramiliev (Sikhote-Alin Research Center maintenance). ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF: Natalia Karp (Chief Accountant), Katya Nikolaeva (Assistant to the Director), Lyuba Klyga (Accountant), Andrei Dotsenko (Logistical Support)


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BACKGROUND—The

southern Russian Far East is one of the most biologically-rich temperate forest zones in the world, and is home to some of the rarest animals and plants on Earth. Here, northern temperate and boreal mammals such as brown bears, Eurasian lynx, and red deer overlap with subtropical species such as Asiatic black bears, leopard cats, and sika deer. As many as 100 terrestrial endangered species live in the southern Russian Far East, meaning that 30% of all endangered species in “30% of all endangered species in Russia are Russia are concentrated in only 1% concentrated in only 1% of the country’s vast of the country’s vast territory. Up territory” to 48 of these species (15% of all endangered species in Russia) occur nowhere else. The region’s unique assemblage of natural communities, along with the long list of threatened and endangered species, including many of global significance, make this region of crucial importance to world-wide biodiversity conservation. Conservation of the two key large “signature” carnivores of the region – the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) and the Amur (or Siberian) tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) – will go a long way towards conserving the entire complex of species in the region, as the survival of these two umbrella species ultimately requires conservation of the forest ecosystem as a whole, and the myriad species dependent upon it. The southern Russian Far East is a unique tiger landscape because the majority of the region is forested and potentially suitable tiger habitat. This is almost the inverse situation for most tigers elsewhere in the world, where they are largely relegated to small reserves surrounded by severely degraded habitat and high densities of humans. With 180,000 km2 of contiguous, useable forested lands – approximately 155,000 km2 of which is considered suitable tiger habitat in Russia – the landscape itself is largely intact. This contiguous habitat is an important reason why Russia has long been a remarkable success story in the history of wild tiger conservation. Throughout the second half of the 20th Century, while numbers plummeted almost everywhere else across Asia, the Russian population showed a defiantly opposite trend. A survey in 2005 showed that the population had recovered to 430-500 individuals, up from a mere 20-30 individuals in the 1940s. Given that such full-range surveys occur only once every 10 years (the next full-range survey is scheduled for winter 2015), exact numbers are difficult to estimate, but the Russian government now estimates that Amur tiger numbers recently experienced a decline, an opinion supported by recent results from the Amur WCS Russia and University of Montana staff Tiger Monitoring Program (a 15-year collaboration used tiger survey data to model habitat in the between the Wildlife Conservation Society and Russian Russian Far East, providing the first databased map of potential tiger habitat in the repartners). According to official estimates, there are gion (Hebblewhite et al. 2014). Above, darker presently 330-390 tigers remaining in Russia. blue represents the highest quality habitat.


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SIBERIAN TIGER PROJECT—The

Siberian Tiger Project, the flagship of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Russia Program, has been the global leader in Amur tiger research and conservation for more than two decades. The project began as a modest study in 1992, designed to collect baseline data on Amur tiger ecology for use in conservation planning. Since then, as our understanding of tiger ecology and threats to their conservation has developed, WCS Russia has evolved and diversified to include a variety of research and conservation projects. The long-term goal of the WCS Russia Program is to create and retain a healthy tiger population containing at least 600 tigers in the Russian Far East (RFE). To achieve this goal, WCS Russia (1) improves antipoaching efforts inside the most important protected areas and neighboring lands, (2) reduces humantiger conflict across the Russian Far East, (3) assesses the threat of infectious disease to tigers, and (4) Dr. Dale Miquelle, WCS Russia Country Director, handles an immobilized tiger with Russian specialists in 1993. Photograph © WCS Russia conducts population monitoring.

2014 ACTIVITIES Anti-poaching—Federally protected areas are critical for tigers in Russia as they have

the highest type of protection and hence form the core of a viable tiger population. Despite better protection, they are still threatened by poaching of tiger prey and of tigers themselves. The poachers of both are almost entirely local citizens of the Russian Far East – either from local villages near a protected area or from urban centers such as the city of Vladivostok. Poached tiger prey (red deer, sika deer, wild boar) is almost entirely consumed locally within the RFE, whereas tigers are generally sold to middlemen who sell skins mostly in Russia and then smuggle other body parts to China. In the past, many protected area staff were poorly trained and lacked motivation to catch poachers. Recognizing this, in 2008 we began efforts to improve law enforcement in protected areas through technical and financial support. By 2010 we had secured law enforcement agreements with two protected areas, and have steadily expanded our influence to six protected areas today (with two more slated for 2015). Ultimately, we hope to be engaged with all key protected areas in tiger range in Russia. WCS provides several kinds of technical support to protected area law enforcement efforts. Through training in the use of SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) software we are teaching management staff how to more effectively use their patrol teams. We are also monitoring effort and results of those patrol teams, and rewarding those teams that perform at higher levels. WCS together with protected area senior staff conduct regular analyses (ranging from weekly to quarterly depending on the protected area) of all SMART data to assess


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Protected areas with Amur tigers in the Russian Far East where the SMART Law Enforcement Monitoring Program has been introduced (or is in the process of being introduced). 1= Land of the Leopard National Park, 2 = Ussuriiskii Reserve, 3 = Lazovskii Reserve, 4 = Zov Tigra National Park, 5 = Sikhote-Alin Reserve, 6 = Udegeiskaya Legenda National Park (joint patrols with Sikhote-Alin SMART team started in 2014), 7 = Bolshekhekhtsirski Reserve (SMART proposed for 2015), and 8 = Annui National Park (SMART proposed for 2015).

effectiveness of patrol efforts. This adaptive patrol management process provides a structure for continuously improving law enforcement efforts and results. By introducing an incentive scheme for patrol staff that financially rewards teams that demonstrate improvements and excellence in both effort (distance covered, hours on patrol) and results (number of citations issues, guns confiscated, poachers apprehended, etc.) we establish friendly competition between teams and create a stimulus for excellence in anti-poaching work. Progress in 2014—This past year was an important one in WCS’s efforts to expand SMART Law Enforcement Monitoring (LEM) in tiger source sites in the Russian Far East. Anti-poaching effort and results continue to improve at three of the four sites where SMARTLEM has been active the longest (Land of the Leopard National Park, Lazovskii Reserve, and Zov Tigra National Park). At our fourth site (Sikhote-Alin Reserve), internal management issues within the Reserve seem to be resolved now that a new director was appointed (in August 2013), and we have already seen some improvements under new direction. Importantly, we began working at a fifth site (Ussuriiskii Reserve) in December 2013, and we have had very

positive results after our first review meeting. Feedback meetings with reserve inspectors are an important part of the anti-poaching cycle, as performance and options for improvements are discussed and patrol targets for the next period are agreed upon. In 2014 at Land of the Leopard National Park (LLNP), which has continually produced the best results, the Deputy Director of Protection Evgeny Stoma is now analyzing data and leading patrol feedback meetings, with WCS playing only a supporting role. This is a tremendously positive step forward in the evolution of our SMART-LEM work in the region. For these meetings, the Deputy Director generates a very short (2-page) weekly patrol performance summary, which includes an overview per team of the patrol times, distances and patrol locations on a map. In addition to continuing our work in five reserves, we began to influence law enforcement at a sixth site (Udegeiskaya Legenda National Park) in 2014 when we facilitated joint patrols with staff of that protected area and the adjacent Sikhote-Alin Reserve. We also began discussions


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to roll out SMART-LEM at two more protected areas (Bolshe Khekhtsirski Reserve and Annui National Park) in 2015. We are also working with a logging company to reduce poaching outside of protected areas. Selective logging requires an ever-expanding network of logging roads that remain open and accessible for anyone even after the logging has ceased. Since spotlighting at night from a vehicle is one of the most effective means of poaching, the increasing number of open-access logging roads is dramatically increasing the ease with which poachers can Four-year comparisons of anti-poaching indicators at four protected operate. Given this situation, reducing areas following SMART implementation. Figure adapted from Hotte et access to logging roads may be the al. (in review). single most effective way to improve conditions for ungulates and tigers outside protected areas. Our pilot project, now in its fourth year, closes logging roads using cables or other means and monitors the responses of both hunters and poachers as well as changes in ungulate numbers. We are working in close consultation with the timber concessionaire in the region, who is a strong proponent of the project, being a hunter himself. We are already using this project as a means of lobbying for more broad-based actions to reduce access to logging roads throughout tiger habitat. Data collection in 2014 was hampered due to a lack of snow that prevented ungulate track counts, but we continued to collect data on poaching activity in the region, and began a satellite analysis of road density in Ternei County to illustrate the tremendous proliferation of logging roads in the region over the last two decades. For 2015 we plan to co-

These poachers were caught spotlighting for deer along an unused logging road. Although they target tiger prey for meat, they are often not averse to killing a tiger should they encounter one. Photographs Š WCS Russia.


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lead a workshop with timber concessionaires to push for road closures. We will also seek means to include language about road closures in agreements for timber concessions and for Forest Stewardship Council Certification Standards in the RFE.

Human-Tiger Conflict—Despite

low human densities in the Russian Far East, conflicts between humans and tigers are a yearly occurrence. Most of these events take the form of a tiger lingering around the edges of a village, killing dogs or livestock that may stray. Human deaths are rare, but always a real possibility in these situations. Unlike conflicts between bears and people (which can be mitigated by reducing bear access to food) there appears to be little that can be done to A problem tiger, found killing dogs in the village of Skupai reduce the number of conflicts with tigers in (in Khabarovskii Krai), is tranquilized. Photograph © WCS Russia. Russia. This is because livestock are already closely attended and brought into barns at night (whereas they are grazed freely in nearby China where, despite few tigers, depredations on cattle are common), and most dogs are generally chained close to human habitations as well. As human-tiger conflict events are widely covered in the press, their impact on local perceptions of tigers is enormous. If conflict events are left unattended, they often lead to a dramatic rise in retaliatory killing of all tigers in an area (since no one can determine which is the offending animal) as tolerance wanes among the local populace. Led by the Rybin brothers, Nikolai and Aleksandr, WCS Russia has staff highly trained in handling tigers in the field and mitigating conflict events, and we have been mitigating conflict for 14 years with high levels of success. Progress in 2014—This was a remarkably busy year for human-tiger conflict issues. We responded to five situations, and describe three particularly compelling events here. The Amurskaya Mystery. On January 29, 2014 we were requested by the federal entity Inspection Tiger to assist in assessing the strange case of a tiger reportedly hit by a vehicle in Amurskaya Region. Since no permanent tiger population exists within 300 km of the province, the report was very odd. Nonetheless, “The tracks were strange, looking as if multiple sources confirmed the presence of tiger tracks crossing a road, so the tiger was dragging its hind end” Nikolai Rybin, who happened to be relatively nearby monitoring “Zolushka,” the tiger cub released back into Bastak Zapovednik (see below), traveled to confirm the presence of tiger tracks. The tracks were strange, looking as if the tiger was dragging its hind end. They were able to track down and actually get a “visual” on the tiger the next day, confirming it was alive but moving very poorly. However, there was no safe way to approach and dart the cat. The Governor of Amurskaya Region took a personal interest in this situation, and the next day a “track” vehicle was dispatched, allowing WCS staff to dart the tiger from the safety of something akin to a tank. The tiger was in bad


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shape. Its hindquarters were not functional, and the tiger was traveling by simply dragging its hind legs (later tracking proved that the tiger moved at least 15 km in this mode – an incredible feat). The tiger was extremely emaciated. However, there was no evidence that it had indeed been hit by a car (which was the initial report): there were no signs of contact between a tiger and a vehicle along the road that the tiger crossed, and the drag marks of the tiger were present on both sides of the road, suggesting the trauma had happened earlier. The Governor of Amurskaya Region WCS staff Aleksandr Rybin watches over the tiger while he obtains a towas fully engaged with the fate of mography in a regional hospital Photograph © WCS Russia. this one tiger, doing all he could to save this animal that had dragged itself into his administrative dominion. He arranged for a hospital to be cleared out so that a tomograph (advanced imaging akin to an x-ray) could be taken of the animal. Local doctors, however, could not identify trauma to the vertebrae, or make any clear diagnosis. WCS therefore collected available images, blood tests, and diagnostics, translated them, and sent them off to veterinarians and pathologists at the Bronx Zoo, Omaha Zoo, and to London, which initiated a very active discussion group for a week among veterinary experts across the globe trying to identify causes of this animal’s problem. Potential diagnoses ranged from tuberculosis to canine distemper, but Doug Armstrong of the Omaha Zoo (who has conducted training sessions for us in Russia multiple times) found a fracture in the Lumbar 7 vertebra in the imaging. All international vets indicated the prognosis for this animal was poor: operations to resolve such problems are extremely difficult, have low success rates, and require equipment that simply does not exist in eastern Russia. All international vets therefore agreed that the most humane path would be euthanasia. Despite letters stating such from these vets, no Russian bureaucrat was willing to take the responsibility for authorizing the death of a tiger. When Amurskaya Region admitted that it had no facility for keeping (much less treating) the tiger, WCS and Inspection Tiger staff were forced to take the animal in a cage to a facility near Vladivostok (a 1,000 km drive with temperatures below -30oC, very difficult conditions for a sick tiger in a metal cage), before the animal eventually died in Vladivostok several days later. Backtracking of the tiger’s trail revealed that he had encountered and killed a wild boar. Prior to that encounter, tracks of the tiger were normal, but after leaving the kill site, the tiger’s gait degenerated quickly into the complete loss of the hindquarters. Clearly this tiger incurred the fracture of the vertebra in the fray to bring down a large wild boar, and it would never recover from this final hunt. Thus, this event is an indication of how far tigers can disperse, and it is also an example of the dangers all tigers face in their daily attempts to bring down prey. Rehabilitated Cubs. In winters 2012 and 2013, six orphaned tiger cubs (from four litters) were


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discovered in the wild and brought into captivity. It is believed that in most cases their mothers were killed by poachers, leaving young (3-4 month old) cubs alone and unable to feed themselves. All were brought to a federal rehabilitation center in Alekseevka (just north of Vladivostok). were kept away from people, and provided multiple opportunities to learn to hunt live ungulates. In spring 2013 the first cub, the tigress named “Zolushka” (Cinderella in Russian) was released at the age of 18 months in Bastak Reserve in the Jewish Autonomous Region. In spring 2014 the other five were released in two locations in the Amurskaya and Jewish Autonomous Regions. One of the male tigers, named Kuzya, became known as “Putin’s orphaned cub is released into an enclosure at the AleTiger” and made international headlines by An kseevka Rehabilitation facility in Primorye, while Russian swimming across the Amur River into China President Vladimir Putin (in white shirt) looks on. This aniand killing livestock there. Kuzya then mal was released back into the wild in 2014. Photograph returned to Russia, but a second of “Putin’s courtesy IFAW Russia. tigers” (named Ustin) also roamed into China, killing multiple livestock in his stint there. He returned to Russia in late December 2014, where he continued to exhibit maladaptive behaviors. Consequently, in conjunction with the federal team Inspection Tiger, we recaptured him and he is now back at the Alekseevka facility. The other five tigers, including Kuzya now back in the Jewish Autonomous Region, have been closely monitored and appear to be adjusting normally to life in the wild, with one (Zolushka) even consorting with a local male and attempting to reproduce. We believe that if several females can “One of the tigers, named Kuzya, became be successfully returned to the wild, and known internationally as ‘Putin’s Tiger’” they can reproduce, the impact of this effort to the recovery of tigers is significant. Most importantly, if these cubs can re-colonize the Jewish Autonomous and Amurskaya Regions – areas that have been vacant of tigers for 30 years – then the rehabilitation program can serve an extremely valuable example of how to recover lost tiger habitat for other countries as well. The Melnichnoye Man-eater. More than 20 years ago, Dr. Dale Miquelle led a team to investigate a report of a man-eating tiger near the small village of Melnichnoye. Such events are exceedingly rare, so it was unnerving to get reports in early December 2014 of another man -eating tiger not far from this same village. By December 4th we had dispatched a team to assist in the investigation and pursuit of that tiger. Unfortunately, by the time our team arrived on the scene, a herd of police, wildlife inspectors, and interested nearby hunters had tromped through the “crime scene” making reconstruction of the event nearly impossible. The report stated that a tiger with pad width of 9.8 cm (which would likely make it a female) had attacked a 70-year old hunter head-on (extremely unusual, as tigers almost always prefer to attack from behind) and brought the hunter down right on the spot, where apparently it consumed him.


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Nikolai Rybin, one of our most experienced tiger trackers, saw problems with the official report after visiting the site. First, it was obvious from photographs shown him that the pad size of the tiger was at least 10.5 cm (making it a male, not a female). Second, Rybin doubted whether the tiger actually killed this hunter. Tigers almost always drag their kill to some more secure location before consuming it. No such behavior was evident here. A possible alternative was that the hunter had just died, and been frozen in place when found by the tiger (which would explain why he had not been dragged off). However, there was no doubt that the tiger ate the hunter: analysis of tiger excrement from the site turned up pieces of clothing and human remains. The presence of this excrement represented an important clue in potentially finding the maneater. Since it is possible to extract DNA from the excrement of a tiger, it would be possible to match the DNA of any captured tiger to the DNA in the excrement to confirm that any captured tiger was the real culprit. However, capturing such a tiger – or for that matter any tiger – under winter conditions is extremely difficult. Deep snows had just fallen in this north-central portion of the Sikhote-Alin Mountains, and nighttime temperatures hovered near minus 40o. The paw of any animal caught in a snare (the only realistic way of capturing a tiger) would freeze in a matter of hours if not tended. Our team first fanned out on snowmobiles, developing a set of well-packed trails in hopes that local tigers might begin to use them as easy travel corridors (as is common in winter here). Then Amur tigress looks up at the first snow of the season. Winter is typically they spent several days following An when most human-tiger conflicts occur. Photograph © WCS Russia. the tracks of a tiger which they encountered, only to decide finally, that it was not the one they were looking for (it did not come from the site and headed off in an opposite direction). The team moved into the cabin of the deceased hunter, 40 km from the nearest logging road, where they set snares in close proximity to the cabin with transmitters that would signal when a tiger was captured. One person had to be “on watch” each night to monitor these transmitters. During the day, they fumbled through deep snow, trying to set out new trails, find new evidence of tiger tracks, and search for potential new places for snares. The team of three men spent twenty cramped, cold days fighting the elements before one of the snowmobiles broke down. Getting parts from the city of Vladivostok to their site was an expedition in and of itself. The team returned home the day before Christmas, tired and frustrated at not capturing the tiger. So far, no more news of this tiger has arisen. We often think that “man-eating” tigers will kill repeatedly, seeped as we are in the legends of Jim Corbett’s Indian man-eaters. But that first Melnichnoye man-eater in 1993 killed one person and was never heard from again. This time, we have camera traps set


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throughout this area, and will likely get a photo of this animal. But without DNA material for analysis, we may be looking at a photo of the culprit without recognizing him. For now, our hope is that no news is good news from Melnichnoye.

Infectious Disease—Canine distemper virus

(CDV) has emerged as a cause of death for wild Amur tigers. Although cases of CDV were suspected as long ago as 2001, only in 2010 were we finally able to confirm the presence of this disease in wild Amur tigers. We now know that the virus can be lethal to individual tigers, but it is more difficult to predict the impact that CDV could represent at a population level. Since tigers occur at very low densities in Russia (less than one tiger per 100 km2), and interactions are presumably rare, the possibility of transmitting the virus from one tiger to another is small. However, tigers share their habitat with a range of other Martin Gilbert, WCS staff and currently a Ph.D. stureleases a badger after sampling for canine distemmammalian carnivores that are susceptible to CDV dent, per virus. Photograph © WCS Russia. and are capable of transmitting infection. These include domestic dogs as well as a number of wild carnivore species including foxes, raccoon dogs, and badgers that may play a role in maintaining the virus in the ecosystem. All these carnivore species are potential prey of tigers or scavengers at tiger kills, and thus the opportunity for disease transmission is real. Our infectious disease project, initiated in 2012 by Ph.D. student Martin Gilbert, seeks to understand the risk that CDV poses for Russian tiger populations, and to propose mitigation strategies that are both proportional and achievable in the local environment. Progress in 2014—2014 marked the third year of this study, and the completion of fieldwork attempted to identify species that might be contributing to the CDV reservoir in the environment. These efforts included the capture of small-bodied wild carnivores such as badgers and raccoon dogs in the Sikhote-Alin and Lazovskii Reserves. A total of 44 animals were captured, and samples are now being analyzed for antibodies to CDV (indicating prior exposure) as well as for the virus itself. Further surveys were directed at understanding the circulation of CDV among domestic dogs and were completed together with a team of eight veterinary students from the Primorskaya State Agricultural Academy. Work consisted of household questionnaire surveys conducted in 27 settlements around the province, to collect information on dog ownership and the structure and turnover of the dog population. Samples collected from domestic dogs are also being analyzed to assess the status of CDV in village dogs, and detect viruses that can be compared genetically to those found in the tigers. Back in the lab, we revisited a number of tiger blood samples collected a decade ago and, importantly, found that two young tigers tested positive for CDV in 2006. Both survived the infection, but this revelation may explain the lack of fear these young cats shows towards humans at the time (which we regarded then as mere naivety of young tigers). This revelation


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raises the possibility that we are overlooking cases of CDV in tigers, and infections may be contributing to deaths by poachers and vehicle collisions as infected tigers seem attracted to roads and do not flee as healthy tigers would.

Monitoring—WCS

was the first organization to conduct exploratory camera trap monitoring of tigers in the Russian Far East, and now several additional organizations have joined us in annual camera-trap based markrecapture studies to estimate size of tiger populations in different parts of the region. WCS has done cameratrapping in a portion of Land of the A young, possibly dispersing tiger captured on camera in the inland Leopard National Park since 2003 section of Sikhote-Alin Reserve. Photograph © WCS Russia. (where our main focus has been the highly endangered Amur leopard—see Page 13), in Sikhote-Alin Reserve since 2006, and in Udegeiskaya Legenda National Park beginning in 2014. We continue to collaborate and coordinate with partners in other protected areas, including Lazovskii Reserve, Ussuriiskii Reserve, and Zov Tigra National Park. Progress in 2014—We conducted camera trap monitoring in three protected areas in 2014: Land of the Leopard National Park. In 2014 we collaborated with park staff and other organizations to collect camera trap data throughout the entirety of the park for the first time ever. Our goal was to derive an overall estimate of both Amur tiger and Amur leopard numbers. Park staff now have permission to travel into the sensitive border patrol zone (along the Sino-Russian border), an area that has up until this point been strictly off-limits, but which includes excellent tiger and leopard habitat. Collectively, we established camera trap pairs at 169 sites across the entirety of the park. We collected 2,282 photographs from March-June 2014. We photographed a total of 17 tigers in the park. Ongoing analyses will produce estimates of actual tiger abundance, but it is clear there is a sizeable and healthy population of tigers in Southwest Primorye. Sikhote-Alin Reserve. Camera trapping was conducted in two phases to cover the entire reserve: coastal and inland. Establishment of the camera trap network inland is especially challenging due the remoteness of the area and lack of a well-maintained trail system. With An adult, resident female captured on camera in the coastal region permission to use snowmobiles granted of Sikhote-Alin Reserve. Photograph © WCS Russia.


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in 2014 for the first time, the potential to survey in this region was realized. Unfortunately, spring is an extremely difficult time to collect camera traps, and we were forced to wait until June 2014 (after snowmelt and swollen rivers had subsided) to retrieve all cameras. In the coastal section, we conducted camera trapping for a total of 4,182 camera trap nights (representing 203 camera trap nights/100 km2), obtained 609 photographs (90 capture events) of 14 tigers (four males, three females without cubs, two females with cubs, three cubs, and two subadults). Inland, we conducted camera trapping for a total of 2,232 camera trap nights (representing 350 camera trap nights/100 km2), obtained 741 photographs (22 capture events) of six tigers: two males, one lone female, and one female with two Trends of the Amur tiger population in Sikhote-Alin Reserve, cubs of approximately six months. 1966-2014, based on yearly winter track counts. Figure adapted It is notable that in 2014 we identified 14 from Miquelle et al. (in review). tigers (including three cubs and two subadults (i.e., two -year cats) in the coastal region, yet in 2013 only three tigers were detected there. This is a dramatic increase. Results of the camera trap survey represent our only information about tigers in Sikhote-Alin in 2014 because it was the first time in the 48-year history of monitoring tigers in this reserve that the traditional survey method – tracks in snow – could be not conducted due to the absence of snow in this unusual winter. Hence the camera traps represent our only estimate. The combined results of track counts in 2013 and the camera traps results in 2014 indicate a dramatic rebound in tiger numbers in the reserve, a growth much more rapid than we “camera traps results in 2014 indicate a dramatic anticipated. Tiger numbers had reached a 40-year low in rebound in tiger numbers in the reserve” 2012, partially due to the impact of canine distemper in this population. The dramatic rebound we are documenting with camera traps is a welcome change, and with improved law enforcement efforts (see above) we expect this trend to continue. Udegeiskaya Legenda. This national park is west of Sikhote-Alin Reserve, with buffer zones of each nearly touching, so consequently it was a logical location for us to expand our monitoring. In 2014 we made a number of trips to visit the Director of Udegeskaya Legenda and developed a joint three-way agreement between the two adjacent protected areas and WCS, and set up our first series of camera traps (17 pairs) in October 2014. As this was our first time working in this protected area, we relied on local knowledge to inform specific locations for camera traps, and we established them using a grid overlay to ensure coverage of all parts of the park. We plan to return to the park during the snow cover period to study movements of tigers and hopefully identify quality sites for placement of camera traps for the future. In our experience, it usually takes at least two years to find good sites for camera traps with a high probability of photographing tigers. We view this first year as largely experimental, but nonetheless expect interesting results, including the possibility of identifying tigers that might range over both reserves, and possibly photograph the man-eating tiger discussed above.


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AMUR LEOPARD CONSERVATION—The

Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is the northern-most of the nine extant leopard subspecies, with its global distribution restricted to southwest Primorskii Krai (southernmost corner of the Russian Far East) and the adjacent border lands in neighboring Jilin Province in China. It is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List with a suite of complicating factors contributing to this status: the population is geographically and genetically isolated, logging and fires are annually and systematically reducing A male Amur leopard captured by camera in southwest Primor- suitable habitat, and leopards themselves skii Krai. Photograph © WCS Russia. are targets for poachers. WCS Russia has been working to conserve the Amur leopard since 1995 when we first began research on this elusive species. Since then, we have worked with the Land of the Leopard National Park to improve anti-poaching efforts (see above “Anti-poaching activities”) and have worked with a variety of local organizations to reduce the impact of fire (see Page 17). In addition to the field work we have conducted to understand leopard ecology and the potential threats of inbreeding depression, we have consistently supported work to monitor the status of this population. We have developed the longest-running camera trap monitoring program of leopards in the world, having just finished our eleventh year of continuous monitoring. Camera trapping allows us identify individual leopards by their unique pelage characteristics, and thereby monitor individual animals over many years, estimate population density and trends over time, and learn about rates of population turnover. Progress in 2014—In 2014 we continued our annual camera trapping efforts, and developed a joint plan with Land of the Leopard National Park management to expand camera trapping activities to the entirety of the park. In total, when considered in conjunction with the work of our partners, camera traps now cover 2,618 km2, which represents approximately 75% of all Land of the Leopard National Park (Russia) and Hunchun leopard habitat in Russia, and includes the most Nature Reserve (China) contain more than 80% of Amur leopards remaining in the world. valuable habitat for this subspecies.


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A preliminary analysis of leopards camera trapped in 2014 identified no less than 50 leopards across the entire park. While our analysis is not yet complete so cannot be considered definitive, it is exciting to note that the estimated number of leopards will certainly be dramatically higher than earlier estimates of 20-30 individuals. We are also working with our partners at WCS China to “a preliminary analysis of leopards trapped in foster communication and 2014 identified no less than 50 leopards across the cooperation between Russian entire park” and Chinese governmental agencies. The Jilin Wildlife Department has organized extensive camera trapping through Hunchun and Wanqing protected areas, as well as lands in between them (an area of several thousand km2) and have collected photographs of multiple leopards, including, most importantly, a female with two cubs. We are working with both Chinese and Russian colleagues to develop a joint database that would allow us to determine which animals are being photographed on both sides of the border, and which are uniquely Chinese or Russian. With some leopards being photographed more than 20 km from the border, it is almost certain that there are at least some leopards who live wholly in China – good news that recovery is happening on that side of the border as well.

An Amur leopard descends a ridge in southwest Primorskii Krai. Photograph © WCS Russia.


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BLAKISTON’S FISH OWL PROJECT—The Blakiston’s fish owl (Bubo blakistoni) is an endangered species that nests in very large, old trees near waterways in northeast Asia. This secretive species is thought to number only 3,000 - 5,000 individuals globally, with recent evidence of steep local population declines. The primary threat to fish owls in Primorskii Krai is careless road management (often related to logging), which results in unnecessary removal of nest trees, habitat degradation, and access for poachers who shoot fish owls or set nets for salmon in which fish owls drown. WCS Russia has been working with Russian partners on fish owl conservation issues since 2005. Since then, we have uncovered the natural resources most important for fish owls, learned of their dependence on old-growth forest for both nesting and feeding, and developed a suite of conservation recommendations. Progress in 2014—Throughout 2014, we visited all nine fish owl territories in our sample population and confirmed occupancy at seven of them. Some territories are easier to visit (just a few kilometers from villages) and some are more than100 km from Map of coastal Primorskii Krai, showing locations of fish owl habitat (in red), which should be human settlements and require significant best-quality considered priorities for conservation. Map from preparation to reach. The surveys did not pass Slaght and Surmach (in review). without incident. At one point, severe flooding washed out the only road to the Amgu area, unexpectedly stranding our team in the forest for two additional weeks before the road became passable again. Despite repeated surveys, we found no owls at two territories. Both of these sites have long histories of stable occupation by the same (leg-banded) pairs, with owls disappearing at one site in 2012 and at the other in 2013. We know the female at the first site was struck by a vehicle and killed in 2012, and we have not heard from her mate since. In one respect we are pleased that most territories remain occupied, but the fact that unoccupied territories tend to stay that way for years suggests that there are few new owls joining the breeding population. Two pairs were confirmed breeding in 2014. In spring 2014, Dr. Jonathan Slaght travelled to Hokkaido Island, Japan, to study the conservation efforts employed to avert the extinction of these iconic birds from that island, A pair of Blakiston’s fish owls tend their nest in spring and learn how to apply these strategies in Russia. 2014. Photograph courtesy S. Surmach.


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MUSK DEER ECOLOGY—The

diminutive musk deer (Mochus moschiferus) is found throughout much of the higher elevations of East Asia, including the southern Russian Far East, where they are closely associated with mature coniferous forests. In the past decade, musk deer numbers in Russia have declined sharply, but the reasons for decline remain unclear. Intensive harvest (legal and illegal) for the glands of musk deer (used in the perfume industry) is no doubt impacting musk deer densities across the region. But a more poorly understood factor is the role of logging and its subsequent impact on forest structure. Because tree lichens, which most commonly grow on older conifer trees, represent a critically important winter food source, harvesting of these trees could substantially reduce forage male musk deer (canines slightly visible). Photoavailability for musk deer. Our project is intended to A graph © WCS Russia. increase our understanding of the ecological needs of this tiny deer, and to understand what changes in management practices might benefit its populations. To better understand the habitat requirements of musk deer, since 2012 we have outfitted six musk deer in the Sikhote-Alin Reserve with VHF collars. We have determined that their home ranges are tiny, averaging less than 2 km2 within the reserve, suggesting that musk deer must find all their needs within an incredibly small area. We have also tried to tease apart the effect of logging on musk deer by conducting surveys inside and outside Sikhote-Alin Reserve. While the results of these surveys are not conclusive, they do suggest that musk deer are more commonly found in areas further from roads, further from logging sites, and with an abundance of lichens. However, these preliminary surveys demonstrated to us that these relationships are not simple, and will require much more intensive studies to tease apart the relative importance of these various factors. Progress in 2014—two musk deer were captured in 2014 and outfitted with VHF collars, and three musk deer total were tracked almost daily. More than 400 camera trap photos of musk deer have Musk deer probability of occupancy (green=preferred; red=avoided) at one of three sites at Sikhote-Alin Reserve been collected, offering us new insight into where we conducted this analysis. The green line is the species behavior. reserve boundary; yellow line is the road.


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FIRE MANAGEMENT—Fire

threatens to slowly destroy the biologically-rich forests of southwestern Primorskii Krai. The overall goal of our anti-fire program is to increase capacity for and coordination of fire-fighting and fire prevention across this unique region. As a first step in 2010, we focused on Slavyanka Municipality, a 460 km2 area of which 280 km2 forms our model site where we were likeliest to achieve improvements relatively quickly. We developed a multi-faceted fire-fighting and prevention project there working in close A firebreak stopped this fire from spreading into the collaboration with the municipal government. We forest. Photograph © J. Slaght, WCS Russia. developed a new approach to on-the-ground firefighting using high-elevation outposts, which has allowed us to dramatically reduce response time and apprehend several arsonists in the act. Working with local partners, we helped renew old, intensely-overgrown firebreaks, helped create and operate a system of local fire wardens, published articles in local newspapers, sponsored announcements over the radio and supported lectures in local schools, worked with multiple stakeholders to improve coordination and fire control planning, and monitored burn reductions using satellite imagery. After an initial development phase in 2009, when fires were not significantly reduced, we succeeded in reducing the area burnt in our Slavyanka model area by an estimated 83% in 2010, 99% in 2011, 80% in 2012, and 34% in 2013 (compared to what would have burned without interventions). In 2012 we also began working in the Bezverkhovo Municipality, which is now within the Land of the Leopard National Park. Progress in 2014—We expanded our fire brigade model to Sikhote-Alin Reserve in 2014, where the first snow-free winter there on record threatened the biodiversity-rich forests on which Amur tigers and countless other species depend. We purchased equipment and mobilized a volunteer team to put out fires that were threatening to enter the reserve. In southwest Primorskii Krai, despite gaining ground in Bezverkhovo area annually since 2012, and completing an 18km firebreak in 2013 that followed the railroad track, a single, devastating fire burned approximately 95% of our Bezverkhovo project area in 2014. We believe that our annual efforts are still important, but recognize that more needs to be done to prevent such catastrophic events. Now, in association with Land of the Leopard National Park, we are considering A team of firefighters uses high-power blowers to extinguish how to create additional fire breaks that might a fire before it reaches the Sikhote-Alin Reserve. Photograph prevent such disastrous fires from reoccurring. courtesy Sikhote-Alin Reserve.


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TRAINING YOUNG CONSERVATIONISTS—In

Russia there is a deep respect for the importance of science in guiding conservation. However, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the political and economic chaos of the 1990s, had a debilitating effect on Russian scientific and natural resource management programs. Science departments in both protected areas and even the Russian Academy of Sciences had funding and salaries severely cut. Talented young Russians, even many of those with a genuine interest, avoided fields such as ecology and field biology, because they saw few opportunities for earning a livelihood from these professions. Now, salaries are starting to become more attractive, but new reforms are again threatening the status of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Consequently, there remains a huge gap between the remaining high-quality aging scientists and the few newcomers to the scientific and conservation fields. In recognition of the weak situation for wildlife science in the RFE, WCS created the Sikhote-Alin Research Center, which supports and provides opportunities for young, capable, and eager Russian students, helping them find their niche in the realm of wildlife biology, management, and tiger Dasha Maksimova, a graduate student studying musk conservation. The Sikhote-Alin Research Center deer conservation, finds a tiger hair on a scent tree. (SARC) is a formal collaboration with Sikhote-Alin Photograph © J. Slaght, WCS Russia. Reserve to undertake high-quality scientific research in the protected area and more broadly in the RFE, and is also an informal collaboration with a number of Russian and American scientific institutes and academies. The impact of SARC has been significant. Two of our early graduates now occupy important positions in Institutes of the “Producing quality conservationists and scienAcademy of Sciences (one is tists in the Russian Far East remains a core part head of a laboratory, a senior of the WCS Russia conservation strategy.” position in the Academy), two others are now Deputy Directors of Scientific Programs for protected areas (Land of the Leopard National Park and Sikhote-Alin Reserve), two more are staff members of science departments in protected areas, and two are playing central roles in assessing the risk of disease to tigers in the Russian Far East. All are focused on large cat conservation. All alumni of the Sikhote-Alin Research Center also have a strong sense of camaraderie and collaboration, a further major success as there is a long history and tradition of distrust between Russian scientists from different organizations. Given these successes, and the demand for more, producing quality conservationists and scientists in the Russian Far East remains a core part of the WCS Russia tiger conservation strategy.


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Progress in 2014—In 2014 we supported four Russian graduate students (Yuri Petrunenko,

Dasha Maksimova, Aleksansdr Rybin, Nadezhda Sulikhan) and two Western graduate students (Martin Gilbert, Jenifer Morton) working on our conservation projects. Yuri is finishing up his Ph.D. dissertation at the Pacific Institute of Geography in Vladivostok, and already has a permanent position there. Aleksandr Rybin is also writing up his dissertation while serving as a staff member of WCS. Dasha Maksimova continues field studies of the unusual musk deer, an animal under severe hunting pressures because the contents of its anal glands are highly prized in the perfume industry. Martin Gilbert has finished up his field work on canine distemper (see above) and Jenifer Morton, an M.S. student from Clemson University, spent the 2014 winter working on the development of Morton (left), a graduate student from Clemson a methodology for using camera traps to Jenifer University, spent winter 2014 working on an ungulate denestimate ungulate densities in Sikhote-Alin sity project with Vasilissa Derugina (right), a RussianAmerican volunteer. Photograph © WCS Russia. Reserve. Recognizing the importance of our work, and noting that the only young specialists in the southern Russian Far East are coming out of our program, the Head of Protected Areas of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources has appealed to WCS to continue our efforts to train young specialists. To meet this request and to improve our efforts, in 2015 we plan to dedicate staff to the SARC Program and develop a more structured approach in order to maximize our influence and help secure a brighter long-term future for tigers and all wildlife in Russia. We are seeking a bilingual Russian ecologist who can lead the SARC Program effort to identify and recruit students from top universities in Russia, work with them to develop projects that address pressing conservation issues, provide them with rigorous practical and theoretical training, and instill in them a strong conservation ethos.

The Sikhote-Alin Research Center (at left) and the under-construction conference hall (at right; now completed) in Ternei. Photograph © J. Slaght, WCS Russia.


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OTHER PROJECTS—We worked on a variety of other conservation projects in 2014, and list a selection of them here:

Razdolnoye Wildlife Corridor.

We have noted the need to secure an ecological corridor between southwest Primorye and the main Sikhote-Alin tiger habitat, which are currently separated by a line of human development. Using a least-cost analytical approach, we identified a route that is most likely to provide a means of movement for tigers and other wildlife between the two habitat patches, and considered how to break the movement corridor into management blocks. We hope that we can continue to push this concept among government officials in 2015, and lead to a broader discussion of the topic that ultimately will lead to securing a corridor for wildlife (and especially tiger) movement. However, we recognize that this is a long-term process.

Anti-poaching in Hunting Leases.

We took the first steps in creating a law enforcement monitoring system for non-protected areas (hunting leases) in the Russian Far East in 2014, specifically targeting ones adjacent to reserves in order to increase the effective size of protected areas. We have developed a management system that is designed specifically for Russian hunting leases to consider responsibilities of patrol staff and organizational structure. We also facilitated purchase of a vehicle for anti-poaching patrols in Southern Valley Hunting Lease near Lazovskii Reserve that has allowed regular patrols to occur an average of 27 days/month over the last four months (a rate comparable to or better than many protected areas).

Bear Ecology.

We are working on a joint project with bear biologists from the United States, Japan, and Russia to radio collar and study the interactions of brown and Asiatic black bears in the Sikhote-Alin Reserve; the best place in the world to conduct this interactive research as it is large, protected, has high densities of both bear species. Results will allow us to better understand the types of competitive interactions that exist between brown and black bears. Most importantly, developing a benchmark on parameters affecting distribution and abundance in this zone of overlap between the two species may better help us understand future climate impacts for bears in Asia.

A brown bear investigates a scent tree. Photograph © WCS Russia.

Avian Ecology and Conservation.

We contributed content to a Baer’s Pochard Action Plan, and Dr . Jonathan Slaght joined the Scaly-sided Merganser Task Force. In addition, In 2014 we helped publish “Birds of North-eastern Primorye: Non-Passerines,” by renowned Russian ornithologist Sergei Yelsukov. This text, in Russian, is the culmination of forty years of his observations in the region.


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Importance of Riparian Forests.

Given the rugged terrain of the Sikhote-Alin Mountains, roads are typically constructed within valleys along these biodiversity -rich riverine (or “riparian”) zones. Hence, roads have a disproportionate impact on riparian zones, which, because of their importance to a multitude of species, has a disproportionate impact on biodiversity of the region. Despite the widespread evidence that exists in other countries on the impact of roads, there is relatively little documentation of their influence and other anthropogenic disturbance within riparian zones on wildlife and biodiversity in Russia. Yet such information is critically needed to inform the management processes for riparian zones. Consequently, we are working with partners at the Wild Salmon Center, World Wildlife Fund, and the Russian Academy of Sciences to develop a paper describing the uniqueness of riverine forests in the southern Russian Far East for biodiversity conservation. Riparian forests of the Russian Far East contain remarkable biodiversity. Photographs © J. Slaght, WCS Russia.


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NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS Partial Media and Outreach 

 

Dr. Dale Miquelle, Aleksandr and Nikolai Rybin, and our program in general was featured in the Discovery Channel documentary “Last Tiger Standing,” which aired in October 2014. Tiger Day was celebrated on September 27, 2014, in Vladivostok. As is typical, this event attracted thousands of participants and garnered local and national media attention. WCS Russia had a parade colonnade of over 50 people (including a school class invited from a nearby village), and we set up a display tent where we provided information about tigers to the public. A blog post by Dr. Jonathan Slaght (titled “Rags of Bone”) was #9 in the Top Ten WCS Stories of 2014. A video, adapted from a 2013 scientific paper co-authored by Dr. Jonathan Slaght about a golden eagle killing a sika deer, has received more than four million views on YouTube as of December 2014.

Partial List of Publications In 2014, staff of WCS Russia published dozens of scientific papers and gave more than a dozen presentations in five countries (Russia, United States, Great Britain, China, Japan). A selection of our publications is listed here: Gilbert, M., D. G. Miquelle, J. M. Goodrich, R. Reeve, S. Cleaveland, L. Matthews, and D. O. Joly. 2014. Estimating the potential impact of canine distemper virus on the Amur tiger population (Panthera tigris altaica) in Russia. PLoS One 9: e110811. Hebblewhite, M., D. G. Miquelle, H. Robinson, D. Pikunov, Y. M. Dunishenko, V. V. Aramilev, I. G. Nikolaev, G. P. Salkina, I. V. Seryodkin, V. V. Gaponov, M. N. Litvinov, A.V. Kostyria, P. V. Fomenko, and A. A. Murzin. 2014. Including biotic interactions with ungulate prey and humans improves habitat conservation modeling for endangered Amur Tigers in the Russian Far East. Biological Conservation 178: 50-64. Miller, C. S., M. Hebblewhite, Y. K. Petrunenko, I. V. Seryodkin, J. M. Goodrich, and D. G. Miquelle. 2014. Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) energetic requirements: Implications for conserving wild tigers. Biological Conservation 170: 120-129. Pikunov, D. G., D. G. Miquelle, I V. Seryodkin, I. G. Nikolaev, and Y. M. Dunishenko. 2014. Winter track counts of Amur tigers in the Russian Far East: Methods and History. DalNauka, Vladivostok. 132 p. (in Russian). Seryodkin, I. V. A. V. Kostyrya, and J. M. Goodrich. 2014. Marking behavior by brown bears in the Sikhote-Alin. Zoologiheskii Zhurnal 93: 694-702. Slaght, J.C. 2014. Blakiston’s fish owls on Hokkaido, Japan: a summary and assessment of conservation strategies. Tyto December 2014: 24-43.


SUMMARY—The projects undertaken by WCS in Russia represent a combination of

practical on-the-ground protection in tandem with biological and ecological research and training to guide longer term conservation strategies. This past year has been a very active and exciting one for us, and we could not have done it without institutional and individual support. In 2014, we saw anti-poaching intensity increase at key protected areas, we saw five young tigers rehabilitated and released back into the wild, we continued to learn how infectious disease impacts tiger populations, we documented remarkable tiger population growth at Sikhote-Alin Reserve and an increase in Amur leopards at Land of the Leopard National Park, we continued our fire management and Blakiston’s fish owl projects, and we worked with graduate students to ensure a future of capable conservationists helming the recovery and continued survival of Russia’s tigers, leopards, and other wildlife. All our activities are fundamental to the survival of the tigers and other wildlife in Russia, and we are dependent on funding received from the international community. If you would like more information about any of our conservation work we do in Russia, please contact Russia Program Director Dr. Dale Miquelle (dmiquelle@wcs.org) or Projects Manager Dr. Jonathan Slaght (jslaght@wcs.org), and visit us on the web: www.wcsrussia.org THANK YOU to those who supported our efforts in 2014!

On the cover: The Maksimovka River basin in northern Primorye, Russia, provides important habitat for Amur tigers, red deer, wild boar, Blakiston’s fish owls, and other wildlife. Photograph © J. Slaght, WCS Russia

Wildlife Conservation Society-Russia Program, Annual Report 2014  
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