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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
New hope for Siberia's big cats
Tiger in snow AP
The Siberian tiger: Endangered, but now there is fresh hope
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

China is to set up a new nature reserve on its frontier with Russia to help to conserve tigers and leopards.

Experts from the two countries are working with US biologists from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The creation of the Jilin Hunchun reserve should increase the amount of suitable habitat for the two species. Both are critically endangered, and the reserve's creation has rekindled hopes for their survival.

The number of Siberian tigers in the wild is estimated at between 330 and 370, with the Amur leopard reduced to a single population of between 25 and 40 animals.

Endi Zhang, the society's program director in China, said: "We have large tracts of intact forests in northeast China, and if we protect wild prey populations, tigers will naturally recover in these areas."

No breeding stock

Dr Dale Miquelle, a WCS biologist, said: "There are few tigers left in northeast China, and most of those are animals dispersing from the Russian side of the border.

"Therefore the best opportunities to protect tigers in the region are along the Russian borders at known crossover points.

Tiger in pool AP
There could soon be another reserve
"With no evidence of breeding females, and only a handful of scattered individuals, it was clear that the only thing preventing extirpation of tigers in northeast China was the existence of a healthy population in Russia."

Russia has promised to work with China on all efforts to protect leopards by coordinating cross-boundary conservation work.

A recent workshop in Vladivostok agreed to set up a leopard steering committee, which will bring together scientists, government and non-government bodies from Russia, China and North Korea.

The habitat available to both species is shrinking as human numbers grow, and both face similar threats. Tigers that migrate to China often find few prey species and turn to livestock, which leads to conflict with local people.

Protecting prey

The society is working to create a fund to compensate farmers for livestock losses caused by tigers.

It says protecting wild prey, and removing the snares that are set for deer but sometimes kill tigers as well, will be critical parts of the animals' recovery.

It will help to establish and manage the new reserve. China is considering declaring another reserve, in the Wandashan mountains of Heilongjiang province.

Xioachen Yu, a Heilongjiang Wildlife Institute biologist, said: "We have tigers here. If we protect them, I know we can recover the population."

See also:

23 Apr 01 | Media reports
New threat to Siberian tiger
10 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Elderly tiger in shock pregnancy
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