WWF expands conservation efforts to North Korea

Posted on 08 February 2005

Expanding its conservation efforts in the Far East, WWF is cooperating with North Korea on endangered species and forest ecosystem assessments.
Sonbong, North Korea - Expanding its conservation efforts in the Far East, WWF, the global conservation organization, is cooperating with North Korea on endangered species and forest ecosystem assessments. 
 
Following a recent WWF expedition to North Korea’s forested areas along the Chinese and Russian border, WWF Russia signed a protocol with the North Korean Public Committee for the Free Trade and Economic Zone outlining possible directions for future cooperation, including tiger and leopard conservation. 
 
“We have received a unique opportunity to visit areas where according to our estimates not a single foreign naturalist has worked since 1932,” said Denis Smirnov, Coordinator of WWF-Russia’s Forest programme. “Our experts think that there are still significant numbers of big cats living in this area.” 
 
During the one week expedition at the end of January, WWF experts examined different plots of the North Korean taiga including restored coastal forests and Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) forests on the Muchang mountain range.

In the early 1900s this extreme north-east corner of the Korean peninsula was covered by virgin coniferous-broadleaved forests and inhabited by substantial populations of Far Eastern leopards and Amur tigers. But, after years of war (World War II and the Korean War) and industrial development, the area has been severely damaged.

Despite the species’ habitat loss, there are signs that they still exist in this part of their range. 
 
“On the first day of research around the Hwadae Mountain the expedition found prints which we believe belonged to a big cat,” Smirnov added. “We were also happy to see healthy deer populations which at first glance should be sufficient to feed the Amur tiger and the Far Eastern leopard.” 
 
In addition, there have been sightings by locals. One North Korean forester working in the Sonbong forestry unit for 20 years observed the Far Eastern leopard a few years ago, and a hunter near Muchang Mountain told the expedition team about a leopard caught in a snare two years ago. 
 
“Even this short trip has given us some ideas on the principles of forestry and nature protection in North Korea,” Smirnov said. “Together with our North Korean colleagues we hope to expand our cooperation in conservation of the rare species and their habitats.” 
 
NOTES:
• The Amur (or Siberian) tiger is the largest living cat in the world. A typical male Amur tiger may weigh more than 250kg and measure nearly three meters from nose to tip of the tail. Each adult tiger needs a territory of 300–500km2. 
 
• In the 1940s the Amur tiger was on the brink of extinction, with no more than 40 tigers remaining in the wild. Thanks to vigorous anti-poaching and other conservation efforts by the Russians with support from many partners, including WWF, the Amur tiger population has remained stable throughout the last decade or so. Today, about 450 individuals live in the southern Amur-Ussuri region of Russia’s Primorski and Khabarovski Krais provinces, with a few found across the border in northern China and Korea. 

For further information: 
Yulia Fomenko, Deputy Director on Public Relations
WWF Russia, Far East Programme Office
Tel: +7 4232 406652
E-Mail: YFomenko@wwfrfe.ru
There are only about 450 Amur tigers living in the southern Amur-Ussuri region of Russia’s Primorski and Khabarovski Krais provinces, with a few found across the border in northern China and Korea.
© WWF / Vladimir Filonov