Full range census of Amur tiger in its entire habitat

Full range census of Amur tiger in its entire habitat

1 February 2022

In early February, a full range census of the Amur tiger will take place throughout the entire Amur tiger habitat in the Primorye and Khabarovsk territories, the Jewish Autonomous and the Amur regions.


It is being organised and conducted by the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, the governments of the Primorye and Khabarovsk territories, the Jewish Autonomous Region and the Amur Region, as well as nature reserves and national parks, and with support from the Amur Tiger Centre and the Russian Academy of Sciences.


 “As distinct from the monitoring of tigers conducted every year in about a fifth of the tiger habitat, this survey of the entire habitat is held once every ten years. This is a large-scale and expensive process in which over a thousand specialists and hundreds of pieces of equipment are involved,” reports the Ministry of Natural Resources website.


According to the 2004-2005 census, there were 423 to 502 tigers. The census in 2014-2015 established that the number was between 523 and 540.


The 2021-2022 census is extraordinary. It is being conducted seven years after the previous survey because of the reduction in the wild boar population in some places of the tiger habitat due to African swine fever, which had a direct impact on the number and distributions of the tigers.


“The full range census will give us current information about the population and distribution of the Amur tiger in Russia, the spectrum of their diet and many other things. Although the need for current data was prompted by the wild boar problem, it will add credibility to our presentation at the upcoming International Tiger Protection Forum in Vladivostok on September 5, 2022,” said Amirkhan Amirkhanov, chair of the working group on preparing and conducting the full range tiger census in 2021-2022.


A full range census is held in several stages. Preparing for it before winter, the organisers divided the predator’s entire habitat of over 180,000 sq km into sections of less than 10,000 sq km between coordinators. Then the coordinators divided these sections into smaller plots – from 150 to 200 sq km for the field workers or trackers. Each section includes from one to three recorded routes. In all, over 1,300 recorded routes were laid across the tiger’s habitat this year.  


Vladimir Aramilev, scientific coordinator of this year’s Full Range Tiger Survey said the predators are counted by the paw prints they leave in the snow.


“One tiger is distinguished from the other by the imprint of the forepaw’s plantar pad. The width of the hind paw’s palmar pad is also taken into account. A combined imprint of both paws is used if necessary. To identify a species, trackers note the character of its trail and the direction of its movement. Starting with the 2014-2015 survey, we have made broad use of satellite navigation and photo and video recording. In parallel, we use information from automatic photo cameras,” Vladimir Aramilev said.


During the seasonal stage of the survey, trackers collected information on the tiger trails, other predators and hoofed animals by section. They recorded this information in seasonal diaries that they forwarded to the coordinators. In the same stage, they installed photo traps to supplement the information on their trail survey in the future. Both the preparatory and seasonal stages are over now.


“The Federal Specially Protected Nature Areas (SPNA) count the number of tigers in their areas annually, so I know they will do a good job with this as well. The main goal was to integrate their data into the general accounting data base, which they did by organising their work on time and maintaining good inter-structural coordination,” said Vladimir Stroganov, deputy director of the SPNA Department of State Policy and Regulation and the Baikal Nature Territory of the Ministry of Natural Resources.  


The next stage is simultaneous counting. This will start on February 5, 2022, weather permitting. At an agreed-upon time, the trackers will go to their smaller plots throughout the habitat and record tiger and other animal tracks. They will record the data in their diaries, including simultaneous counting, and then pass it on to the coordinators.


“In the Primorye Territory, we are fully prepared for simultaneous counting. So far, we are seeing difficulties only in the Lazovsky and Partizansky districts where there is no snow almost generally. We are hoping for snowfall that will allow us to carry out our work in full,” said Alexei Surovy, first deputy minister of Primorye Territory Forestry and Fauna Protection.


Proceeding from the information in seasonal and simultaneous counting diaries and photo trap data, the coordinators will evaluate the number of tigers in their respective sections and prepare a final report.


“There was a lot of snow in some places in the Khabarovsk Territory and we had to cover all routes on snowmobiles so the tigers could leave their prints there. I am convinced that our efforts will improve the quality of the work. Because of the large distances we usually need more time to complete this than our colleagues in the neighbouring regions,” said Leonid Ivanov, chairman of the hunting sector committee at the Khabarovsk Territory Ministry of Natural Resources.


“Taking the Amur tiger survey in the entire habitat is a complicated task that requires the concerted efforts of hunting supervision and SPNA inspectors, scientific associates, hunters, foresters and environmental experts. This time we have to assign backup field workers due to COVID-19,” said Sergei Aramilev, general director of the Amur Tiger Centre.


He said at least 80 percent of those taking part in the survey this year already have experience from the winter of 2014-2015 survey.


The preliminary results of the full range tiger survey will be announced at the end of May 2022. The final figures will be presented at the International Tiger Protection Forum in Vladivostok in September 2022.