The Land of the Leopard is on fire! Our ranger informed us that the fire-hazardous season started very early this year caused by open winter with no snow. Usually the wildland fires in Khasan district begin in March or even April. However, in 2014 we have to start fire-fighting in February. The Phoenix Fund began to gather volunteer brigades that will help the national park to fight fires in the Amur leopard habitat. We ask everyone to support our important work with your donations. Now the collected funds will go to purchase of necessary fire-fighting equipment and fuel for the brigades' vehicles.
The efficient anti-poaching activities that were implemented in Khasansky district of Primorye thanks to GlobalGiving supporters ensured good protection of leopards’ habitat. But the survival of the big cats also depends on a peaceful coexistence of animals and people.
For more than two years the female Amur leopard Sophie lives in close proximity to one of the deer farms located in the Khasansky district of Primorye. Such neighborship is unfavorable to the owner because the animal uses his territory as the hunting site. Therefore, the farmer suffers constant damage from leopard’s presence.To solve the conflict between the man and the animal the Phoenix Fund together with the Institute of environmental problems and evolution of A.N. Severtsov of the Russian Academy of Sciences developed a special program which helps to maintain tolerant relation of the farmers towards rare predators. The main difference of this program from paying compensation to the owner of cattle for the damage caused by a predator is that every month the farmer receives a fixed sum of money for the fact of leopard’s presence in close proximity to his territory. The information on leopard’s presence in the territory of the deer farm at the beginning was gathered by scientists through the coordinates received from Sophie’s radio collar, and later, when the batteries on the collar ran down - through the photos made with photo traps.
After a long pause during the spring and autumn season when the hidden cameras couldn't record presence of a leopard at the Olenevod deer farm in Khasan, the good news came – camera traps finally caught female leopard Sophie, her kitten and a male leopard. Now the experts will compare new photos with hundreds of others available in a database to define who is visiting Sophie. Old or new guests?
The owner of the farm Alexander Khudenko was also excited about the new photographs of the leopards. These photographs allowed him to receive a promised compensation from the Phoenix Fund for a long-term presence of the animal on the farm’s land. The compensation for 7 months from May to November amounted in a rather big sum of money - 105 thousand rubles ($3500)!
In order to monitor leopards’ presence on the private territory in future, the Phoenix Fund purchased additional photo traps which will be installed along the perimeter of the deer farm in 2014.
We hope that this project will help cultivate tolerance among locals towards rare and beautiful wild cats, and also will make them proud to be living in the neighborhood with such unique animals.
Photo credits: A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Saving rare species can be ensured not only by protecting their habitat and fighting poaching. At Phoenix Fund we believe that education of the local communities can contribute greatly to Amur leopard conservation in a long term. This is why on September 21, 2013, staff members of the Phoenix Fund took part in the Leopard and Sea Festival that was celebrated in Slavyanka.
The holiday devoted to the one of the rarest cats on the planet – the Amur leopard – has a long history. Over ten years ago thanks to local ecological NGOs, namely the Phoenix Fund and World Wildlife Fund, and with support from the Administration of Khasan district, there was a series of educational and entertaining events in local villages and on the seashore – two famous beaches in Slavyanka and Andreevka. Even then the organizers of the holiday wanted to reach out to residents and guests of the Khasan district with the following message: Leopard and sea are inseparately linked, and the fate of present and future generations depends on the state of leopard population and the status of marine resources. Traditionally, on the eve of the holiday there were clean-up actions during which volunteers collected trash and marine debris on the beaches.
This year the interconnection between this rare big cat and the sea reflected in the name of the festival – Leopard and Sea – and during the holiday one could see close cooperation between specialists of Land of the Leopard National Park and Far Eastern Marine Nature Reserve. The holiday was held on the central square of Slavyanka town. Teams of schoolchildren from almost all settlements of the Khasan district arrived to participate in the holiday. The registered participants gathered near local recreation centre. The festival started with a festive procession from the recreational centre to the central square of Slavyanka. Then, there was a Dance Flash Mob, during which representatives of each school team performed on the stage showing various dance moves, and the audience joined them quickly repeating the dance steps and movements. A group of children from local Rodnichok eco-club (gymnasia #1, Slavyanka, run by teacher Natalia Drobysheva), that the Phoenix Fund has been supporting for over 10 years, excited the audience with its energy. Then, the school teams competed in the following contests: “Fashion Show in Animals Costumes», “Drawing on Asphalt”, “Merry Relay” and “Connoisseurs”.
Fires originate primarily near the railroad, the main road and settlements, as well as near resorts on the coast. Almost all fires that enter the Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve and the Land of the Leopard National Park originate in the multiple-use lands of the Bezverkhovo Municipality. For example, a large hill in the southeastern part of the reserve has lost its forest cover due to frequent fires originating from Bezverkhovo. Therefore, improved fire control here is essential not only to reduce ground fires in already-open grasslands, promoting their eventual restoration, but also to prevent further degradation of remaining forests. In 2011, we created a fire brigade responsible for fighting fires, identifying arsonists and creating new firebreaks in the Leopardovyi Wildlife Refuge (later Land of the Leopard National Park). This brigade is managed by Evgeny Stoma, the inspector of the National Park. We purchased a used van for patrolling and equipment for the team, including high-pressure air blowers, protective clothing, wireless communication equipment and other essential items. Every year brigade members is hired by Stoma and receive training.
In 2013, fire prevention measures started in the protected area in early February. A bulldozer started to do a new fire break along the railway. The works were finished only in the middle of April. A route of the fire break was chosen maximum close to the borders of the protected area (railway) so that the most vulnerable part of the forestland of the national park became well protected.
In spring, replacing an old vehicle, a new UAZ with more number of seats and better off-road capability was purchased.
In mid-March a fire-fighting team of volunteers was fully manned/ staffed, equipped and trained on fire-fighting methods, first aid treatment and work with communication devices. First, the team began working with local people informing them about the start of fire season and important fire safety rules. The volunteer fire fighters also told the villagers about responsibilities stipulated by law for use of open flame fires during the fire danger season on the territory of the protected area and gave people contact details so that they could report about ignitions. In March, the team members attended a training session organized by Greenpeace-Russia and shared their knowledge and experience on fire-fighting measures.
Every day the team went to patrol the assigned area early in the morning. Three to four team members surveyed the area for fires from high-elevation lookout posts while the other members patrolled in a minivan. The team members communicated using two-way radios (a fixed set in the van and hand-held sets for the outposts) as well as with cellular phones. The combination of observation from look-out posts and patrolling ensured that fires were spotted quickly and that fire-fighting started when fires were still small. The mini-van dropped off team members near fires that had been spotted and these team members usually managed to put out the fire quickly. If a fire was difficult to control, then additional team members were collected from look-out posts. During patrols the team regularly contacted a volunteer fire-fighting team operating in Slavyanka model area (a joint project with the Slavyanka Municipality and the Land of the Leopard National Park), shared information on the current fire situation and assisted each other to put out forest fires.
It is worth mentioning that during the reported period the team members worked well-coordinated. If we look at a satellite image above, we can see five areas where forest fires started simultaneously as a result of arsons by unknown people. Within an hour the team of volunteers arrived at the scene and, after a couple of hours, extinguished the fires. Thanks to the effective teamwork of the volunteers the fire was not let to spread over the borders of the protected area.
On April 16, the team assisted inspectors of the protected area to put out a fire started inside the Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve.
All in all, during spring fire danger season the team extinguished 16 fires, including five on the protected area (along the railway) and 11 fires on the adjacent territories. On May 20, 2013 the fire season was officially over.
In January, the South team conducted 24 anti-poaching patrols on the territory of the Land of the Leopard National Park. Patrols were conducted both during the daytime and at night, mostly on the southern part of the protected area. Sometimes, the team also visited central and northern parts of the national park to reveal and prevent wildlife crimes. Patrols were carried out spontaneously, so that poachers could not plan their illegal actions. There were a few joint patrols with police officers and border guards. In January, the rangers observed remarkably high concentrations of hunters in the vicinity of roads hunting game at night, hunting from a vehicle or with the aid of a spotlight. Hunters did not want to hunt on foot due to deep snow this winter and preferred hunting from their vehicles. Also, by the drive-by hunting they could avoid to be tracked and caught by rangers. Moreover, ungulates descended from the hills into river valleys bordering with main roads in the area.
On January 4, during a night patrol the team spotted a vehicle near the Upper Brusya River and suspected that some guys were hunting there at night with the aid of a spotlight. The team members made an ambush at a place where the poachers could be easily stopped and arrested. The rangers set out a decoy deer to catch poachers who illegally commit drive-by deer shootings from their vehicles. They concealed themselves in the brush on the other side of the road and waited. The decoy deer was too tempting. As soon as the poacher approached the decoy deer and fired a shot from their vehicle or the road, the rangers swooped in. Unfortunately, the poachers managed to drive away, but the rangers saw a license plate and informed the police in order to identify an owner of the vehicle and investigate the case.
On January 6, the team chased nighttime hunters. When the rangers stopped a vehicle of hunters, they inspected the jeep and found a rifle and a lamp that poachers used for nigh hunting. No killed animals were found. Probably, they threw it out of the vehicle trying to escape. Suddenly, the violators decided to escape the scene and recklessly knocked down one of the rangers. After 15 minutes, the jeep with the violators was stopped by traffic police. A criminal proceeding was initiated.
On January 24, when patrolling an area near Narvinsky wildlife overpass, the team spotted footprints leading deep inside the protected area. It was decided to track down trespassers. Only after a 5-hour pursuit the rangers caught two men with two rifles one of which turned out illegal. The detainees were taken to local police station.
In January, the team restored old feeding stations for ungulates and built a new one. Also, the rangers gave two lectures for schoolchildren in Zarubino (on January 14) and Barabash (on January 28).
In February, the team carried on patrolling the assigned territory. All in all, the team conducted 20 patrols. Besides anti-poaching activities, the rangers took part in wildlife survey.
On February 9, while patrolling the southern part of Land of the Leopard National Park, the team detained a man for unauthorized presence. An administrative citation was issued upon the violator. Later, on February 13, the same man was apprehended by the rangers again and was fined.
Evgeny Stoma, the team’s leader, noted that the number of intruders as well as the amount of illegal hunting decreased significantly. He suggests that it could be a result of regular patrols in the area and the frozen snow hindering movements in the forest. However, there were three cases of illegal hunting from vehicles. Unfortunately, it was impossible to catch the violators.
On February 17, the team received a call from residents of Barabash village that a tiger approached close to their settlement. The rangers instructed the people on main rules of human behavior in case of encounter with the predator and asked to call them back if the tiger returned.
Additionally, the team together with Natalia Drobysheva, experienced educator, visited a school in Slavyanka and gave lectures on careful attitude towards nature.
In March, the team conducted 24 patrols.
Frequent foot patrols in hard-to-access areas of the national park did not reveal any sign of people’s presence there (no tracks) which proved that nobody entered that territory illegally in winter. Poachers mostly concentrated along roads and near human settlements where there was a high concentration of ungulates that time. In March, there were no poaching cases registered on the protected area, because March is a season of poaching of sea cucumber and therefore poachers focused their illegal activities from forest to the sea.
During foot patrols the rangers found a few artificial salt-licks for ungulates and tree stands installed for illegal hunting. They recorded coordinates of their discovery with the use of GPS units and will keep an eye on this area in summer when poachers are more likely to return there.
There were several meetings with officers from Federal Security Bureau in order to discuss opportunities for cooperation aimed at prevention wildlife crimes.
In the middle of March, a six-member volunteer fire-fighting team began their activities. The team’s task was to prevent forest fires on the southern part of Land of the Leopard National Park. On March 31, several fires deliberately started by unknown persons along the railroad between Bomburovo and Pozharsky railway stations were promptly extinguished by the team.
Additionally, the team delivered forage for ungulates to feeding stations and gave lectures on nature for schoolchildren in Primorsky and Bezverkhovo villages.
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