Sergei Ivanov’s report on saving the Far Eastern leopard

Sergei Ivanov’s report on saving the Far Eastern leopard

13 April 2012

Address to the meeting of the Russian Geographic Society's Council of Trustees in St Petersburg:

Mr Putin, Colleagues,


I would like to discuss the preservation of the Far Eastern leopard – one of the rarest wildcats in the world. I will also discuss the steps taken to follow Mr Putin's instructions from September 2010 and the most important work to be done.


As you know, the habitat and the population of the Far Eastern leopard have been steadily declining since the end of the 19th century for reasons of economic development. Its habitat in Russia has fallen by half in the last 20 years alone. These leopards are considered endangered species by Russia and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Today, they survive only in south-western Primorye. It is their last natural habitat. There are 40-45 animals there – a critical number. There are no more than 7-10 leopards in adjacent areas in China and Korea.


I saw them. They are beautiful and graceful. Yet these animals are on the verge of extinction due to hunting, the scarcity of ungulates – their staple food – and the destruction of the habitat as a result of forest fires and timber felling.


Our state is taking urgent measures to save leopards. The most vital issue is to preserve their habitat. The decision was made to establish Russia’s first national park, Leopard Land, which will include their major habitat areas. Special protection territories in Primorye serve as the basis of the project.


Background. Before Oct. 27, 2008, there were three SPNTs in the habitat areas – all differing in status, subordination, and regulation. These include the Russian Academy of Sciences' small Kedrovaya Pad Reserve, the Ministry of Agriculture's Barsovy Federal Sanctuary, and the Borisovskoye Plateau Regional Sanctuary.

Upon the federal government’s instructions, the Leopard Wildlife Preserve was formed on the basis of the Barsovy and Borisovskoye Plateau sanctuaries. It shifted into the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment with the Kedrovaya Pad Reserve, which became responsible for guarding the Leopard Wildlife Preserve. However, both comprise only half of the leopard’s natural habitat. This is why the experts of the Pacific Institute of Geography at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Far Eastern branch began compiling documents to enlarge the national park with adjacent wooded and other land plots. They worked together with their colleagues from Kedrovaya Pad and the World Wildlife Fund.


The material has been coordinated with the regional and federal authorities and the majority of the land users and holders.


The State Ecological Expert Board has approved the programme.


On April 5, Mr Putin signed a government resolution to establish Leopard Land, which includes the chief leopard habitats and will allow for the preservation of the flora and fauna in Primorye’s southern zones.


With a 261,879 hectare area, the park is situated in the Khasansky and Nadezhdinsky municipal districts, Ussuriisk, and Vladivostok's Frunzensky District.


Background. Key transport infrastructure facilities and human settlements will not belong to the park in conformity with accepted practice in other regions.


Kedrovaya Pad and Leopard Land will merge into a single company – Leopard Land – with a single board of directors.


Much has been done to develop special protection national territories that will join the national park. The number of security officers has increased from nine to 32, and their salaries have grown by 80% in two years, which makes them more efficient.


Background. Inspectors detected 427 environmental misdemeanours in 2010-2011, with criminal proceedings launched in 23 cases and 13 convictions made.

The park staff receives state-of-the-art equipment and means of communications, as well as new weapons. Eight new leopards have appeared in the park. We have every reason to expect a steady population of up to 100-120 animals, which will guarantee the leopard's survival.


There was recently drama in the park, however, as a leopard was found dead in late 2011.


Given the time constraints, I will quickly mention the photo traps and the special video cameras that have helped experts identify almost all of the leopards. There is a unique female among them, which was named Lynx after the colour of her tail. Leopard migrations have been observed since autumn with GLONASS collars produced by the Russian company Navigation and Information Systems.


There are three more priorities. First, we must streamline the support of wild ungulates – the primary food of large felines – by making feeding plantations and winter feedings.


Second, efforts against poaching must be toughened, and experts should cooperate more closely with police, who must also enhance efficiency.


Third, we must reduce the technological impact on wildlife – and particularly prevent the fragmentation of the animal's habitat by motorways and other major construction projects, to which large mammals are extremely vulnerable.


Hopefully, the long-awaited construction of the Narvinsky Pass tunnel, which began on March 1as part of the Razdolnoye-Khasan motorway, which is being upgraded. The tunnel will keep intact leopard, tiger and other animal migration routes.


Comprehensive efforts to save the leopard largely depend on funding, for which budget allocations are insufficient.


To accumulate donations and to use them to the greatest possible effect, an autonomous non-profit organisation has been established – the Eurasian Centre for the Study, Preservation and Restoration of the Leopard Population. I chair its Observation Council. Donations around 76 million roubles have already been made, less than a year since the centre was set up. Over 27 million roubles were spent in 2011 and this year’s first quarter on the Observation Council's decisions.


An expert team is drawing a long-term plan concerning the organisation and the development of Leopard Land upon the centre’s orders. The plan will contain recommendations on the preservation of natural complexes and objects, on research and environmental monitoring, on enhancing educational tourism and, last but not least, on the park's administration and economy.


Sceptics think that the Far Eastern leopard is doomed. However, we have international experience to rely on in our cause – suffice to mention our Indian colleagues’ success in restoring the Asian lion population. Only a few dozen lions mercilessly pursued by hunters had survived by the beginning of the 20th century. However, government intervention and consistent work on the patterns that we are emulating have helped to increase the Asian lion population to 400.


I am sure that we will also revive the Persian leopard population around Krasnaya Polyana. It is a national priority to preserve Russia’s wildlife and landscapes, which are unique in their diversity. We will spare no efforts to reach this goal.


Thank you for your attention.