Amur Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 0925412
There are fewer than 5,000 wild tigers remaining in the world. The key threats to the survival of tigers include habitat loss and fragmentation in areas with some of the densest and fastest growing human populations in the world, over-hunting of prey, direct killing of tigers for traditional Chinese medicine and retaliatory killing after tiger-human conflicts. Roughly 10% of all tigers are located in the forests of the Russian Far East, as the subspecies of Siberian, or Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica). Tiger habitat in the Russian Far East consists of large contiguous blocks of forests with low human densities. The primary threats to the Amur tiger are not associated with conventional habitat loss and fragmentation but instead with the depletion of prey populations throughout their range and direct poaching of individual tigers. Because Amur tigers require large tracts of forest with sufficient ungulate prey and low human disturbance to survive, tigers and people must find a way to co-exist in the vast unprotected, multiple-use forests of the Russian Far East. Conflicts exist on these unprotected forests where both hunters and tigers rely on the same prey base. Hunters claim tigers are reducing the amount of prey, thus negatively affecting their livelihoods. Conservationists claim over-hunting is destroying the prey base of tigers.
As one way of reducing conflict, legal ungulate harvests by hunters in tiger habitat are reduced by the Primorski Krai Commission to account for estimated off-take by tigers. Therefore, accurate estimates of tiger kill rates are a key component of determining appropriate harvest rates by hunters. Currently, year-round tiger kill rates are calculated by extrapolating kill rates derived from winter snow tracking data. If kill rates on ungulates are lower in summer, then tigers may have a lower impact on ungulates than assumed in the popular and scientific literature. Conversely, if kill rates on ungulates are higher in summer, then the effect of tigers on ungulates may be higher and human harvest may be at an unsustainable level. Unfortunately, information on food consumption and requirements of Amur tigers outside the winter season are difficult to obtain. Recent advances in Global Positioning System (GPS) collar technology enable researchers to gain new insights into predator-prey dynamics and help resolve some of these social conflicts in a scientific manner.
After 19 years of research in the Russian Far East, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Siberian Tiger Project (STP) still have several unanswered questions regarding the implications of tiger-prey dynamics on tiger conservation programs. Recently, GPS collars have been used to estimate annual kill rates for other large carnivores, but no one has attempted to apply these approaches to tigers. Therefore, our research goals are to apply this new technology to better understand year-round tiger-ungulate dynamics. We will address our goals by combining GPS collars, field work, and modeling.
Estimating the rate at which tigers kill prey (kills/tiger/day) with traditional VHF technology is difficult because tigers are elusive and difficult to observe, the prey may be small and quickly consumed, and because intensive monitoring is logistically and financially difficult. While prey composition in the diet of Amur tigers in SABZ has already been published, little is known of yearly tiger kill rates, especially during snow-free spring, summer and fall months (hereafter, summer). To bridge this knowledge gap, we will use GPS technology to estimate kill rates and test for seasonal differences in large-ungulate kill-rates by Amur tigers.
There are two schools of thought on how summer large-ungulate predation rates may differ from winter large-ungulate predation rates. The first hypothesis is that Amur tigers may kill more ungulates during the winter than summer. Traditional methods based on snow tracking may overestimate large-ungulate kill rates by tigers, hindering tiger conservation efforts in the Russian Far East. A prediction of this hypothesis would be an increase in summer predation on bears and other smaller mammals that are hibernating and less accessible during the winter months. Recent scat analysis research in the Russian Far East has shown non-ungulate prey species are present in tiger scat significantly more often during the summer months. Alternately, Amur tigers may kill more ungulates during the summer than winter. A prediction of this hypothesis would be that an increase in young ungulate predation (calves, fawns, and piglets) during summer increases the kills per unit time. We will test these hypotheses through field-based tracking of GPS collared Amur tigers in the Russian Far East.
Hunters are key stakeholders in tiger conservation in all remaining tiger habitat in the Russian Far East. Hunting is an important recreational and subsistence tradition in Russia. There are over 60,000 registered hunters in the Russian Far East who rely on multiple use lands. Wildlife management organizations are responsible for managing hunting, controlling poaching, and conducting surveys of game species on leased hunting territories encompassing about 85% of Amur tiger habitat. We will attempt to use the results of our research to influence game management policy decisions at the regional level through the Primorski Krai Commission and the Wildlife Management Department of Primorye. The strength and capacity of WCS to influence policy has always been through its capacity to provide the latest and most important information related to tiger conservation. The debate over ungulate management is presently heating up, as the Amur Tiger Monitoring Program has demonstrated a downturn in red deer, roe deer, and even tiger numbers. Hence, rigorous data on the impact of tigers on prey numbers are needed to influence policy decisions more than ever.
Project 0925412 location - Russia, Asia