Due to greater population density in China and much more intensive use of wild biological resources, populations of wildlife in northeast China are under much greater harvest pressure than in Russia. The range of species collected for food or medicine in China is very wide. Examples are striking for a westerner accustomed to a much less diverse diet.
Far East forest frog (Rana dybowskii) is used in pharmaceutical and perfume manufacturing, and is also a food delicacy. Its case history exemplifies the potential for unregulated harvest to decimate wildlife populations. The same species is a perfect example of how wise management can reverse negative trends. When populations were being decimated in Heilongjiang Province, the Provincial Forestry Department adopted a policy of allowing individuals to lease stream valleys for frog rearing. This consists of several practical methods of ensuring better conditions for wild frogs to survive the winter in deep ponds, salvaging roe from drying seasonal pools, and feeding larvae to increase survival in the most critical first year. The lease holder is entitled to exclusive use of his stream valley and is permitted to harvest mature (3-4 year-old) frogs each autumn. At least in the valleys of the Small Hinggan Mountains, this policy worked both for frogs and lease-holders (typically local forestry officers). Long-term consequences of this approach to frog conservation are yet to be studied, but are unlikely to be detrimental.
Small passerine birds are caught in large numbers and used both as daily food and for sale. Birds are caught in nets set in backyards of village homes. An estimate for one small Lindian District north of Daqing is 10,000 birds per day during four months of spring and autumn migration each year. Since many households practice this routinely it cannot be combated only by law enforcement.
Hunting with rifles by local residents was banned in China in the 1990s when firearms were surrendered by the public. Small-scale sport hunting at designated hunting reserves is now the only legal form of hunting and is unlikely to affect wildlife populations or species numbers. The ban on firearms has had a positive effect on numbers of many game species and decreased their fear of humans, so that one can easily observe waterfowl and grouse at much closer distance than that typical in Russia. For example, a 10 year hunting ban in Jilin Province and associated conservation measures have led to twofold increases in roe deer and wild boar and less pronounced but steady increase in other ungulate populations.
However, in remote areas poaching is widespread, the range of hunting tools is diverse (traps, snares, nets, explosives, poison), and enforcement systems are far from perfect. Resent limitations on logging has led to massive migration of former loggers from mountain forests into towns, thus somewhat relieving this pressure. Nevertheless, if sufficient market demand arises for particular wildlife species, natural populations can be reduced dramatically in only a few years if not months. Hunting is illegal: Villagers who take part of their subsistence from the forest are, by strict interpretation of the law, engaged in poaching.
Authorities are trying to encourage licensed “wildlife farming”, but this may lead to further depletion of wild populations, because specimens for “farming” are caught alive in the wild. Farming is encouraged for such species as wild boar, red deer, Sika deer and roe deer, wild ducks and some others. Since the early 1990s the no-access policies at the Russia-China border were weakened and by 2005 ecosystems near the border experienced double pressure from both Russian and Chinese populations. In 2002-2004 in Primorsky Province several incidents of intentional poisoning of small rivers by Chinese subjects present a vivid example. Small groups of Chinese villagers, probably from poverty areas, went across the border into a poorly guarded border strip of Russia and used outdated pesticides to catch frogs and small fish for sale in local markets. Poaching in a wide border strip located between posts of border guards, and rarely visited by guards from either side, became a widespread problem.
Lack of cooperation on nature conservation in the border zone, where it is increasingly difficult to control poaching leads to a paradoxical situation in which efforts to combat poaching on the Chinese side of the border ultimately result in increased poaching in poorly protected parts of the same ecosystem in Russia.
Russian expert Irina Maslova examines frog from Taipinggou "frog farm" (Photo by E.Simonov)
Exhibit of traps and nets confiscated from poachers at Jilin-Pimorsky border (Photo by D.Kuchma)