Surveys led by WCS in 1998 and 1999 indicated that tigers in Northeast China were nearly extinct, and wholly dependent on emigration from Russia for persistence. The situation looked bleak, but in fact these surveys, the first ever done by an international team in this region, have provided the basis for a tiger recovery program in Northeast China. Based on our recommendations from joint surveys in the late 1990s, the Chinese government created the Hunchun Tiger Leopard Reserve in 2002, which provides a 1000 km2 of habitat along the border with Southwest Primorye. Because the Hunchun Reserve represents the first “stepping stone” for recovery of tigers in northeast China, WCS has invested greatly in capacity-building and improved protection of this critical piece of territory.
Snare Removal and Anti-Poaching
Early surveys indicated that widespread snares were killing both prey species and the occasional tiger or leopard that came into NE China, and thus we have implemented a snare removal campaign that has, to date, removed more than 10,000 snares. Today, volunteers from across China come to Hunchun for the annual snare removal event. The decline in snares in the reserve coincides very clearly with the increase in reports of tigers, demonstrating that snare removal is playing a vital role in recovery of tigers.
Figure 1. Number of snares removed from Hunchun Tiger-Leopard Reserve, China, 2001-2007. Local people set snares to catch ungulates, but tigers and leopards are also sometimes caught. WCS has led snare removal programs since the reserve's creation.
Figure 2. Number of tigers reported in Hunchun Tiger-Leopard Reserve, China, 1998-2007. As the number of snares in the reserve has decreased, reports of tigers have steadily increased.
WCS is also working with Hunchun Reserve to provide training to improve anti-poaching efforts and to implement a monitoring program that will effectively measure law enforcement efforts. These activities will provide a management tool for refining and improving anti-poaching efforts.
Support for Local Communities
While strict protection of key tiger habitat is essential to conservation, in China it is important to seek to find complementary management strategies that provide for the needs of both tigers and local people. In Northeast China WCS sponsored the first compensation campaign for tiger depredations on cattle, which has since been taken over by the Chinese government. Today, WCS is working with local communities hardest hit by depredations to find new solutions to human-tiger conflicts.
Education of local people and officials is an especially important component of our tiger restoration campaign on the Chinese side of the border. Local people must understand the need for the Hunchun Reserve and tiger conservation, and for success in our recovery efforts, local, regional, and national government representatives must be fully cooperating team members. WCS makes a special effort to provide educational materials and opportunities to local students and adults, and to work closely with government officials.
Finally, monitoring of prey and tiger numbers is essential to demonstrate successes and failures. In 2010 we will conduct the first survey of tigers and prey in Hunchun Reserve since the surveys conducted in 1998. In preparation for this event we have held a series of lectures and training programs on tiger and prey monitoring for Reserve and other governmental staff; Siberian Tiger Project staff have traveled to China to give instruction, and we have brought Chinese specialists to Russia for training.
Read more about Tigers in the China-Russia Transboundary Region.