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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Russian 'ice expedition' to save seals
Seal
Members of the expedition have rescued many seals
A unique seal population in Siberia - which has been greatly reduced by pollution over the last five years - is also under threat from poachers.

But Russian television says an "ice expedition" organised by Russian members of the international organisation Greenpeace is succeeding in limiting the number of seals killed by the poachers this year.

Powered glider
Many poachers are spotted from a powered glider
The "nerpa" seals only live in the fresh waters of Lake Baikal, the oldest and largest body of fresh water in the world, and is the lake's only mammal.

The television said that poaching the seals for their beautiful and valuable fur had become the only way for local people to make a living.

April is the busiest season for the poachers on Lake Baikal because the valuable female seals are at their most vulnerable.

Killing them is easy because the females will not abandon their new-born pups.


One has to live somehow - I would work, if they paid me wages at that timber warehouse

Poacher

But it also a busy time for the seals' protectors. Since 10 April the expedition members have covered several hundred kilometres.

The poachers are first detected from a powered glider, then they are intercepted. Both the dead seals and those still alive are confiscated and the poachers are fined.

The television said most poachers were local residents, for whom this well may be the only way to earn a living.

Poacher
Poachers say they need the money the seal furs bring them
"One has to live somehow. I would work, if they paid me wages at that timber warehouse," one poacher told the television.

Greenpeace members, the report said, appreciated the problem and said they were not fighting the local village men. All they wanted is to prevent the ringed seal from being destroyed.

The television said the fur went to China, where it was processed and dyed to resemble mink and other furs. The Chinese pay good money for the furs.

The very presence of Greenpeace's expedition had helped to preserve the seals and their cubs, because many of the hunters have not dared to go out hunting, the TV said.

Seal
The seal population has almost halved in five years
This year, eight out of 10 baby seals were saved.

The Baikal seal does not have any natural enemies - only man, the TV said.

Only five years ago, the population of what the TV said was the lake's most precious resource was 100,000. By today this figure has almost halved, mostly by industrial pollution in the lake, it said.

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See also:

04 Nov 00 | Media reports
Loggers wreak havoc in Siberia
02 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
Marine diseases set to increase
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