Magazine article American Forests

On the Last of 9 Lives

Magazine article American Forests

On the Last of 9 Lives

Article excerpt

The Siberian tiger has almost vanished from the Russian far East. To survive, it needs habitat-and that means trees.

Today we will see tiger tracks." It was the second of our six days in the Russian Far East touring the site of our most unique Global ReLeaf International project--reforesting habitat for endangered Siberian, or Amur, tiger. Our partner, Sergei Ganzei, deputy director of the Pacific Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said, "Wait. He will bring." And in walked a grinning forester with a plaster of Paris tiger track made by a one-and-a-halfyear-old tiger.

It wasn't the same as seeing actual paw prints in the wild, but it was still exhilarating. The paw was about the size of my hand, and I imagined that foot silently padding through the forest in search of a meal. And this tiger wasn't even full-grown.

It was May and I was in the city of Vladivostok with Rick Crouse, our senior vice president for marketing, and Zane Smith, a field representative for AMERICAN FORESTS with extensive experience working in Russia. We had traveled for two days to reach this city on Russia's eastern coast near the Sea of Japan, eager to see for ourselves the last phase of planting of native Korean pines that will provide habitat for the big cat whose paw print I had just touched.

We also wanted to cooperatively determine opportunities for future plantings. Because tigers are a common sight in large zoos, it is easy to forget just how few of them are left in the wild. A century ago some 100,000 tigers roamed throughout Asia; now somewhere between 4,600 and 7,700 survive. Ninety-five percent of the population disappeared over the course of seven generations. Of the eight known subspecies, three--the Bali, Caspian, and Javan--were extinct by 1979. Five remain--Bengal (or Indian), Indochinese, Siberian, South China, and Sumatran.

There are only about 450 Siberian tigers left in the wild, but some experts believe that, because of the opportunities that exist for expanding its habitat, it is the subspecies with the best chance of surviving long into this new century. Most of those tigers are in the Russian Far East, where hunting was banned in 1947.

Tigers have disappeared from Bali, South Korea, south-central China, Mongolia, and near Russia's Lake Baikal, each time for the same reasons: poaching for tiger parts; prey (rabbits, wild boars, spotted deer, and elk) lost to hunters; and habitat lost to logging, agriculture, fire, mining, and war.

The situation for the Siberian tiger in Russia is grave--you need 500 members of a species for it to he considered genetically viable, and the Siberian hovers at or below that mark. Planting trees to expand reserves and create corridors between protected tiger reserves is one tangible way to help them survive and multiply.

GLOBAL RELEAF FOR THE TIGER

While others study population and trends, AMERICAN FORESTS is the only group doing extensive habitat improvement. We're doubly proud of our contribution, because it supports both the tiger and the local economy. By providing grants for tree planting, we're giving economic opportunities both to our partners and to the people they contract to do site prep and planting.

Our project began with a call to our Russian partner, the Far Eastern Branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences. Zane spent long months in consultation with our partners before the 300,000 Korean pines were planted. Together with the Primorsky Krai Department of Forestry, suitable planting sites were identified and prepared and the seedlings grown to be planted in four areas where tigers are known to live.

The tree of choice: native Korean pine, which produces a nut similar to pinon pine that is coveted both by tiger prey and by nearby villagers. Nuts are produced annually, but every five to seven years the tree yields a bumper crop. …

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