Russian-Chinese symposium outlines wild cat research strategy

Russian-Chinese symposium outlines wild cat research strategy

18 May 2015

A Russian-Chinese symposium on Far Eastern leopard and Amur tiger research in cross-border protected areas was held in Hunchun, China, in mid-May 2015. Tatyana Baranovskaya, Director of Land of the Leopard National Park, led the Russian delegation at the forum.

Several years ago, Russia and China teamed up to protect rare wild cat species. In April 2014, the administrations of Land of the Leopard and China's Hunchun and Wangqing nature preserves signed an agreement on scientific cooperation. As the Far Eastern leopard and Amur tiger populations increase, the animals' habitats will inevitably stretch beyond the Russian border, where they will also need protection.

The Hunchun meeting was yet another step towards deeper ties between Russian and Chinese wildlife conservationists. Aside from the leadership of Land of the Leopard, the Russian delegation also comprised representatives of the Russian Academy of Sciences, WWF Russia and WCS Russia. They met with the heads of Chinese nature preserves, researchers from the Forestry Institute of Jilin Province and experts from WWF China and WCS China.

Chinese participants presented approximate figures for the Amur tiger and Far Eastern leopard populations in China. Poaching and forest fires — two major threats to the animals — were a focus of the symposium, with the sides agreeing to draft a bilateral cooperation agreement to tackle those problems.

"We hope that the meeting will mark another step forward and will help eliminate risk factors for Red Data Book species. Above all, we expect that deeper cooperation and experience sharing will allow us to obtain reliable estimates of the Far Eastern leopard and Amur tiger populations in cross-border habitats," Land of the Leopard Director Tatyana Baranovskaya said.

So far, even approximate numbers for wild cats in China remain elusive, because the analysis of tiger and leopard data from various nature reserves has not yet been completed. Chinese experts have yet to identify the felines that might have been double-registered by two different nature reserves, and compare their figures with those obtained by their Russian colleagues.

"Camera traps are the main tools used in leopard and tiger research in China, the same as in Russia," Land of the Leopard Deputy Director for Research Yelena Salmanova said. "True, camera traps in Chinese cross-border areas aren't distributed as evenly as in similar habitats on Russian territory, but Chinese researchers are already receiving leopard and tiger footage. In some of the images, we recognise animals that we have been spotted in our national park before. A large number of leopards cross into China from Russia and return, while some leopards choose to stay permanently in China."

How many leopards in China are "Russian tourists" and how many are Chinese residents will become clear after the leopard data collected on either side are fully analysed. To speed up the process, the participants in the Hunchun symposium elected a coordinator to collate all the leopard and tiger data in China. In Russia, Land of the Leopard's directorate will play this role.

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