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Big cats
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Although Amur-Heilong region has at least five members  of feline family roaming in the wild and even more survive in cultural traditions (see Cat gallery), two of these cats are considered especially charismatic species and coincidentally both face extinction.


Amur tiger/Siberian Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica)

The Siberian tiger, the largest tiger in the world, together with the Red-crowned Crane, Oriental Stork, and Amur leopard are perhaps the most prominent symbols of conservation efforts in the region.  The tiger is also an important umbrella species because its conservation has potential to enhance the survival probability of a number of other species sharing the same habitats.  The tiger is a keystone species (its presence determines ecosystem function) and a top predator, playing an important role in mixed conifer and broadleaf forest ecosystems.  The tiger has been the subject of many research studies and conservation efforts.  These have been led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, and regional governments.  Successes have been achieved (particularly in the Russian Far East), but there are challenges to ensuring survival of the subspecies, especially in China.  To paraphrase the Indian tiger conservationist, Valmik Thapar, what the tiger needs is total protection in large tracts of land with abundant prey
The Amur tiger nearly disappeared from the region in the 1940s, when there were fewer than 40 individuals left in the wild.  Over the last decade, the population in Russia has stabilized at 400-450 individuals (415 to 476 tigers in Russia, according to data gathered during a 1995-96 census and 431-529 in 2004-2005 census).  The tiger’s range now extends over an area of approximately 156,571 km2 – less than a quarter of what it was 75 years ago. The number of breeding female tigers on this territory is approximately 200.  About 20-30 tigers remain in the species’ historical range of northeast China and the Korean Peninsula.  Between 2002-2006 tigers have been appearing in their former range on the left bank of the Amur-Heilong River and in Laoyeling.
The main reasons for the tiger’s decline are poaching, and the lack of a sufficient prey base, primarily ungulates – red deer (Cervus elaphus xanthopygos), sika deer, roe deer, and wild boar.  Ungulate populations today are at less than carrying capacity over 70 percent of the tiger’s range.  These ungulates are also popular game species, and populations have been decimated near human settlements.  While tigers are relatively tolerant of people, they are often forced to hunt domestic livestock near farms and settlements, due to the lack of prey in the wild.  This increase in human-tiger conflict frequently leads to the killing of problem tigers and is a primary threat to the long-term integrity of the Amur tiger throughout its range.

Poaching has been a problem for the past decade due to the constant demand for tiger derivatives in Oriental medicine combined with weak enforcement capabilities at Russian and Chinese border inspection stations.  The situation has improved due to the efforts of anti-poaching brigades and increased awareness among government agencies on illegal trade in tiger parts.  Tiger poaching is no longer as widespread as before, but tigers are still taken by poachers.
Logging is degrading tiger habitats and road construction is fragmenting what habitat remains.  While roads themselves are not serious obstacles to tiger movements, an increase in logging, fires, and hunting of ungulates that accompany road development cause further fragmentation and pose direct threats to tigers.  This process is particularly evident along the Khabarovsk-Vladivostok highway and the road being built between Khabarovsk and Nakhodka, where numbers of wild boar and deer have declined sharply.  Due to fragmentation of tiger habitat, corridors are required to ensure that the population remains unified and can move freely throughout its range.
Additionally, key habitats of Korean pine, Mongolian oak, and riparian forest need to be protected to help restore parts of the species’ former range.  While WWF has been working to create an ecological network to link protected areas using corridors, such a network can realistically protect only 15 percent of the tiger’s range.  Therefore, programs for sustainable use of forest resources and game animals must be implemented in other important tiger habitats to create large-scale conservation landscapes over much of the species range.

Captive Amur tigers in tigerparks of China outnumber their wild relatives (Photo by Guo Yumin)


Burning confiscated skin (Photo by WWF)


Far Eastern leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis)

The Far Eastern leopard (also called Amur leopard) is on the brink of extinction.  Fewer than three dozen animals roam the conifer and broadleaf forests in the southern tip of the Russian Far East and adjacent foothills of Changbai Mountains in China and North Korea.  Efforts to save this charismatic umbrella species would help promote cooperation among Russia, China, and North Korea, since the only place the leopard remains is where the borders of these three countries meet
The range  and population of the leopard have decreased drastically in the last 50 years. In Russia it even disappeared in Amur-Heilong River Basin proper as its range shrinked southwards in Primorsky Province. In 1973, there were 38 to 46 leopards in the Russian population.  By 2003, the population had decreased to 30 animals.  In the Jilin Province of China, the leopard population decreased from 45 to 3-5 over the same time period.  The leopard’s current range comprises approximately 5,000 km2.  Of this, about 4,000 km2 are located in southwest Primorsky Province.
Minimum area requirements indicate that even a doubling of the leopard population would only ensure short-term persistence.  In order to guarantee long-term persistence, additional sub-populations of leopards must be created in new territories in former range.
Leopards prefer mixed black fir, pine, and broadleaf forests in the middle and upper reaches of river basins, where rocks and cliffs provide safe dens.  In Russia the existing Barsovyi and Borisovskoe Plateau sanctuaries and Kedrovaya Pad Zapovednik protect about 45 percent of leopard habitat, but the protection regime in the sanctuaries and the small size of the Zapovednik are insufficient to guarantee leopard survival.
The Far Eastern subspecies of leopard has been isolated for more than 50 years, and the problem of inbreeding is acute.  As a result, the population could die out as a result of its limited genetic resources even without direct human pressures.  The population could also be driven to extinction by disease.
The greatest anthropogenic threats to leopards in order of severity are forest fires, poaching, disturbance, logging, and mining.  Bush fires ignited each year to burn dry leaves often burn out of control, compromising forest integrity(see map).  Poaching threatens the species, fueled by demand for leopard pelts and derivatives used in oriental medicines and for their beautiful fur for the fashion industry.  Leopards are occasionally killed in traps set for other animals.  Low ungulate numbers due to over hunting in the border region force leopards to hunt Sika deer on deer farms.  These farms are fenced-off areas where deer are raised for their meat and velvet antlers, used in oriental medicines.  Leopards are sometime shot by deer farm managers when caught on their property.  Implementation of the Tumen River Economic Development Project in North Korea and Yanbian District of China is leading to increased human density and development of infrastructure in the region.  Though timber resources in southwestern Primorsky Province are extremely limited, unorganized cutting continues, particularly in the border region.
The main conservation target is to create and sustain a genetically viable population of at least 50 individuals.  Restoration of leopard habitats is an important task, especially in the Changbai Mountains region.  In accordance with the strategy, WWF has continued support of anti-poaching brigades to halt trade in leopard skins and derivatives.  Other important measures in the strategy that should be a top priority for the Conservation Action Plan are establishing a transboundary protected area between Russia and China in prime leopard habitat and developing sustainable hunting estates as buffer zones and corridors.

Leopard (Photo by V.Solkin)

Map collections:

Species richness

Distribution of charismatic species

Wildlife trade destinations



Fauna types

Terrestrial ecoregions

Major protected areas of Amur-Heilong

Upper Ussury –Lake Khanka

Small Hinggan transboundary area

Frequency of fires in tiger/leopard habitat






Also look:

Species richness in Amur-Heilong River Basin

Large mammals and their migrations

Big cats of Amur-Heilong River Basin

Mongolian gazelle


Exploitation of wild fauna and flora in Amur-Heilong River Basin

Hunting in Russian Far East

Mongolian hunting case study

The harvest of biological resources in China

Trade in flora and fauna in Russian Far East



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