The Ussuri taiga is not without tiger

by Evgeny Smirnov, Head Scientist, Sikhote-Alin State Biosphere Nature Reserve

"Terney News" #5882, January 9 1997.

The Amur tiger census was fulfilled in Primorskij and Khabarovskij krai's in November 1995 through February 1996 sponsored by Environmental Policies &Technologies (EPT USA) project and WWF Germany.

Total 675 people took part in the census searching for tiger tracks and making reports and descriptions. The international census team included E.N. Matyushkin from Moscow State University, Dale Miquelle from the EPT project, the krai's coordinators D.G. Pikunov from the Pacific Institute of Geography (Vladivostok) and Yu.M. Dunishenko from the VNIIOZ (Khabarovsk). Seven regional coordinators helped to educate the team of field workers, who made the snow tiger tracking. I.O. Suslov (Primorskij krai's Hunting Departement) helped to coordinate the work with the krai's administration, at the same time organizing survey of boar and elk which are main food for tiger. Using the information from more then 3,000 tiger tracks locations, the minimal number of predators was defined as following: 330 adult or semi adult animals and 85 tiger cubs. As maximum, these figures are 120 adult male tigers, 144 adult female tigers, 107 undefined age and sex, and 104 cubs. Total number therefore is 415-475 tigers. The previous tiger census in 1985 estimated the population of 285-293 in Primorskij and around 350 together with Khabarovskij krai, according to D.G. Pikunov. However, there are always certain difficulties in counting such extremely cautious animals as Amur tiger. Serious discrepancy may appear due to snow depth, food basis concentration, and used methods. The census of such large scale had not been done before, so no wonder that more animals were found this year, although stable population had been observed through the last 10-12 years. Zoologists say the peak of the population growth was in late 80's - early 90's, followed by the poaching increase in 1991-93. The poaching has been reduced in the last few years. The Russian Far East taiga is the last habitat of the Amur tiger, who roamed also in Northern China and the Korean Peninsula long ago. Now only 10-12 animals live in Manchjuria, no evidence comes from the North Korea, while in South Korea they became extinct in the 50's. Almost all the Amur tiger population today lives in the territory of Primorskij and Khabarovskij krai's. The dimensions are not small - over 100,000 square kilometers, but so are the demands of the Amur tiger - each female takes 350-400 sq. km and twice or thrice as much is needed for males. The new measures to save tiger initiated by the government decree of 1995 plan to enlarge the protected areas and restrict the anti-poaching control. The most important is to provide the adequate nutrition basis which now is not sufficient in many parts of the tiger habitat. Both krai's administrations hope to reorganize the hunting to increase the productivity of wild ungulates population. The anti-poaching work has been strengthened. New international programs of support aim to help local communities find stable ways of living with nature, improve living conditions and keep valuable natural resources. With all this, it is important to preserve the Ussuri taiga and its treasures. Those who hate tiger (there are many) after hearing the results of the census will rush for killing the "extra" tigers, dreaming about a few thousand dollars, or write to various administrative institutions that it is dangerous to live near tiger. But they should know that the most tiger habituated areas are the Sikhote-Alin and Lazo State reserves, and for more then 60 years no tiger assaulted humans in these reserves. If tiger is not hungry and healthy, why need they attack people? If the tiger is ill and hungry, the reason is human. If the tiger came up to the village and ate cattle, or even hurt human, this animal must be killed to save the normal tiger population. I'm not trying to reassure anybody, only making report on the last tiger census, saying again the old motto of real taiga men - "Ussuri without tiger is like food without salt. Just diet food."

Tracking the striped cannibal

by Evgeny Smirnov, Head Scientist, Sikhote-Alin State Biosphere reserve.
excerpt from "Terney News" #5883, January 15, 1997

"The Ussuri taiga has not seen such events for long time"

The cannibal tiger story makes people think about two hunters killed in Verkhneturovskoe hunt range. Everyone wants to know the details of the drama. The reserve scientist Evgeny Smirnov recently returned from the location. That's what he told us.

"The tragedy happened in the middle of Maksimovka river watershed. The tiger killed and ate the hunter A.Kulikov. All found there was a rifle, a cartridge belt, parts of the cloth, the hunter's skull and leg in the high boot... The only witness was the hunter's dog which was seen by geologists fleeing from a big skinny tiger with abnormal bulky right fore leg.The dog survived, while its master died. Before his death he had lived in the taiga for a week, putting traps and logging for fire. Nobody can tell for sure how it happened. Judging from the geologists' story the tiger had been crippled. When and by whom? There is no answer. People who knew Kulikov tell that he had promised them to fetch the tiger skin. Now his comrades regret: "He shouldn't have". We had known of the drama long ago.But it was impossible to get money for flying by helicopter to this far outside place. That is because the budget has no disbursement for coroner flights (although they would have to fly for medical purpose)... Only by chance -there was a film making crew from Japan in the reserve - this extra money was found. (One hour of the flight cost 4.3 million rubles). So the helicopter flew up there on November 10. Experts, hunters, specialists, representatives and Japanese film makers looked for all possible traces on the ground, gathered what was left to bury the remains, shot a portion of the movie - and went away. But two days after at the same place the same tiger killed the second hunter V. Zabrovsky. It was evening and getting dark when he walked unarmed for his rifle hidden in the old tree trunk 40 meters from the shed where his companion stayed to wait for him. The dog began barking, the horse neighed, and his comrade shot blindly from his rifle in the air, conscious of the tragedy although not seeing it. He couldn't sleep that night, saddled the horse in the morning and rushed to the village. The people came, found the remains of the second hunter, tracked the few ground traces left and went back to the village to bury the human remains... There was again that feeling of helplessness. If there had been snow on the ground, one could tell by the traces. But all that was left was blind "black ground". After that other hunters didn't take risk to come to that range, though last year two hunters and five tigers lived there, according to A. Salnikov, and they didn't interfere with each other. Hunters and tigers had nor fear neither doubts. The tiger tracks could be met every day, sometimes tigers were seen visually. In some hunter sheds there were missing dogs - sometimes numbered nine for a season. But these were normal situations causing no panic. Hunters in Maksimovka lived side by side with tigers that did not assault people..."