In Russia, key threats to both the Amur tigers and leopards are almost identical, as a result, both are considered Critically Endangered species, predominantly due to human activities including poaching, development, and conflict situations.
Human – Tiger Conflict: WildCats support Government agencies and NGO partners to manage all aspects of conflict including rehabilitation and release of injured or orphaned tigers, often reintroducing animals into carefully identified remote areas where big cats had become locally extinct.
Poaching: Research by partners WCS, has demonstrated that human-caused mortality accounts for 75-85% of all Amur tiger deaths, with an estimated 30 tigers being killed each year. Wild tigers are still coveted for their fur and body parts, and in such close proximity to the Chinese border, implementation of rigorous anti-poaching methods (such as SMART) are essential to the growth of this fragile wild population.
Forest Fires; Forest fires are a direct threat to both Amur leopards and tigers as they reduce the animals’ natural forest habitat, replacing it with grasslands that they naturally avoid.
Their range has one of the highest annual rainfalls in all of Russia. Left alone, a luxuriant forest of mixed coniferous and deciduous trees develops, with lush understorey and copious lianas. However, due to a long and frequent fire history, much of this land has been converted to permanent grasslands which are not suitable leopard habitat.
Most fires are set on purpose by local villagers to stimulate the growth of ferns that are a very popular ingredient in Russian and Chinese dishes. As a result of fires, primary forests have disappeared and many barren hills have appeared in the developed belt along the coast and the main road in the Amur leopard range in Southwest Primorye. Today, approximately 57% of SW Primorye remains forested.
Dramatic “crown” fires that completely destroy trees are extremely rare in SW Primorye. The ground fires that are common do damage of a more subtle kind. They do not usually severely damage existing large trees, but they prevent saplings from reaching maturity and they increase the death rate of mature trees by drying the soil and causing bark damage, hence allowing access for pests and diseases. With repeated fires over time, the mature trees begin to die out and the forest is slowly converted to grassland. Once meadows and shrublands are created, fires become even more frequent and intensive and this means recovery to a forest stand is extremely unlikely. Although the total area converted is not measurable on a yearly basis, the impact across SW Primorye has already been significant and is ongoing.
Logging: While performed selectively across the wild cats’ range, habitat loss due to logging does not form a serious direct threat. However, the creation of logging roads increases access and disturbance and leads to increased poaching and fire frequency.
Inbreeding: Loss of genetic diversity in the small and isolated Amur leopard population may cause inbreeding depression (reduced numbers due to reduced reproduction and lifespan and increased vulnerability to diseases). However, additional information on the level of inbreeding and its effects, if any, is needed before conclusions can be drawn.