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.
In October, the patrol work was generally conducted on the assigned southern territories of the Land of the Leopard National Park (LLNP). The team also patrolled northern and central parts of the PA. Some of the patrols were carried out with the involvement of operative employees of border troops, Primorsky Fishery Management Department and Regional Fishing Inspection.
The team carried out 30 patrols, 12 of them were productive (36 administrative citations for trespassing were issued, and also one criminal investigation was initiated). The work was conducted mainly during evening and night time.
In the end of October, the inspectors registered a splash in trespassing violations, such as entrance to the territory on a personal vehicle, illegal fishing of salmon, illegal camping, etc. These violations, first of all, were prompted by the beginning of salmon spawning season in the rivers of the protected area. It is worth mentioning that this season there were less local poachers from Khasansky district and more visitors from Ussuriisky, Spasky, Volnonadezhdensky districts. The decrease in violations among local population shows that local people are well aware of PA borders, the status of the national park and punishment for disobeying laws, but there is no such knowledge among citizens from other districts of Primorsky krai.
Considering the circumstances the team decided to concentrate attention on the rivers’ surroundings and the Narva River in particular. In the first half of the month the inspectors used a rubber boat to go downstream the river. However, violators quickly adapted to the team’s methods of work and changed their poaching strategies. Given that, the inspectors also changed their work tactics that brought good results.
Also during the reported period, the team did not lose control over forest territories of the Park. Several foot patrols were carried out in remote forests. These checks were aimed to reveal poaching. However, no hunting violations were revealed.
In October, the new team of fire-fighting volunteers was fully equipped. Fortunately, there were no ignitions in the southern territory of the LLNP.
In November, the South team conducted 26 anti-poaching patrols, issued 10 administrative citations and initiated a criminal proceeding against two groups of fishermen. While patrolling, the inspectors were charged with prevention illegal hunting and fishing. Patrols were conducted both during the daytime and at night. Sometimes, border guards and specialists of Regional Fishing Inspection joined the team to conduct joint patrols.
During the first part of November the team’s attention was paid to the prevention of violations near spawning rivers within the protected area, especially the Narva River. As a result, 10 administrative citations were issued on violators. When patrolling the Narva River, the inspectors detained two groups of anglers and took them to the local police station to initiate a criminal proceeding against them.
In the second part of November the team focused their attention on the forested area to prevent illegal hunting. On November 20, while patrolling the Upper Alimovka River, the team found foot prints leading deep in the wood of the protected area. When tracking the footprints, the inspectors discovered the remnants of wild roe deer. Unfortunately, further investigation did not let identify suspects who killed the animal. On November 21, during a patrol along the Narva River the team sighted an Amur leopard and took footage and photos of the rare animal.
Besides anti-poaching activities, the team also was involved in fire-fighting. On November 14, a fire was discovered on the wetlands of Bezverhovsky hunting lease, adjacent territory to the national park. The South team in cooperation with volunteers arrived on the scene and extinguished the fire promptly.
Additionally, the team delivered lectures on careful attitude towards nature at local schools in Tsukanovo and Gvozdevo villages.
In December, the South team conducted 28 anti-poaching patrols, participated in tiger/leopard survey in Land of the Leopard National Park, read two lectures for schoolchildren and initiated two criminal proceedings. Patrols were conducted both during the daytime and at night, mostly on the southern part of the protected area. While patrolling, the inspectors were charged with prevention illegal hunting and fishing. Sometimes, border guards and specialists of Regional Fishing Inspection joined the team to conduct joint patrols.
On December 11, the inspectors detained a hunter for illegally killing of a pheasant while in possession of an illegal firearm. A criminal proceeding was initiated. Analogous violation was revealed on December 14 when the inspectors heard a gunshot and then managed to stop a car with a poacher. During a search of the car the rangers found an uncased rifle and a dead pheasant. A criminal proceeding was initiated.
No more violations were revealed in December, however more than once unauthorized presence of people was recorded in the protected area. Such facts coupled with the discoveries of dressed wild animals indicated that people came there to poach. Unfortunately, anti-poaching efforts used by the team did not let catch poachers.
In December, two birds (a falcon and an owl) were found injured. After a few days of rehabilitation the falcon was released back to the wild, but the owl could not regain its health so quickly. The owl’s wing was seriously injured and it is more likely that it cannot fly anymore. The bird will be kept at special enclosure until vets will make final decision about its future.
From December 24 to December 26 the team participated in wildlife survey. On December 3 and December 10 the inspectors read lectures for schoolchildren in Kraskino and Posiet villages.
In July, the South team carried out 27 anti-poaching patrols. When patrolling on the assigned area, the inspectors revealed the following violations:
On July 8, two men were detained in Leopardovy WR for violating the article 8.39 of Administrative Offences Code of the Russian Federation, i.e. violating rules for protection and use of natural resources in areas under special protection. On July 9, another man was apprehended in the same area in connection with the same violation. On July 15, two more villagers were stopped near the Narva River in Leopardovy WR and were issued administrative citations pursuant to the article 8.39 of Administrative Offences Code of the Russian Federation. On July 26, two locals were detained for violating rules of the Leopardovy WR. All these violations were revealed on the protected area near spawning areas of the Narva and Poima Rivers, which indicates that despite its strictly protected status, this area still attracts local community during salmon spawning season. People kept visiting these places despite high probability of being caught and punished. Given these conditions, the team leader decided to focus the team’s attention on these areas. Almost every day, the team conducted boat patrols along the spawning rivers in the southern part of the protected area in order to detain violators catching salmon with the use of spears and harpoon guns at daytime and with fishing nets at night. It is worth mentioning that most violations such as illegal setting of fishing nets were revealed near a camp of road construction workers who were building Narvinsky pass. Unfortunately, the team did not catch a worker red-handed and could not charge anyone with those violations. The inspectors had a talk with a foreman and asked to prevent such violations in future.
The same situation happened on the neighboring Bezverhovsky military firing ground. Servicemen supposedly set nets in the Narva River, and unfortunately nobody was caught red-handed yet.
On July 12, the team members participated in face-to-face interrogation regarding the poaching case revealed in June. During the interrogation the charged offender denied categorically his involvement in night hunt.
In August, the South team carried out 26 anti-poaching patrols. August is known as salmon-spawning season that is why the team focused its attention on areas where spawning rivers run. Intensive patrolling on the spawning rivers did not reveal any violation. One of the main reasons could be the almost total absence of typhoons that did not let the salmon make their way up to the Narva and Poima rivers and other streams to spawn. Accordingly, the rivers did not attract much attention of violators. Additionally, constant presence of the team in the area suppressed poaching activities there.
Besides patrolling along the rivers, the team continued patrolling the forest where people were expected to appear in search for ginseng roots or other wild plants. The inspectors checked areas of woodland that were frequented by poachers before. Acting on a tip-off, the team took measures to catch violators who were gathering ginseng roots in the China-Russia border region. Unfortunately, the “ginseng diggers” managed to escape.
In September, the team conducted 26 anti-poaching patrols and issued 14 administrative citations. While patrolling the inspectors were charged with prevention illegal hunting, gathering wild plants and fishing. The team patrolled along the spawning rivers and deep in the forest where people were expected to appear in search for ginseng roots or other wild plants or animals.
On September 1-9, two men were stopped and fined for illegal presence in Leopardovy Wildlife Refuge.
On September 11, during an ambush at night the inspectors detained two violators who illegally entered the protected area. From September 12 to September 25, nine local people were apprehended for illegal presence in Leopardovy Wildlife Refuge.
Besides anti-poaching activities, the team members also gave a lecture with schoolchildren in Vityaz village.
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