By the end of March, 2013, Amur Tiger Settlement Program had achieved its phased objectives at Wangqing district in Changbai mountains, especially the Amur tiger prey-base population recovery and anti-poaching capability construction. It marks the coming of the critical stage for the goal to double the number of Amur tigers in China.
The Wangqing Forestry Bureau of Jilin province lies in the hilly country of Changbai mountains, adjacent to Russia in the east and Heilongjiang province in the north. Its administration area reaches 304,000 hectares, including the Wangqing National Nature Reserve which covers 67,434 hectares. For the past 10 years, activities of Amur tigers or Amur leopards (which are more endangered) have been detected at Wangqing, the key habitat for Amur tigers in China and potential habitat for immigrating Amur tigers. Therefore, Wangqing was selected as the key demonstration plot for the Amur Tiger Settlement Program. Starting from Wangqing, WWF aims to promote the conservation and recovery of Amur tigers’ population and their habitat in the Amur-Heilong basin.
The Restoration of the Ungulates
The widely-distributed temperate forests in Changbai mountains in the Amur-Heilong basin altogether function as a major producer of the forest products in China. The traditional logging business, the rapid economic growth and poaching have been great threats for Amur tigers and their prey-base, which are mainly the ungulates. The population density of the ungulates has dropped to such a degree that it can hardly sustain the settlement or even survival of wild Amur tigers. Therefore, it is the key for the success of the Amur Tiger Settlement Program to restore the wild ungulate populations, especially red deer and sika deer which are the main preys for Amur tigers.
Winter Supplementary Feeding
In winter, the forests are always covered in thick snow in northeast China, causing the lack of food for the ungulates. This confronts the small prey-base population with an even larger threat for their survival. To help the ungulates get through the harsh winter, WWF and the Wangqing Forestry Bureau initiated the Winter Supplementary Feeding Project at the forest farms in Wangqing in early 2011. Supplementary feeding stations have been set up at the spots frequently visited by the ungulates and feed is added at regular intervals during the winter.
So far, 10 supplementary feeding stations have been set up for the ungulates in Wangqing. The footprints and feces within 30m around those supplementary feeding stations show that red deer, sika deer, wild boars, roe deer and even black bears have all been the frequent callers of the supplementary feeding stations. Those wild animals have accepted the supplementary feeding stations as their refuges against the bitter winter.
Wild Population Supplement for Red Deer and Sika Deer
Though winter supplementary feeding stations can help wild ungulates to keep the population size, yet the base number of red deer and sika deer is too low to meet the need of Amur tigers through winter supplementary feeding in s short time. To solve this problem, WWF came up with a new solution. In cooperation with the Feline Research Center of the State Forestry Administration, the Jilin Provincial Forestry Department and the Wangqing Forestry Bureau, WWF released 30 captive red deer and sika to Lanjia forest farm.
It is of vital significance to track and monitor the released deer as it is the most efficient means to learn about their distribution, behaviour pattern, survival and breeding condition, their influences on the whole ecology and the deer community, as well as whether they are preyed on by wild Amur tigers or leopards. The major monitoring method is tracking the radio collars worn on the released deer, supported by camera trap monitoring and daily patrolling.
The monitoring data shows that red deer adapted to the wildness very well. During the breeding season, they fell into two herds naturally, each led by one male red deer. So far, one female red deer has been pregnant. After the breeding season, a male red deer broke into the forest in Suiyang of Heilongjiang province for several times and hurt the local people. With the help of the local residents and the forestry bureaus of Suiyang and Wangqing, the WWF staff sent this red deer to a forest far away from Suiyang in case he hurts people again.
Till now, one red deer and four sika deer have been found dead at Lanjia forest farm, and the four sika deer are confirmed to be preyed on by Amur leopards. Yet, the conformation of the four sika deer’s remains was delayed because of the thick snow in the mountains. It is interesting that the camera traps on the related spots have captured the scenes of wild boars and yellow weasels enjoying the remains. It indicates that the ungulates are of great importance for the whole ecology there.
The sad news is that the dead red deer were very likely to have been killed by poachers, judging from the scene of its remains. Therefore, a lesson is drawn that anti-poaching is as important as the winter supplementary feeding and the wild population supplement.
A 609-kilometer transect line survey conducted by WWF during the 2010-2011 winter on nine forest farms shows that the snare rate is 1.6 per 10 kilometers, which means poaching is still the major threat for wild animals.
To respond to this threat, WWF have been trying three different anti-poaching management modes with its local partners since 2011 at the Amur tiger habitat in the Amur-Heilong basin, which are the WWF management mode, the forest farm management mode and the forestry bureau management mode. It can be seen from the names that WWF’s involvement becomes less and less from the first mode to the last. On the contrary, the local partners’ initiative and capability increases from the first to the last one.
WWF cooperated with the Wangqing Forestry Bureau in the forestry bureau anti-poaching management mode. With the support from WWF, the Wangqing Forestry Bureau has gradually established a top-down anti-poaching management system. The responsibility of anti-poaching falls upon every forest farm manager, and anti-poaching becomes a routine activity for the rangers at the forest farms. Meanwhile, the contractors of non-timber products around the Amur tiger habitats are required to follow an anti-poaching clause added into the contracts. As the beneficiaries of Nature (also the potential poachers), they are encouraged to make contribution to Nature and be a conservationist.
The patrolling data in the past three years shows that the trace of poachers or new snares can hardly be seen in the forests under the administration of the Wangqing Forestry Bureau. The snares found in daily patrolling were all old ones. In the future, WWF will promote the use of the SMART system, which is an advanced patrolling information management system, and integrate it with anti-poaching patrolling.
After several years’ trial and efforts, the achievement of the Amur Tiger Settlement Program has undergone qualitative changes, compared to the quantitative changes in the initial stage. Through field monitoring and with the help of camera traps, photos and videos of rare wild animals like Amur tigers, Amur leopards, lynx, golden eagles, Siberian musk deer, sika deer and weasel have been captured. The ecotope of Amur tigers in Wangqing has been largely improved.
WWF is now committed to popularize the Wangqing Forestry Bureau’s successful practices in the Amur tiger and its habitat conservation all over the Amur-Heilong basin, to set up a cross-province and cross-border Amur tiger habitat conservation network and to establish an eco-corridor and suitable permanent habitat for the over-populated Amur tigers in Russia to migrate into China, so as to realize the objective of doubling the number of Amur tigers by the next tiger year.