The WCS China programme managed to get snowtracking amur leopards and tigers carried out before any COVID-19 lockdown occurred in the area.
Walk a mile in their boots
by Ren Yi, WCS China
Despite lower densities of Amur tigers compared to warmer parts of tiger range, it is much easier to study their movements and understand their behavior here. That is because in winter we can track them in the snow. In January 2020, our team devoted nearly two weeks to snow tracking activities, largely in the Dahuanggou region some 20 kilometers from the edge of Hunchun Nature Reserve. In January, China was still in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, and our field sites in Jilin Province had no reported cases. As a result, we were able to carry out field work with no restrictions.
We spent the first few days walking transects in the forest, looking for tracks. Then, we split into two groups of three people to follow four sets of tiger tracks and two sets of leopard tracks for a total of 121 km. It is always a fascinating experience to walk as these big cats do, seeing where they stopped to rest, slowed to stalk prey, or scraped a tree to mark their territory. There is an English idiom that if you want to understand another person, you should “walk a mile in their boots.” This is quite literally what we are doing: walking in the footsteps of tigers and leopards to better understand them.
There is value to this work beyond behavioural observation: as tigers and leopards continue to expand in northeast China, they’re moving into areas like Dahuanggou where they have not been seen in decades. By following these animals in snow, we are able to identify preferred travel routes, the location of marking trees, preferred scent-mark locations, and consequently set out camera traps that will have a much better chance of capturing photos of these elusive beasts as they return to this region. We’ll be back to Dahuanggou as soon as it’s safe to do so, to keep working to understand and help protect these magnificent animals.