Wild Siberian tigers rebound in China; more captured by wildlife cameras
A shared future
Published: Jan 27, 2022 07:47 PM

Siberian tiger and other animals in the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park Photos: Courtesy of Tencent

The Siberian tiger Photo: Courtesy of Tencent

Editor's Note:

China is working toward the goal of the world's largest national parks system. Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China's ecological conservation at the virtual session of 2022 World Economic Forum on January 17. At the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, or COP15 held in 2021, China officially designated its first group of national parks that include the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park. Chinese experts said it is of great significance to protect the Siberian tiger, known as the northeast tiger in China.

China has strengthened conservation measures including setting up a national park, banning commercial logging and launching campaigns to clear traps set by poachers for the protection of the big cats.

Feng Limin, a biologist at Beijing Normal University told the Global Times that the world currently has about 600 wild Siberian tigers, of which about 90 percent live in the wilds of Russia, and the remaining 10 percent are found in China. 

According to the latest monitoring data in 2021, there are 10 newborn Siberian tiger cubs, and the big cats' population has reached more than 50, CCTV reported.

Protection measures

2022 is the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese lunar calendar. Feng recalled that in the last Year of Tiger in 2010, some settled female tigers began to appear in China, and the number of Siberian tigers in China began to grow after the local government established natural reserves since 1998. 

In 2015, after China announced a policy to stop commercial logging, at least 27 Siberian tigers and 42 Siberian leopards were spotted in China's wild area.

In 2017, the country began operations on the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park pilot project, strengthening protection work in a large area of more than 14,000 square kilometers. As herding and other disruptive human activities continued to decrease, the food chain has quickly been restored, leading to an improved survival rate of the Siberian tiger cubs. 

In 2021, the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park was added into the first group of national parks. Its integrated monitoring system has become the first real-time monitoring system in the world to achieve large-scale coverage of biodiversity. 

According to Feng, the system has realized that the monitoring and supervision of natural resources in national parks has truly entered the era of big data and artificial intelligence, which has strongly supported the modernization of national park management system and enhanced capabilities.

"This is really a chance for China to shine in tiger recovery," said David Smith, a tiger expert at the University of Minnesota who once visited the park area, according to Science. 

On Tuesday, National Forestry and Grassland Administration and Tencent jointly launched the first 1.25 billion pixel VR panoramic photo of the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park. Visitors could enjoy a panoramic "cloud" tour of the park via their phone.

International cooperation 

Built in the Northeast China, the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park is bordered with Leopard Land National Park in Primorsky Krai, Russia, the park's official website noted.

Feng said cooperation between China and Russia has been one of the most significant steps contributing to the animals' protection. "China and Russia have conducted a lot of academic research on the wild animals," he said. 

According to Xinhua, the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park Administration and Russia's Land of the Leopard National Park signed a three-year work plan for tiger conservation in 2019, which was an important step in trans-boundary cooperation for both countries.

In June 2019, both sides signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement guaranteeing the two countries' deepened cooperation in protecting endangered animal species including Siberian Tigers and Leopards along with their natural habitats, and joint monitoring of endangered animals species to ensure that those endemic to Northeast China can freely migrate across the China-Russian border.

China also conducted cooperation with international organizations including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for wild animals' protection.

Liu Peiqi, program director of the WWF Beijing Office, told the Global Times that China and the WWF have co-launched measures to monitor the population of Siberian tigers and leopards, habitat protection and restoration, construction of anti-poaching supervision and evaluation mechanisms, sustainable development of alleviating human-animal conflicts as well as increased public awareness through various activities.

According to Liu, WWF and Chinese authorities have successfully executed five Siberian tiger habitat patrols since 2016. About 1,000 patrolmen from China and Russia have participated in the patrols where they were able to learn new conservation-related skills.

Siberian tiger and other animals in the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park Photos: Courtesy of Tencent

Siberian tiger and other animals in the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park Photo: Courtesy of Tencent

A common home

Fan Zhiyong, a professor of Northeast Forestry University specializing in endangered species, told the Global Times that adequate food and habitat are the two most important factors in protecting the big cats. 

"We need to continue optimizing the establishment of tiger and leopard habitats and improve the species' biodiversity in the wild. For example, those big cats like to eat large herbivores including sika deer and red deer, and their food chain should also be highly valued," he said.

A Siberian Tiger expert, who requested to be anonymous, told the Global Times that besides the Siberian tiger, there are three other tiger subspecies in China, including the Bengal tiger, the Indochinese tiger and the South China tiger.

Bengal and Indochinese tigers mainly live in Southeast Asian and other South Asian countries, and Southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region and the border areas of Yunnan Province are their marginal distribution areas.

South China tiger is the unique tiger subspecies in China. 

Li Xueyou, a researcher from Kunming Institute of Zoology of Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the Global Times the number of Bengal tiger in China has not been confirmed, but cameras set in Nyingchi, Xizang once captured the subspecies.

China has included the Bengal tiger into the wild life protection issue. Its now determined habitat has also been included within the range of the national nature reserve of the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon to aid in unified management.

The tiger's main diet within the food chain is also under protection and human activity such as collecting around its habitat has been limited. Patrols have also been initiated to curb illegal activity.