WCS Russia

Countering Poaching of Amur Tigers


Patrol teams operating in protected areas use various transport means, including all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, four-wheel drive vehicles, boats and motorbikes. Analysis of patrol monitoring data show that foot patrols are most effective in detecting and apprehending poachers, but trespassing tourists are most often found during vehicle patrols. 

"SMART Approach" for improving protection of Amur tigers and leopards in protected areas in Russia 

This program is a collaborative effort of WCS Russia with Phoenix Fund (a Russian based conservation NGO) and the Zoological Society of London. Presently we work with 6 federal-level protected areas and we plan to expand our program to an additional protected area in the summer of 2015. Substantial progress in improving the quality of anti-poaching patrols has already been achieved in the 4 protected areas where we started operating in 2010 and 2011.

The Russian Far East is home to the world’s largest remaining population of wild Amur tigers, estimated at 430 to 500 individuals (2005). Recent data from the Amur Tiger Monitoring Program, a 17-year collaboration between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Russian partners, provides strong evidence that both tiger and prey numbers are in decline. An increase in poaching, compounded by habitat loss, are the key drivers of this downward trend.

Findings of the Amur Tiger Monitoring Program highlight the importance of protected areas as core breeding habitat or ‘source sites’. Compared to adjacent forest lands, both adult and cub tiger densities in protected areas are significantly higher. However, despite their protected status, protected areas have experienced greater losses of tigers between 2005 and 2010 than unprotected areas due to poor law enforcement. Improving law enforcement in protected areas is therefore a priority for the conservation of tigers and other wildlife in the Russian Far East.

Our comprehensive program for improving anti-poaching in protected areas consists of the following components: 

  • Introduction of an innovative method for patrol management ("SMART Approach") based on Law Enforcement Monitoring (LEM) and Adaptive Patrol Management with use of MIST and SMART software. Below we explain how this works. 
  • Support for effective anti-poaching patrols, such as training and the provision of equipment, vehicle fuel, and spare parts.
  • A bonus system that rewards anti-poaching teams who perform well. 
  • Improving biological monitoring to demonstrate increases/decreases of tigers and their prey in relation to improved anti-poaching effort.  

The long-term goal of our program is increasing tiger, leopard and prey populations in the program sites and - through dispersal - in adjacent areas. This figure illustrates the program GOALS.

What is the "SMART Approach" for improving patrol management?

The "SMART Approach" is based on the use of the law enforcement monitoring data in an adaptive patrol management process that is aimed at continuously improving patrol quality. The Law Enforcement Monitoring (LEM) uses GIS technology (Geographic Information System), which means that all patrol monitoring data are linked spatially and can be shown on maps. LEM makes it possible to assess and compare patrol efforts and results over time

and across teams and sites. Anti-poaching teams use GPS (Global Positioning System) units to record their patrol routes and they document poaching and other relevant incidents during patrols on specially designed data forms. In Russia data on patrol movements, violations, and tigers and leopards are collected by patrol teams and then stored in a computer database using SMART (or MIST) software. By generating regular patrol reports, LEM facilitates evaluation of patrol performance and improved patrol management. Regular meetings between WCS staff, inspectors and management staff allows assessment of patrol accomplishments and determination of priority areas and targets for future efforts of anti-poaching teams. If applied well, the "SMART Approach" can produce substantial improvements of patrol quality.




The "SMART Approach" has rapidly become a very popular conservation tool worldwide. It is already applied at more than 150 conservation sites in Africa, Asia and South-America to improve the protection of species that face extinction due to poaching (e.g. tigers, elephants and rhinos). However, before the start of our program, it had not yet been tried in Russia.

Program - overview and accomplishments

The SMART Approach was launched in Lazovskii Nature Reserves and the Land of the Leopard National Park on the 1st of December 2010, in Zov Tigra National Park and Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve on the 1st August 2011, in the Ussurisk Nature Reserve on 1 April 2014 and in Bolshekhekhtirskii Nature Reserve on 1 April 2015.  These protected areas represent core breeding habitat for Amur Tigers in the Russian Far East.
WCS Russia and partner organizations Phoenix Fund and Zoological Society of London are providing a support package to these protected areas that includes:
  • Equipment for patrol data collection, processing and storage (including GPS units for recording patrol routes, cameras for documenting observations during patrols and a computer with MIST software installed for storing and analyzing patrol data). 
  • Training of protected area staff in data collection and data entry.
  • Technical and management support in the production of quarterly patrol reports for each of the protected areas. The reports contain a review of the performance of each patrol team with recommendations and targets for improvement over the next patrol cycle. 
  • Patrol operational support (fuel, vehicle maintenance, ranger clothing).
  • Funds for a performance-based incentive scheme which rewards rangers for quality patrol work and results. 
  • Biological monitoring is assessed and improved at each of the four sites, in order to measure the impact of improved patrol effort on tiger, leopard and prey populations. 

Open a MAP of the four protected areas where this project is implemented. 


Our patrol reports provided a first opportunity for management and inspectors of protected areas to view maps showing the patrol routes of various teams. In addition, they provide simple figures and tables showing the number of patrol days, patrol distances, time spent on various patrols and results of each of the teams. It is not surprising that the first patrol reports were met with much interest during the first feedback meetings at the four protected areas. At Land of the Leopard National Park in particular, the reports led to very lively discussions between inspectors and the management about patrol quality and options for improvement.

In the first full program year, 2011, we saw a marked growth in anti-poaching results at the two sites where we first introduced the "SMART Approach" in comparison to the three years previous to the start of our program (see figure on the right). In both reserves, the numbers of firearms confiscated more than doubled, the numbers of poachers caught increased by 1.8 to 2.5 times, and the total amount of fines increased by 1.3 to 7.2 times. At least part of these results are due to an increase in patrol quality in 2011 compared to previous years.

Since 2011, overall patrol efforts have continued to increase at the first 4 program sites (see figure below). However, anti-poaching results have not continued to increase after 2011 at these sites and in 2014 they reached the lowest level since the start of our program. This could mean that poaching levels are dropping as a result of increased patrol quality. However, more data are needed before reliable conclusions can be drawn. We witness the first signs of increasing tiger numbers at the 4 sites where we first started our program, however, here too, more data are needed before reliable conclusions can be drawn. Leopard numbers are clearly increasing at Land of the Leopard National Park (leopards do not occur at our other program sites). At the 2 sites where we started working in 2014 and 2015 more data are need before we can draw conclusions on trends in patrol efforts, patrol results and the impact on tiger and prey populations. 

Three indicators of success in improving the average law enforcement effort per month of ranger teams in four protected areas between 2011 and 2014: 1) distance traveled on foot patrols; 2) distance traveled on motorized patrols (vehicle, motor bike, snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle or boat), and 3) total time spent on patrols.

Next Steps
Over the next 1-2 years we want to further consolidate and institutionalize the “SMART Approach” as the standard method for patrol management at the current 6 program sites and achieve further improvements in the patrol quality, prey, leopard and tiger numbers at these sites. In addition we plan to expand our program to at least one more protected area in Amur tiger habitat, bringing the total number of program sites to 7.

Related documents 
  • brochure (download)
  • presentation  (download)
  • the three forms that Russian inspectors use for the collection of patrol data (download)
  • law enforcement result table (download)
  • map of the project areas (download)    

Reducing tiger and prey poaching through improved law enforcement is one of the key strategies for tiger conservation identified at the St. Petersburg International Tiger Summit 2010.