Siberian Tiger Poaching Under Scrutiny
A new report has suggested that poaching of Amur tigers in Russia is on the increase as illegal deforestation accelerates and their habitat gets smaller.
Amur tigers, sometimes called Siberian tigers, are the only ones found in a northern climate. A hundred years ago, it would be rare to see a wild Amur tiger; hunting had reduced their numbers to as few as 30. Conservation efforts in recent decades have increased their numbers to roughly 600, nearly all in Russia, and at least two-thirds of them live in Primorye.
However, according to a report compiled by conservationist Allison Skidmore poaching is on the increase due to accessibility to remote areas of forest. Now, about half of the Primorye forest that’s home to the tigers, is accessible to hunters.
Skidmore spent five months in Russia in 2019 and 2020. She interviewed hunters and buyers of tiger parts. Many admitted to being involved in the illegal tiger trade, giving their reasons for poaching, their methods, and how tiger parts are smuggled into China.
Smuggled to China
The poachers shoot tigers from their vehicles at night. They then smuggle tiger parts in to China by bribing customs officials. Skidmore estimates that between 40 and 70 Amur tigers are poached every year in Primorye. That’s three to four times higher than what is reported by the Russian government.
If the numbers are true, eventually there will be a population collapse. Tigers,are slow to reach sexual maturity so are slow to replace lost numbers.
Russia’s official count of tigers killed by poachers comes from the Amur Tiger Centre. The centre says that 10 to 15 tigers were poached across Russia in 2020. Sergei Aramilev, the director of the Amur Tiger Centre, has stated that Skidmore’s published tiger research is “largely fiction”.
Hunting and habitat loss
Tiger hunting and habitat loss are largely responsible for the global reduction of wild tigers from an estimated 100,000 a century ago to roughly 5,000 today. Aside from Amur tigers, all five other surviving subspecies are found in tropical forests, mangroves swamps, and savannahs.
The last official Amur tiger census in Russia, conducted in 2015, estimated the population at 532. Estimating tiger populations isn’t an exact science. Aerial surveys and monitoring by camera traps are too expensive. Instead tiger tracks are counted which likely gives imprecise or incomplete results.
Russia historically proactive
Russia has historically been very proactive in supporting tiger conservation. In 1947, the Soviet Union became the first jurisdiction to make it a federal offence to kill tigers. In 2013, Russia criminalised the possession of tiger parts. They also have 22,000 square miles (16,000 square miles in Primorye), of designated protected tiger habitat, according to the Amur Tiger Centre. These steps have helped Amur tigers claw their way back, even as tigers elsewhere have disappeared.
But the recovery of Amur tigers in Primorye is not guaranteed. The deer and wild boars tigers eat are getting harder to find as deforestation destroys pine forests, and fewer trees mean fewer pine nuts, which is the food of choice for the tigers prey. Habitat destruction alongside poaching could be catastrophic for the Amur tigers.
In the summer of 2022, Russia will host the second International Tiger Forum, a global tiger protection summit. If Skidmores findings are true then it is an embarrassing situation for the Russian authorities and they will be keen to increase their conservation efforts.
Ways to combat poaching
Skidmore has suggested there are ways to crack down on the poaching. Customs officials should have greater pay, and greater rotation of staff hours so that any bribed official isn’t guaranteed to be on duty when the tigers are being smuggled in to China.
Anonymous tip lines that offer rewards for information about tiger crimes would also be effective. In addition, Skidmore thinks that the Russian government should pay hunters to reforest old logging roads and advocates use of camera traps that provide dated proof of the presence of tigers.
If you would like to find out more about tiger conservation please check out our Adopt a Tiger page.