Siberian Snows May Starve Endangered Tigers, Leopards

GLAND, Switzerland, January 2, 2002 (ENS) - This winter's heavy snowfalls in the Primorskii Region of Russia's Far East are likely to reduce the numbers of ungulates such as deer and boar, WWF, the conservation organization, said today at its headquarters here.

This lack of ungulates in turn threatens the survival of their predators, the Far Eastern leopard and the Amur tiger, species which are themselves critically endangered.

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Siberian tiger on an ice covered lake (Photo WWF/Klein & Hubert)
Reports from WWF workers in Far Eastern Russia indicate that ungulates such as Sika deer, Roe deer and wild boars "will likely die en masse from starvation in the coming two months."

"For a long time WWF has been offering to develop an Ungulates Recovery Programme as the basis for long term conservation of the Amur tiger and Far Eastern leopard," says Dr. Yuri Darman, director of WWF's operations in Far Eastern Russia.

"Unfortunately this is still not in place. For the time being, we are taking emergency measures in cooperation with the Wildlife and Game Service to save the ungulates," Darman said.

WWF workers are clearing roads, cutting low hanging tree branches for grazing, and bringing in additional forage. The conservation group estimates $US40,000 dollars will be needed to support these emergency measures to preserve the remaining tigers and leopards.

Snowfalls over the past weeks in the Primorskii Region's southwestern districts have far exceeded the average. The snow is currently up to 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) deep, when for the majority of ungulates living in the area, 0.4 metres (1.3 feet) of snow limits their ability to find food in the forest.

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Sika deer (Photo courtesy Deer-UK)
In deer breeding farms, Sika deer are dying from starvation at a rate of up to eight animals a day. Without additional forage, as many as 80 to 90 percent of the wild ungulates living in southwestern Primorskii may die, according to WWF.

The IUCN-World Conservation Union Red Data Book of 2000 lists both the Russian leopard and the Amur, or Siberian, tiger as critically endangered, which means they are facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future.

These big cats inhabit coniferous and temperate broadleaf forests in far eastern Russia, China and North Korea. Primary threats to their survival are habitat destruction for timber and other forest commodities and poaching for traditional medicine.

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring programme of WWF and IUCN, reports that Russia has become one of the biggest suppliers to the traditional Chinese medicine trade. Exports, mainly to East Asia, include tiger skins and bones. Investigators also found tiger products on sale in Russia's domestic markets.