Phoenix Fund

Our mission is to conserve the exceptionally rich fauna and flora of the Russian Far East, the only region where Amur tigers and leopards survive in the wild. These magnificent animals are threatened by habitat deterioration, poaching of the big cats themselves and depletion of their prey populations.
Feb 7, 2017

Meet our volunteers

The team
The team

On a cold frosty morning, three members of the Phoenix Fund got into an off-road vehicle and headed to meet four colleagues working in Northeast Primorye on Amur tiger conservation project. We would like to introduce you to the people who devote their life to field work making sure Amur tigers will have a chance for survival in the days of urban expansion.

We caught the guys over breakfast: on the table there were hot dumplings - hearty food for people who spend hours in the winterly forest, and some tea with waffles. There in the warm and cozy kitchen we had a chance to talk a little bit about field trips, current projects and personal life stories of four volunteers.

Perhaps the most unexpected person in this company is a young girl Christina. In her 28 years Christina, a Terney native, has already experimented with a wide variety of jobs, from fish processing to journalism. Clearly a jack-of-all-trades, she feels at home in the forest, can repair her vehicle by herself, knows how to operate a snowmobile and makes her guests feel welcome, treating them with tea. With a degree in economics, Christina quickly realized that the office work was not her calling. Two years ago, she "accidentally", as she puts it, got involved in a project with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and initially helped with the management of the Terney Research Center. After that, she joined the small carnivore research project as a WCS volunteer. Christina’s fondness for cats was the beginning of her devotion to field research work; that same devotion offsets all the hardships and difficulties that come with the lifestyle she has chosen.

There is a special warmth when Christina speaks of Terney and the people who have influenced her course of life. At the top of the list are her grandfather, who was a woodsman, and her favorite teacher Galina Maksimova, who is the head of the "Uragus" eco-center and is a rare example of a caring and inspiring teacher.

Living in Terney, Christina has monitored trends in local people’s attitudes towards the Amur tiger. She thinks people have become much more aware and even more proactive about preservation of their natural wealth. For instance, she cites the fact that in recent years the number of attendees at the annual Terney Tiger Day Festival is steadily increasing. More and more local residents support and take part in various environmental actions. The anti-poaching efforts of Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Nature Reserve have improved significantly since the arrival of a new director and introduction of an advanced law enforcement monitoring program called SMART.

Across the table sits Christina’s colleague Roman, who became a volunteer more recently, in October 2016. Although Roman was born in Dalnegorsk, he grew up in Terney and is tied to this place with all his heart. While serving in the army and working at the Fire Department of Vladivostok airport for four years, Roman consistently felt a desire to return home to Terney. When he finally made the return trip, he found work as a mechanic at a local logging company, but after the typhoon Lionrock hit Primorye, Roman decided to quit this job and officially became a volunteer at WCS. From his first days there he was involved in a large-scale work on clearing the roads and reducing the impacts of the hurricane on Sikhote-Alin Reserve. In December 2016, Roman walked his first routes during winter tiger tracking, and now is busy installing camera traps for the monitoring of rare predators. With great enthusiasm he talks about living in the taiga and looks quite happy in his new-found role.

Two other members of the team, the old-timers in conservation and great tiger specialists, are Vladimir and Alexander.

Vladimir is a former state inspector of Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Nature Reserve, who has had dozens of encounters with tigers and consequently has many fascinating stories to tell. It is unbelievable that a person who met more than fifty wild tigers sits here in front of us so safe and sound?! With a big smile on his face, Vladimir explains that tigers are not aggressive, they are intelligent and proud. If one respects their nature and observes basic safety rules, he can quite easily live side by side with such a frightening predator. In fact, the tiger is very vulnerable creature itself. Vladimir remembers the time when he just started to work in the joint project of the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve, Pacific Institute of Geography and the WCS on the study of Amur tiger, and experts had found several cases of tiger mortality from distemper. In those years, there was a drop in the numbers of foxes and raccoons in taiga as well, and they most likely transferred the dangerous disease to tigers. Nowadays, the populations of these small predators have declined significantly.

Meanwhile, the recent typhoon, unequalled to any big storms that hit Primorye during the last hundred years, has brought new challenges to dwellers of the taiga. Before the New Year, Vladimir with the rest of the volunteers was actively engaged in clearing up the roads in the reserve. He compares what he saw in the reserve to a meteor strike: giant fallen trees were scattered throughout the forest. Such conditions may cause lots of troubles for hoofed mammals, although some animals, like the yellow-throated marten, will likelythrive in such conditions because it is agile and can easily negotiate the fallen trees, putting its prey, like the diminutive musk deer, at a real disadvantage. As yet, Vladimir thinks it is too early to tell what would be the consequences of the typhoon on the local population of the Amur tiger.

Packing the bags with equipment we found one of the oldest (not by age but by experience) WCS employees Alexander. He came to Primorye from the Donbas region of the Ukraine back in 1997 and settled down in Terney. His work at the Wildlife Conservation Society began a year after his arrival. A mechanical engineer by profession, in 2008 Alexander received a second degree in ecology in the Far Eastern State University. Being an employee at WCS, Sasha was involved in several projects, such as the study of bears, tigers and leopards. Alexander is a unique specialist capable of capturing and immobilizing wild animals. He has been directly involved in resolution of many human-tiger conflicts. Sasha spends a lot of time on the road monitoring the Amur tiger cubs that were released into the wild after rehabilitation, but tries not to get attached to the animals he once saved. Over the years, Alexander has had to meet many tigers and leopards. He saw most of them from a safe distance – from an airplane while tracking radio-collared tigers. Sasha remembers seeing 12 tigers in one day! Since 2006, Alexander has been studying the Amur leopard in southwest Primorye, conducting research with the use of camera traps and biomedical studies of the individuals.

It's time for the team to head to the forest to install the last camera traps before heading home. In total, this field trip lasted for 10 days; the team set 71 camera traps up and walked 74 kilometers on foot.  

In the doorway Christina seeks us out to say one final thing: "I almost forgot to mention the most important thing! I have found myself! I have finally found the place where I want to be. "

This is not the kind of work for everybody, and certainly not to everyone’s liking, but if you have a love of the taiga and its inhabitants, this is a job you can grow to love. And we always look for the ways to support the important and hard job these people do.

Along with the research projects an intensive anti-poaching protection work was implemented in Sikhote-Alin Reserve with our support. Patrol efforts increased substantially in 2016 at this reserve, mainly because the director has taken firmer control and is demanding more from his staff. And we will regularly share the results of law-enforcement work with you.  

It should be noted that the successes of the tiger conservation projects in Terney are possible due to close collaboration with Far Eastern protected areas and environmental organizations such as Sikhote-Alin Reserve, A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the RAS, Pacific Institute of Geography, Institute of Biology and Soil Science, FEB RAS, PRNCO «Tiger Centre» and others.

Christina
Christina
Roman
Roman
Vladimir
Vladimir
Alexander
Alexander
Feb 3, 2017

Great anti-poaching results in the Park in 2016!

(c) Land of the Leopard
(c) Land of the Leopard

Dear friends,

We would like to present you our annual report on anti-poaching work in the Land of the Leopard National Park that you supported generously during the last year. We are very happy with the results achieved by the law-enforcement teams of the protected area and the growing number of Amur leopards is the best confirmation of this success!

In 2016, the rangers of the Land of the Leopard National Park (LLNP) worked long hours and risked their lives working in remote areas and approaching suspects, who far more often than not were carrying a weapon. To provide adequate protection to the assigned areas the rangers regularly:

•          patrolled on foot, by motorized vehicles and boats;

•          checked camps, winter cabins and recreation centres located in the protected area;

•          made night ambushes on public roads leading to or running through the park;

•          tracked hunters over snow;

•          conducted roadblocks;

•          conducted car searches to confiscate game meat and illegal firearms;

•          encouraged locals to be aware and pass on tips and leads to local authorities about potential poaching activities.

 

Land of the Leopard was the first area where we started introducing MIST (Law Enforcement Monitoring Program) and have already replaced MIST with upgraded new version SMART. This protected area (PA) is more prepared to work with SMART autonomously compared to other PAs. But we still have to continue to assist them and consult when necessary.

New director of the national Park Tatyana Baranovskaya fully supports the importance and necessity of working with SMART.

Poaching has significantly reduced in the national park now compared to the years before the introduction of MIST/SMART here. However, poaching is constantly transforming in the same way as bacteria transform into superbugs and become resistant to antibiotics.Hunting with the use of spotlight is one of such transformations. If formerly poachers just entered the forest and killed animals, now they shoot right from the road. Moreover, it is difficult to catch them as they know all patrol vehicles of the protected area. There were cases when rangers had to trace the poachers by their own vehicles. Even after arresting violators, sometimes it is a challenge to charge them with a crime. To serve charges on them, it is necessary to have enough evidence to call for police and initiate criminal proceeding. From year to year, poachers become better trained, equipped and experienced. For example, some poachers try to use special devices to eavesdrop on telephone conversations of rangers. Certainly, our rangers have to regularly advance their skills and improve their outfit and equipment in order to be ahead of poachers and prevent illegal activities on the protected area. There are four well-equipped anti-poaching teams operating in the national park now. During patrols, rangers use UAVs to discover forest fires and track poachers”, says director of the national park Tatyana Baranovskaya.

During the reported year, the rangers seized 5 illegal fishing devices and 2 firearms, revealed 208 violations, including 9 cases of illegal hunting, 3 cases of illegal fishing, 3 cases of illegal logging, 193 cases of trespassing. They initiated 11 criminal proceedings and imposed fines of up to 634,000 roubles ($10,718).

In 2016, the distance travelled on foot, distance travelled by motorized vehicles and patrol time increased compared with the same indicators in 2011-2015. Over the previous two years patrol effort appeared to be leveling off and possibly reaching what we thought might be a plateau. So it was a surprise to observe another jump in distances travelled and time invested in patrolling in 2016.

At Land of the Leopard National Park, results per effort-unit show a strong downward trend and reached in 2016 the lowest level we have measured during the six years for which we have data. This is a strong indication that pressures have substantially been reduced at the park.

In 2016, the number of Amur leopards increased by 17 leopards that were born in Land of the Leopard National Park. “We have not added these cubs to the total number of the leopards, which is still officially 80, because not all cubs survive in the wild. According to the simultaneous count of Amur tigers and Amur leopards- 2015, about 57 Amur leopards were recorded by camera traps in the Land of the Leopard National Park alone. Overall, the number of rare cats in the national park has increased by 10 tiger cubs and 26 leopard cubs over the past 18 months. About 20 Amur tigers co-exist with leopards in the Park”, says Tatyana Baranovskaya.

Feb 3, 2017

New and old residents of the Rehab Center

Injured tiger cub (c) PRNCO Tiger Centre
Injured tiger cub (c) PRNCO Tiger Centre

We have received the recent updates from the Centre for Rehabilitation and Reintroduction of Tigers and Other Rare Animals (PRNCO «Tiger Centre» in Alekseevka village, Primorsky krai) where four tigers are kept now, and we want to share the news with you:

On January 13, a tiger cub with a serious gunshot wound to its head was found in Pozharsky district of Primorye. Primorsky Hunting Management Department specialists immediately arrived on the scene and took the animal to the Centre for Rehabilitation and Reintroduction of Tigers and Other Rare Animals (PRNO “Centre Tiger”) in Alekseevka village, where veterinarians were struggling for its life for several days. The examination proved it to be a 5 or 7-month-old male tiger. Specialists noted that the tiger cub was well-fed, with no signs of dehydration. 

“Many people were shocked by the latest events with tigers in the Ussuriiskaya taiga, especially by the story with a tiger cub from Pozharsky district of Primorye that was sheltered by the rehab centre on January 14, 2017. During two weeks, the animal was in critical but stable condition. Every day the cub was on the medications. After the second veterinary checkup was conducted, we can say that the animal’s condition is stable. Positive changes are recorded every day. Despite a serious trauma to its eye, the tiger did not lose his eyesight; broken upper jaw bones grow properly back together, the animal has a good appetite and began to express natural behaviour. Taking into account the cub’s condition on the 15th day of rehabilitation, we hope that it will have chance to be released back into the wild. Besides us, our “residents” are keeping an eye on the tiger cub too.  Of course, they cannot see their new neighbour yet as he is kept at the isolated quarantine unit, but they can hear him for sure.

The nearest neighbour to the cub is young tigress Lazovka which was found without its mother in Lazovsky district of Primorye and sheltered by the Centre in December 2016. She is adapting to her first open-air enclosure. During the month, the tigress successfully preyed on rabbits numerous times which means that she develops hunting skills.

 

Also in January, Lazovka got acquainted with our adult tigers – tigress Fillya and tiger Vladik. Although they can see each other only through the wire mesh fencing that separates their enclosures, it is very important for them. At the junction of three enclosures, there is bare ground where snow melted indicating that the animals lie and rest there keeping watch over each other for a long time. As a rule, they prefer communicating at twilight.

Tigers Fillya and Vladik headed into the homestretch: they are perfect hunters and remain fearful of people. All they have to do is to wait for spring when they are to be returned into the wild. We express our deep gratitude to all our partners and supporters for their help in conserving these rare animals”, says Centre’s specialist Ekaterina Blidchenko.

On 25th of January the tiger cub, that had been found seriously injured in Pozharsky district, was operated at the Centre for Rehabilitation and Reintroduction of Tigers and Other Rare Animals in Alekseevka village. Now, the cub has shrunk from danger.

Although it is more than likely that there is no need for additional surgery, the cub will have to go through a long process of recovery and rehabilitation and will need your help!

 

 

 

 

Tigress Lazovka (c) PRNCO Tiger Centre
Tigress Lazovka (c) PRNCO Tiger Centre
Tiger Vladik (c) PRNCO Tiger Centre
Tiger Vladik (c) PRNCO Tiger Centre
 
   

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