RUSSIA: Battle to Save Rare Tigers as Forest Fires Ravage Siberia
The Scotsman, 5 October 2001
ByAlastair Dalton Forest fires across Russia’s Far East were yesterday threatening the habitat ofthe endangered Siberian tiger. Blazes were covering an area of 600 squarekilometres south of the Khabarovsk region and in northern and central parts ofthe Primorsky region, according to the pressure group WWF. About 200 firefighters and 30 vehicles were tacking fires centred in areas wheremost of the estimated 450 remaining Siberian tigers live. Strong winds haveraised fears that the fires could spread rapidly and high smoke levels areexpected to force the closure of the airport at Khabarovsk. The fires arebelieved to have been caused by unusually dry weather and carelessness among thelarge numbers of people visiting the area to fish, hunt and pick mushrooms. Tigers forced by the fires to move to more densely populated areas come undergreater risk from poachers. The outbreaks also threaten the survival of otheranimals, such as musk deer, brown bears and Siberian spruce grouse. In 1998, more than six million acres of forests in Russia’s Far East weredestroyed in fires which UNESCO described as a catastrophe on a global scale.Two further serious fires occurred the following year. The firefighters tackling the blazes are from six of the nine fire brigades setup with WWF support two years ago specifically to help to protect the tigers.The GBP 1 million move followed the disbanding of the Russian Federal ForestService and a lack of funding for firefighting measures. Vladimir Dmitriev, a forest officer with WWF-Russia, said: “When we startedthe fire brigades project, we specifically targeted the areas where Siberiantigers live. “This year, fires are spreading exactly in these territories,which proves we have put our efforts at the right place.” Nikolai Seltin, a Russian forestry director in one of the areas affected, said:”Today, we do not have any other equipment to battle against the fires,other than the ones provided by the WWF.” Other measures to protect the Siberian, or Amur, tigers still in the wild haveincluded anti-poaching patrols, monitoring of commercial logging and thepromotion of sustainable forest management. In 1999, the WWF Russian programmeoffice signed an agreement with the Russian Federation’s forest service toprotect the tiger habitat from fires by creating a mobile unit exclusivelyresponsible for fire-fighting in those areas. Earlier this year the tigers were threatened by exceptionally low wintertemperatures that reduced stocks of reindeer and wild boar, a staple of theirdiet. The usually shy animals, which require 20 kilograms of meat a day, wereforced to resort to roaming villages and attacking livestock and pets. SeveralEuropean zoos responded to an appeal, providing specialists to help to movetigers that had strayed into populated areas. Tiger poaching is a lucrative business, with their skins worth tens of thousandsof pounds. The animal’s internal organs and bones are also prized ingredients inoriental medicine. Some 40 elephants were released in Mozambique yesterday in preparation for thelaunch of one of the world’s largest game reserves. A total of 1,100 elephants will be relocated into the visionary cross-borderreserve between South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe over the next three years.The 7.5 million acre reserve will be known as the Great Limpopo TransfrontierPark and is to open officially next year. Yesterday’s release was attended bythe former South African president, Nelson Mandela, who said the world shouldrid itself of the scourge of terrorism and embrace the cross-border park as anexample of peaceful relations.