Russia pushes for change to advance on doubling wild tiger numbers
This was considered at a special meeting chaired by the Russian President's Chief of Staff, Sergei Ivanov, earlier this week. The aim of the meeting was to review Amur tiger conservation's achievements and problems, two years after the historic International Tiger Conservation Forum held in St. Petersburg in November 2010 and which Russia co-hosted with the World Bank.
At the high-level Forum, also known as the Tiger Summit, all 13 tiger range countries committed to the goal of doubling wild tiger numbers by 2022 (TX2). They also presented the Global Tiger Recovery Program which is an amalgamation of national tiger conservation actions and global targets towards meeting the TX2 goal.
Last August, WWF Russia asked President Vladimir Putin to convene a meeting to review the country's progress on commitments made at the Forum as this has stalled. The President agreed and appointed Mr. Ivanov to convene the meeting, which took place at the same time as the 2nd Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in Bhutan.
“Two years have passed since the Forum was held with some important measures on tiger conservation adopted,” said Igor Chestin, WWF Russia’s CEO. “The government has created the Land of the Leopard National Park, raised wages for state inspectors, and increased funding for protected areas. But progress towards fulfilling some commitments has stalled. We asked for a meeting so we can understand the reasons and plan our next steps. Although the list of official decisions is still being finalized, we are happy that solutions for all complex issues have been found.”
Despite the serious interest expressed by the Russian President in the conservation of tigers and other rare species, no tiger poachers convicted since the Tiger Summit were given jail sentences. Amendments to legislation to impose criminal sanctions for the transportation and trade of rare species have yet to be introduced. As a result, two dealers detained in Primorye in 2012 – one caught with 6 tiger carcasses and the other with 8 tiger skins – are likely to face insignificant fines only. Destruction of critical tiger habitat also continues. Protected forests, wildlife refuge and Korean pine nut harvesting zones are leased out for commercial logging.
“Neighbouring China imposes the death penalty for the killing or sale of tiger parts, while in Russia, the maximum penalty is a fine of 2 000 rubles (less than US$100), and there is no penalty for transporting wildlife contraband,” said Yury Darman, head of WWF Russia Amur branch. “We definitely are not suggesting introducing the death penalty in Russia, but poachers and dealers must be made aware that if convicted, they cannot escape imprisonment. I hope that decorating the walls of elite houses with tiger and leopard skins will not become prestigious but punishable! Without the demand, gunshots will no longer disturb our taiga forests.”
Ahead of the meeting, the Governor of Russia Far East’s Primorsky Province, Vladimir Miklushevsky, signed a decree creating the Sredneussuriisky Wildlife Refuge on 18 October. The area is the only corridor linking the endangered tiger population in China’s Wandashan Mountains to the main population in Russia. Though the Refuge’s creation was part of the Global Tiger Recovery Program, and subject of a WWF feasibility study in 2010, the previous provincial administration declined to establish it and went on to lease out part of its area to a timber company, JSC Les Export, for commercial logging. It was only in the last days before the presidential meeting that the new provincial administration was able to convince JSC Les Export to voluntarily cancel the lease contract.
The meeting also decided to take all necessary measures to protect the Tayozhny Refuge, a critical tiger breeding ground in the Sikhote-Aline Mountains. JSC Les Export is currently suing for the right to conduct logging operations in the Refuge. The Chinese-funded company also has a lease in a part of the Pozharskaya Korean pine nut harvesting zone. Pozharskaya is an important area for both local people and tigers. WWF believes that an amendment to Russia's Forest Code should be introduced for all pine nut harvesting zones within the Amur tiger range to not lease them out, but to allow them to serve their main purpose, namely that of sustaining ecosystem services and gathering of non-timber forest products by local people.
Another topic of discussion at the meeting was the creation of a federal refuge in the middle and upper reaches of the Bikin River. The area is the homeland of the indigenous Nanai and Udege tribes, so provisions have to be made to accommodate their traditional way of life. Establishing a protected area with a regime and management system agreed to with local indigenous peoples is the best way to ensure they never have to wake up to the sound of loggers felling their native forests due to another corrupt timber auction.