The Russian government this week created the country's first national park for the Siberian tiger, following years of advocacy and conservation work by WWF and local environmental groups. Russia's Ministry for Natural Resources announced the new park on Tuesday.
Four thousand miles east of Moscow, the Zov Tigra - Roar of the Tiger - National Park stretches across 200,000 acres of the forested Sikhote-Alin mountain range in the Primorye region of the Russian Far East. It includes the watersheds of the Ussuri, Milogradovka and Kiyevka rivers.
Siberian tiger in a rehabilitation center near Khabarovsk, at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri Rivers. (Photo by Vladimir Filonov courtesy WWF/Canon)Although the region has several other strictly protected areas where no human activity is allowed and several wildlife management areas that permit natural resource extraction, this national park serves the dual role of protecting habitat and allowing for nature tourism.
"We've dreamed of this moment for a long time now. Zov Tigra is a huge victory and is enormously important for the survival of the world's largest cat," said Dr. Darron Collins, managing director of WWF's Amur-Heilong Program in the United States.
A typical male Amur tiger, the largest of the tiger subspecies, may weigh more than 250 kilograms (550 pounds) and measure nearly three meters (10 feet) from nose to tip of the tail.
"Part of the reason why this protected area took so long to evolve is that we had to demonstrate an economically viable future for protecting a pretty big chunk of land and, for Zov Tigra, that future has got to include sustainable, ecologically-based tourism," said Collins.
Chairlift carries visitors over a protected area in the Sikhote-Alin mountains. (Photo courtesy Russia's Permanent Mission to the UN)While some visitors may be drawn to Zov Tigra hoping to see the wild tiger, most will not catch a glimpse of this elusive predator.
Visitors will see the Milogradovka River which flows through blue and pink canyons and Mount Oblachanaya which rises more than 6,000 feet out of the Sea of Japan.
In addition to providing evidence justify the park's establishment, WWF had to protect the area to ensure that its natural resources were not destroyed while the paperwork was in process.
"We hope Zov Tigra is the first of several new protected areas to be created in the Russian Far East," said Dr. Yuri Darman of WWF's Russian Far East office in Vladivostok.
"Increased protection of habitat will help cement a future for these cats and will buffer against the continuous threat of poaching for their bones and skin," he said.
In addition to poaching of tigers and their prey, increased logging and construction of roads, forest fires and inadequate law enforcement threaten the survival of the species.
In the 1940s the Siberian tiger was on the brink of extinction, with no more than 40 tigers remaining in the wild.
The Siberian, or Amur, tiger is the largest of the tiger sub-species. (Photo courtesy Russia's Permanent Mission to the UN)Now, although still listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union, the Siberian tiger population has remained stable throughout the last decade with some 500 individuals.
The recovery is due to vigorous anti-poaching efforts and other conservation measures undertaken by the Russians with support from many partners, including WWF. The global conservation organization funds anti-poaching patrols and ungulate recovery programs to increase numbers of prey animals.
"The main purpose of the national park is to conserve biodiversity and develop eco-tourism in the region," said Yurii Bersenev, protected areas coordinator for WWF-Russia's Far Eastern office.
"Thanks to the positive cooperation between WWF and the Russian authorities, we were successful in establishing the park," said Bersenev. "We are happy to see this unique natural area finally getting the protection it deserves."
"We should find a compromise between the region's ecology and people's influence on environment," said Primorye's Governor Sergei Darkin, opening a two-day ecological forum in Vladivostok on Wednesday.
The "Vladivostok Times" reports that more than 600 participants from five Pacific Rim countries gathered for the Second International Ecological Forum Nature without Boundaries.
Organized by Primorye's administration, the event gathered directors of environmental organizations, scientists, officials and businessmen from Russia, the United States, China, Japan and South Korea to discuss ecological issues of the Russian Far East.
For more ENS coverage of Amur tiger recovery, see: Russian Plan to Save World's Largest Tiger Succeeds
For more about the Sikhote-Alin mountain range visit Wild Russia.