Far Eastern Leopard Conservation Programme

Geographical location:

Europe/Middle-East > Eastern Europe > Russian Federation

Summary

The long-term goal for leopard conservation is to enlarge and maintain a genetically viable population of at least 50 individuals in south-western Primorsky Province and create new founder populations in other parts of the animal's former range.

The project is a combination of 6 main blocks divided as follows:
A. Build capacity for inter-agencies cooperation in Far Eastern leopard conservation.
B. Halt poaching and illegal trade of Far Eastern leopard and its prey.
C. Establish well-developed regional protected area system.
D. Develop and implement at model sites the wise use of game species and deer farming.
E. Develop the reintroduction programme.
F. Increase the public recognition of Far Eastern leopard conservation.

Background

Eastern leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) 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 Ecoregion Complex. 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 in the Cherny (Black) Mountains where the borders of these three countries meet.

The range and population of the leopard have decreased drastically in the past 50 years. In 1973, there were 38 to 46 leopards in the Russian population. By 1991, the population had decreased to 30 to 36 animals. In the Jilin Province of China, the leopard population decreased from 45 to 10 over the same time period. Survival of leopard cubs fell from 1.9 cubs per female in 1973, to 1.7 in 1984, and to 1.0 in 1991. The leopard's current range comprises approximately 10,000-15,000 km2. Of this, about 4,000 km2 are located in south-western 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.

The leopard inhabits mountainous and forested regions, mainly in the Khasansky, western Nadezhdinsky, and Ussuriisky administrative districts of southwestern Primorsky Province. 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. The existing Barsovy and Borisovsky Plateau sanctuaries and Kedrovy Pad Zapovednik protect about 40 percent of leopard habitat, but the protection regime in the sanctuaries and the small size of the zapovednik are insufficient to guarantee the species' survival.

The Far Eastern subspecies of leopard has been isolated for more than 20 years, and the problem of inbreeding is acute. As a result, the population could die out as a result of its limited gene pool even without direct human pressures. Chances are high that the population could be wiped out by illness.

The greatest anthropogenic threats to leopards in order of severity are forest fires, poaching, disturbance, logging, and mining. Brush fires ignited each year to burn dry leaves often burn out of control, compromising forest integrity. 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 often killed in traps set for other animals. Low ungulate numbers due to overhunting in the border region force leopards to hunt sika deer on deer farms, fenced-off areas where deer are raised for their meat and velvet antlers, used in oriental medicines. Eight deer farms are located in the foothills of the Borisovsky Plateau and the Cherny (Black) Mountains - prime leopard habitat. Leopards are occasionally shot by deer farm managers when caught on their property.

Implementation of the Tumangan 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. Mining has degraded forest ecosystems in some areas (Baklanov and Karakin 2002).

The "Strategy for Conservation of the Far Eastern Leopard in Russia" was drafted by a working group established by the International Conference on the Preservation of the Far Eastern Leopard, held in November 1996 in Vladivostok. WWF facilitated development of the strategy with funding from the USAID. The strategy, approved by the former Russian State Ecology Committee, Academy of Sciences, and the Administration of Primorsky Province, summarizes available information on the leopard's natural habitat, numbers, life cycle and habits, existing conservation measures, and outlines priorities for protecting the Far Eastern leopard in the future (appendix 1). The strategy is available online at www.wwf.ru/publications.

In accordance with the strategy, WWF initiated the establishment of special anti-poaching brigade "Leopard" of Wildlife and Game Service of Primorskii province and has continued its support with funds from WWF-US. In 2002, in collaboration with Khasansky brigade of inspection "Tiger", funded by Phoenix and Tigris Foundation, the interagency collaboration was initiated. Participation of district prosecutor and police helped to arrest most cruel poachers in villages in leopard habitats. From other side the active work is going with Far Eastern custom to halt trade in leopard skins and derivatives. Special education project was conducted to improve collaboration with boundary guards who control the Russia-China border.

Other important measures in the strategy that should be a top priority for the RFE Conservation Action Plan are establishing a transboundary protected area between Russia and China in prime leopard habitat. WWF supported existing Barsovy and Borisovskoe Plateau sanctuaries and assisted in establishment of Hunchun wildlife reserve on China side of leopard area. In January-March 2002, the severe snowfall threaten the populations of sika deer and roe, main leopard prey. To avoid disaster, WWF with the help of Tiger Emergency Fund provided the additional forage for animals and strengthen their protection, including the hunting ban in winter 2002-2003. WWF and WCS now are working to elaborate Ungulate Recovery Program in tiger and leopard habitat to balance interest of large predators, their prey and local hunters.

But for long term persistence, the Far Eastern leopard should be integrated to economic development of southwestern Primorye. WWF prepared the socio-economic analyses and published the booklet "Land of Leopard". To develop ecotourism as an alternative source of income to logging for communities in leopard habitat, the special non-commercial partnership "KhasanEcoTour" was established. In the framework of GEF-UNDP project TumenNet, WWF initiated the public awareness program "The Land of Leopard" to involve local community in species conservation.

Objectives

WWF in collaboration with leading NGOs such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Phoenix Foundation supported the activities of the Far Eastern Leopard working group which elaborated the Conservation Action Plan, published in 2002 as a joint program. The long-term goal for leopard conservation is to enlarge and maintain a genetically viable population of at least 50 individuals in southwestern Primorsky Province and create new founder populations in other parts of the animal's former range.

The status and needed conservation actions were in detailed discussed at the International Conference on Conservation of Far Eastern Leopard in the Wild (Vladivostok, May 11-14, 2001), conducted by WCS with active participation of WWF (Appendix 2). WWF Russia has included the main activities for leopard conservation to the Conservation strategy for 2002-2007 (Approved in December 2001, Moscow, Appendix 3). Based on these documents and on proposals from all stakeholders, the alliance of interested NGOs had elaborated the Conservation Action Plan for Far Eastern leopard, which was discussed and approved at the meeting of Russian Far East Ecoregional Council in May, 23-24, 2002 (Appendix 4).
This action plan is divided into three strategic components: protecting the Web of Life, changing the Rules of the Game, and adapting Markets and Lifestyles in accordance with WWF TDP guidelines. Implementation of the CAP is the responsibility of the leading environmental NGOs that contributed to its preparation:
- Phoenix Foundation (PHOENIX) with support of TIGRIS foundation funds the anti-poaching activities of Khasansky brigade of Inspection "Tiger" and insurance program for deer farms as well as fire-prevention team of local hunting society, student inspection "Manchzure", education and public awareness;
- The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) primarily handles issues related to scientific research aimed at developing and implementing plans for conservation of the leopard, and support the improvement of management in local hunting leases;
- WWF carries out projects in all leopard range as well, concentrating its efforts on implementing integrated environmental policies using an Ecoregional approach, creating a system of nature reserves, supporting anti-poaching brigade "Leopard", promoting sustainable use of natural resources and development of eco-tourism;
- The Zov Taigi Nature Conservation Center (ZT) works to promote awareness of issues on biodiversity conservation in the entire RFE Ecoregion Complex and to build support for implementation of the CAP.

WCS, WWF, Phoenix Foundation and Tigris Foundation signed an agreement on collaboration on Far Eastern leopard conservation. The International TRAFFIC program works on controlling illegal trafficking of derivatives of rare species.
State nature conservation agencies are the main partners for NGOs in implementing the CAP. These include the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the RFE Federal Region and its regional offices in Primorsky province, as well as provincial wildlife and game department. These agencies in particular should be interested in having a unified governmental strategy for biodiversity conservation and natural resource management. While under the current system of jurisdiction, NGOs have little authority to capture and punish poachers, NGOs provide maximum assistance to existing state agencies, hunting inspections, the "Tiger" Inspection of the Ministry of Natural Resources, ranger services in zapovednik, and the RFE Customs Agency.

WWF and Phoenix Foundation support of the student brigades for nature conservation in leopard habitats: "Manchur" of Far Eastern state university and "Ussurisky Medved" from Ussurisky agricultural institute. Students are directly involved in anti-poaching activities and participate in many nature conservation projects implemented within the framework of this CAP.

Working Plan for FY2003

The Far Eastern Leopard Conservation program was discussed at the WWF Russia Country Team (September 2002, Vladivostok). By the initiative of WWF-Germany, it was agreed to pass from separate projects funded by different donors to joint program, where all donors will be contributors to the whole program with one reporting system. In this case, the logframe of the program was developed with special line for still separate budgets. The activities are combined into 6 main blocks as follow:
A. Build capacity for inter-agencies cooperation in Far Eastern leopard conservation.
B. Halt poaching and illegal trade of Far Eastern leopard and its prey.
C. Establish well-developed regional protected area system.
D. Develop and implement at model sites the wise use of game species and deer farming.
E. Develop the reintroduction program.
F. Increase the public recognition of Far Eastern leopard conservation.

Build capacity for inter-agencies cooperation in Far Eastern leopard conservation

- Promote an initiative to create a coordination council for the protection of the leopard and its habitat (preferably under the leadership of a Vice-governor in Primorskii province) that includes all interested stakeholders;
- Develop and approve at the level of Primorskii province a long term action plan to protect the leopard and its habitat that contains an operating budget (Strategy for the Protection of Biodiversity for the Far Eastern Ecoregion);
- Together with Inspection "Tiger", Primorskii Province Wildlife Management Department and the Phoenix Fund, develop a mid-term (3-5 years) plan to develop and organize well coordinated anti-poaching brigade activities that includes prioritized programs for investing non-budget (including international) funds;
- Lobby for a full allocation of funds from federal and regional budgets to protect the rare and endangered species covered in Federal Target Program "Ecology and Natural Resources of Russia";
- Support the daily activities of Far Eastern Leopard Working Group and its core committee in Vladivostok.

Halt poaching and illegal trade of Far Eastern leopard and its prey

- Support the existing anti-poaching brigades in leopard habitats. The funding of anti-poaching brigades should be done in accordance with Evaluation report and on the base of Regulations, approved by donor organizations;
- Replace the system of monthly pay for brigade members with a system of bonuses that depends upon team activities. Reorganize the pay scale for brigade members, irrespective of agency subordination, and make compensation dependent exclusively upon results obtained in accordance with approved Regulations (Appendix 5);
- Support the special group which includes district prosecutor, police and criminal expert to react on hot cases. Develop a project to create an informant network and an information hot line;
- Organize a system of regular seminars and trainings for anti-poaching brigade members to improve coordination and exchange experience;
- Support the activities of regional student environmental protection brigades as a potential source of trained professional staff for government monitoring and inspection services.
- Improve operations with the State Boundary Guards to identify and interdict the poaching in the Russia-China border zone;
- Develop joint action plans with State Boundary Guards to educate boundary guards and improve monitoring of sites where contraband is transported and at locations where these parts can be moved across the borders of Russia.

Establish well-developed regional protected area system

- Lobby an international campaign to establish unified protected area (Barsovy national park) on the base of existing Kedrovaya pad nature reserve, Barsovy and Borisovskoe Plateau sanctuaries linked by the ecological corridors;
- The Econet scheme and special land using plan should be prepared to keep for leopard movements the corridors connected Sikhote-Alin range, Southwestern Primorye and Pogranichny Ridge;
- The Reproduction zones for ungulates should be selected and established within the territories of hunting estates in the breeding ranges of leopard females and to provide the opportunity for recovery of ungulates populations;
- Support the exchange program with Hunchun tiger and leopard nature reserve in China;
- In cooperation with UNESCO project support the establishment of transboundary biosphere nature reserve on the Russia-China-North Korea border.

Develop and implement the system of wise use of game species and deer farming

- Develop and adopt a management plan to restore ungulate numbers in leopard habitat for 2 model hunting leases;
- Introduce a ban on hunting ungulates in reproduction zones or in areas where their numbers have dramatically declined;
- Develop and implement a system of norms creating conditions that make hunters interested in having a leopard located on leased lands;
- Limits on timber harvest at long term hunting leases and unconditional government guarantees of compliance by primary land users and timber leaseholders;
- Conduct the experiments in biotechnical measures to increase the ungulates populations in leopard habitats;
- Disseminate the experience of model hunting leases: publish booklet, conduct seminars and exchange program.
- Prepare the business plan for conversion of dear farm to safari-park.
- Establish the non-commercial entity as am administrative body to buy the deer farms and to manage the land property for leopard conservation.

Develop the reintroduction program

- Elaborate the reintroduction program based on the contest between interested scientists;
- Select the site for reintroduction center and prepare the business plan for its creation;
- Lobby the approval of reintroduction program with Ministry of Natural Resources.

Increase the public recognition of Far Eastern leopard conservation

- Develop and implement, based on the results of the social survey conducted as part of this project, a targeted communication program aimed at various levels of society and that initially focuses on hunters and rural residents, and that also includes the participation of young people;
- The booklet should be prepared and printed on Far Eastern Leopard Conservation Action plan;
- The information package with info on leopard conservation should be elaborated and printed in sufficient number;
- The Press-club "Poslednya Sreda" should launch and support the mass-media campaign with special target on leopard extinction;
- The special Leopard Festival should be conducted at the end of August in cooperation with WCS, Phoenix Foundation and local authorities. It should involved local authorities, education system and tourist agencies of South-West Primorskii province.

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