Too often, the news from China about animals is about unethical treatment and abuses. Here’s a far more positive report: Recently, in the midst of winter, 59 Chinese volunteers helped to clear 162 illegal wire snares from the northeastern province of Heilongijang. The snares had been set by poachers and are meant to catch boar, rabbits and roe deer, but have sometimes caught tigers. Indeed, last October, a tiger was found dead in one such snare.
The population of Amur or Siberian tigers in China is very low — only 18 to 22 are thought to remain — and the animals are critically endangered. In the 1940s, about 300 tigers were living in the country. The World Conservation Society estimates that fewer than 3,500 tigers remain in the wild, with only about 1,000 of those breeding females.†Signs of these big cats have been appearing more and more in the nearby Russian Far East, where the population is several hundred.
Tiger parts are sought after for use in traditional Chinese medicine; their bones have been used for centuries to treat arthritis and muscular atrophy. The animals’ beautiful pelts are also highly sought after. In addition, illegal logging is threatening their’ habitat. Roe deer are one of the tigers’ staple foods but poaching has drastically reduced the population of these in the forests.
The Chinese volunteers included doctors, computer engineers, public servants and college students; they worked beside WCS staff for six days in freezing temperatures and in deep snow. Joe Walston, WCS Director of Asia Programs, said that it was “heartening to see a new generation of environmentally committed young Chinese willing and able to volunteer their time to do something challenging but important for their country’s natural heritage.”
Zhu Chunquan, who works at the World Wildlife Fund‘s Beijing office, emphasized that, unless the Chinese government takes steps, the tigers will disappear from China within 10 to 20 years — a preventable tragedy, if the right steps are taken to ensure their survival.
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