For the past six years ZSL has used camera traps and snow track surveys to monitor tigers in Lazovsky Zapovednik (LZ) and for the past three years in Zov Tigra National park (ZT). This year the survey work was extended to include the unprotected area between these two parks to see how tigers move between them This unprotected area is managed by a hunting club called Medved (MHL). Monitoring a larger, continuous area provides better information about tiger survival, reproduction and movements of animals between protected areas where they are more susceptible to poaching.
Results from the monitoring this year show that some tigers are moving between the protected areas and the hunting lease with at least one using all three areas. The data indicate a stable population in LZ which is possibly already saturated with tigers, and a 300% increase in ZT which still has more capacity for tigers. There were also no signs of wolves providing additional evidence that tigers are increasing as it is well documented in Russian Far East that wolves decline as tiger numbers increase.
There have also been cubs recorded from 2013 and cubs born in 2012 seen again and the overall cub survivorship has been excellent. Only two from 2012 have not been accounted for but this does not mean they have died, they may have just not been photographed. One female tiger in LZ has also given birth to another litter of cubs just 20 months after her first litter. Such a short interbirth interval normally only happens if there is a single cub in the previous litter, or the litter died. However this particular female had three surviving cubs from that litter and now has another three. This high rate of reproduction is only possible with adequate prey and protection from poaching so this is great news all round.
It is important to record levels of prey species as well as other large carnivores and animals recorded include red deer, roe deer, sika deer, wild boar, badgers, Far East leopard cat, lynx and Asiatic black bear. This is particularly good news for ZT because it has only recently received federal protection and before then was heavily used for natural resource extraction. Ungulate surveys conducted in ZT this year were the most accurate and so these will be used for a baseline to compare future surveys.
The recent decline of Amur tigers is thought to be caused by poaching and in order to prevent this a Management Information System (MIST) is used in both LZ and ZT. Using this system provides a better understanding of poaching dynamics and helps reduce poaching levels. This system is proving to be effective in both parks and the increased tiger numbers and reproduction in both ZT and LZ provides evidence that the anti-poaching program is having its intended effect.
Photos taken by camera traps not only provide information on tiger numbers but can also be used for a far sadder purpose – matching up skins confiscated from poachers in order to ascertain where the tigers came from. So far two skins have been verified as being from tigers in these study areas. The positive impact of this is that providing hard evidence of poaching from a specific location has helped strengthen illegal hunting laws passed in June 2013. These make the transport, sale or possession of an endangered animal a criminal offence and not just a civil crime. This closes the loophole that allowed poachers to claim they found endangered species, like tigers, already dead and thus avoiding stiffer criminal penalties for poaching. We congratulate the Russian Government for this move!
Overall this year has so far been encouraging for this study area. However we know there is still a lot more to be done and the only way this can be achieved is through continued support and funding.