Russia

Siberian Tiger Photo
Only 8 percent of the Siberian tiger’s habitat is currently protected—too little to maintain this big cat.
©John Goodrich
Working in Russia Photo
WCS uses telemetry to track the movements of the Siberian tiger.
©John Goodrich
Wildlife Crimes Unit Slideshow
Tigers are fast disappearing in the wild, due in large part to increasing illegal wildlife trade across Asia.  Our Wildlife Crimes Unit is working to support the arrest and prosecution of poachers and wildlife traders so that we can ensure a future for these cats in some of their last strongholds. Take a look at what WCS conservationists working throughout tiger territory have come across in their surveys and patrols.
©WCS
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
Police display confiscated tiger skin with other seized animal skins and body parts in Indonesia. The country is Southeast Asia’s largest exporter of wildlife, both legal and illegal.
©WCS
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
Many of the wildlife pelts and other items that are poached in Indonesia are part of complex trade chains, which often terminate in illegal markets in China.
©WCS
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
The Wildlife Crimes Unit provides technical assistance to Indonesian police conducting anti-poaching raids.
©WCS Indonesia
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
This tiger was caught in a snare in northern Sumatra, a hotspot for the big cats in Indonesia, and therefore a draw for poachers.
©WCS Indonesia
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
In addition to tigers, tons of turtles are also exported from Indonesia on a weekly basis, and about 1.5 million wild-caught birds are sold in a market every year in Java.
©WCS Indonesia
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
Tiger bones in Sumatra are sold as souvenirs and talismans, and ground up or boiled down for use as ingredients in traditional medicines.
©WCS Indonesia
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
Tiger pelts are considered a status symbol by some and many wealthy people consume tiger products for purported medicinal qualities.
©WCS
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
WCS conservationists in India calculate tiger numbers by setting up remote camera traps that photograph the big cats in the wild.
©Eleanor Briggs
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
The camera trap technique is also used in the Russian Far East, where this Siberian tiger was photographed.
©WCS
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
Tiger scat contains a unique DNA signature that gives researchers another way to accurately identify and count individual animals.
©S. Gopinth
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
In the protected areas of India’s Western Ghats region, where WCS has worked for over 20 years, tiger populations are holding steady.
©Ullas Karanth
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
Help the Wildlife Conservation Society save tigers in the wild by making a donation.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

The landscape of Russia, the world’s largest country, includes every kind of habitat found in the northern latitudes: Arctic tundra; great, meandering rivers; vast, windswept plains; mountain ranges; cold, dark seas; and sprawling forests of conifers and birches. This varied landscape is epic in scale, but has suffered its share of loss and degradation. Among the currently endangered species are the Siberian (or Amur) tiger, Far Eastern (or Amur) leopard, snow leopard, green sturgeon, goral, Steller’s sea eagle, scaly-sided merganser, and Blakiston’s fish owl. Other notable animals whose habitats are a conservation priority are the lynx, Asiatic black bear, brown bear, yellow-throated marten, snow sheep, and eight species of salmon.

Russia’s wildlife heritage is perhaps best represented by its large carnivores (the country is often represented as a bear). They also serve as bellwethers of its ecological health, as they require precisely the kind of vast, intact wilderness areas for which Russia has historically been known. Only an estimated 8 percent of the Siberian tiger’s habitat is currently protected—too little to maintain this big cat, which numbers about 450 individuals, over the long term. The Far Eastern leopard shares the very southern tip of the Siberian tiger’s range. Its population has dwindled to about 30, making this cat one of the most endangered of all on the planet.

Fast Facts

  • The Russian Far East is a hotspot for biodiversity, with more than 3,000 vascular plants and a wide range of animals from both southern Asia and the boreal north.
  • Fewer than 3 ungulates are found per square mile in the Russian wilderness, forcing female Siberian tigers to cover vast areas in search of food for their young. In comparison, Bengal tigers can share their turf with more than 150 prey animals per square mile.
  • Due to these differences in prey densities, a female Siberian tiger needs about 175 square miles to successfully rear cubs, while Bengal tigresses need as little as 8 square miles.
  • Young male tigers disperse as far as 124 miles from the area where they were raised in search of an open territory. Young females, on the other hand, usually remain close by, and often “inherit” part or all of their mother’s territory.
  • Kamchatka’s brown bears are some of the largest bears on the planet. The rugged peninsula is also the spawning ground of one-quarter of the world’s Pacific salmon. The bounty of fish, berries, and pine nuts makes the area a haven for bears.
  • The Blakiston’s fish owl, believed to be the largest owl in the world, survives the winter by fishing in small ice holes along swift flowing rivers. It sometimes uses its wings as a net to “corral” fish for capture. Probably fewer than 1,000 wild pairs still exist, and only in northeast Asia.

Challenges

The main threats to Russia’s biodiversity and large carnivores are overhunting of prey species such as deer and wild boar; poaching for skins and body parts used in traditional Chinese medicine; and habitat loss. The latter threat results from logging, fires set by people, and development. Humans directly cause 75 to 85 percent of tiger deaths. The tiny population of leopards is threatened by a lack of genetic diversity, introduced diseases, and catastrophic events.

WCS Responds

WCS’s Siberian Tiger Project began in the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik in 1992, when little was known about this cat’s ecology and status outside the Soviet Union. We work with local governmental agencies and communities here to manage lands to benefit both wildlife and local rural communities. We also participate in programs that involve the capture, relocation, and monitoring of nuisance carnivores. We have radio-tracked more than 60 tigers since 1992—including three generations of one family in one territory—and have studied their social structure, land-use patterns, food habits, reproduction, mortality, and relationship with other species, including humans.

Siberian tigers cannot only be conserved in nature reserves—only about 60 tigers would be saved that way, scattered across habitat “islands,” and that population would not be viable. This means that working with people who share their turf with tigers, or tiger prey, is key. WCS is collaborating with local hunters to improve wildlife management in order to increase ungulate numbers, protect tigers and other rare species, and improve local livelihoods. We also work to defuse conflicts between tigers and hunters—most of whom perceive tigers as a threat—by demonstrating that if wildlife populations are managed well, there are enough deer, pigs, and other prey animals for both cats and hunters. In addition, WCS-Russia leads bilateral discussions to establish transboundary reserves that will connect tiger populations in the Russian Far East and northeast China, and we are aiding efforts to re-establish viable tiger populations in China.

Together with Russian partners, WCS collects biomedical and ecological data on Siberian tigers and Far Eastern leopards. We also collect baseline data to improve conservation of brown bears in Kamchatka, and Asiatic black bears, brown bears, and lynx in the southern Far East. We support one of the first ever long-term studies of the enigmatic Blakiston’s fish owl, research that will contribute to new conservation strategies for the species.

Finally, WCS has established an intensive training and capacity-building program for the next generation of conservation biologists in the Russian Far East. We work to identify, attract, and support promising young students through our research and training programs. These include the region’s first-ever program for wildlife veterinarians, whom we train in wildlife-handling techniques that are safe for both animals and people.

From the Newsroom

In Russia, Giant Owls Rely on Giant Trees August 15, 2013

A new study shows that Blakiston's fish owls are a clear indicator of the health of the forests, rivers, and salmon populations in Russia’s Far East.

More Than Hope for Tigers January 10, 2013

After revealing that tigers are roaring back in three landscapes where WCS works, our CEO penned a blog for the Huffington Post relaying his recent trip to India. While there, Dr. Samper observed a wild tigress--whose presence reflects a significant increase in tiger numbers in South India. 


Tigers Roar Back December 24, 2012

Despite dangerously low global numbers, tigers are rebounding in three significant landscapes where WCS operates. Success in India, Thailand, and Russia fosters hope for these iconic big cats.

Rare Appearance for an Extremely Rare CatApril 25, 2012

Camera traps set up by protected area staff in Hunchun Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve snap the first-known camera trap photos of an Amur leopard in China.

Land of the Leopard Opens in RussiaApril 13, 2012

A new 1,000 square-mile park will safeguard leopards and Siberian tigers in Russia. Far Eastern leopards are considered the world’s rarest big cat.

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