By Michelle Werts
For years, one of my holiday gifts to my wildlife-loving brother has been a wall calendar featuring gorgeous photography of wolves, polar bears or anything else that really pops that year. This year’s calendar was “Wild Cats,” featuring the biggest and baddest felines around. I bought it with a little bit of a heavy heart, though, knowing that wild cat populations around the world are severely threatened. Little did I expect that a new report would give some hope to big cat lovers everywhere.
Last week, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced that its scientists are seeing a recovery of tigers in a few key Asian ecosystems, one of which is very familiar to American Forests: Russia.
A decade ago, American Forests Global ReLeaf partnered with a number of Russian agencies to plant Korean pines to help the Amur, or Siberian, tiger. Found only in the Russian Far East and a few areas of China and Korea, the Siberian tiger was almost extinct by the middle of the 20th century, at less than 100 tigers left in the wild. Today, the species population has risen to between 350 and 500, leaving it still endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
Much of the tiger’s woes last century came from big game hunting, and while poaching can still be an issue, the challenge it faces today is habitat loss. As Korean pine trees have become more desirable around the world for their pine nuts and the oil they produce, logging has begun taking a toll on the Siberian tiger’s habitat and that of its prey. American Forests reforested 370 acres of Russia with 130,000 Korean pines in the early 2000s to help the tigers.
Two years ago, Russia listed the Korean pine in CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in an effort to make illegal logging efforts more difficult to help preserve habitat for the tiger. Also in 2010, Russia hosted the first International Tiger Conservation Forum, in which 13 countries containing tiger habitat committed to doubling the animal’s population by 2022. To help this effort along, in October 2012, Russia established a new wildlife refuge, designed to create a corridor along the Russia-China border that is considered to be critical tiger habitat. Well done!
While the world’s tiger populations still have a ways to go, this good news from Russia — and India and Thailand, which were also mentioned in the new report — is a positive step for such a majestic animal that I hope is roaming the forests for generations to come.