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Individual study: Translocation of problem Amur tigers Panthera tigris altaica to alleviate tiger-human conflicts in the Russian Far East

Published source details

Goodrich J.M. & Miquelle D.G. (2005) Translocation of problem Amur tigers Panthera tigris altaica to alleviate tiger-human conflicts. Oryx, 39, 454-457

Summary

The Amur or Siberian tiger Panthera tigris altaica is considered critically endangered with a wild population estimated at only around 400 individuals. Tiger attacks on livestock and very occasionally people, elicit strong responses from the local population, usually the offending individual being killed. Since 2000 in the Russian Far East, due to their rarity and in an attempt to alleviate tiger-human conflicts, problem tigers have been captured and translocated (with subsequent monitoring) as and when situations arose that demanded action. The area covered by the translocation scheme encompassed the whole of the Russian range of Amur tigers. Problem tigers were captured on request of the 'Inspection Tiger Department' of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources. The results of translocations to date are summarised.

In the years 2000-2003, four Amur tigers Panthera tigris altaica were live-trapped and translocated, upon request of the Inspection Tiger Department, in the Russian Far East. The tigers were radio-collared and released (150-350 km from their capture sites) close to a conservation area - the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik (SABZ), where the authors existing telemetary research programme was based. A summary of the characteristics of the Amur tigers captured and subsequent translocation success is given in Table 1 (attached).

Reasons for translocation: Three of the four tigers (Pt43, Pt51 and Pt52) were captured after killing dogs in villages, and the fourth (Pt57) after attacking and superficially scratching a person. Pt43 and Pt57 were males, Pt51 and Pt52 females.

Rehabilitation: Pt51 and Pt52 were held (for 388 and 162 days respectively) in a 1 ha enclosure at the Utes Rehabilitation Centre in the province of Khabarovski Krai. They were kept in captivity prior to translocation as both were emaciated, and Pt52 had also recently lost two toes, probably in a trap. The enclosure contained natural boreal woodland habitat and was separated from other buildings and enclosures by 500 m of forest. To minimise human conditioning, tigers were fed daily by one person who quickly vacated the area. The tigers were fed pig meat as wild meat was seldom available. The two other captured tigers were translocated immediately with no period of rehabilitation.

Releases & monitoring: Tigers were released into areas of known tiger habitat but existing tiger densities in release areas were not known. Following release, individuals were radio-tracked on foot, from vehicles and by biplane, with an attempt made to locate animals at least once a week. Kills made by tigers were located by searching areas where tigers had remained for more than 24 hours.

Translocation success: A successful translocation was deemed to be one where an individual had survived the first winter with evidence of predation on wild prey, and lack of conflict with people and domestic animals. Two of the tigers (Pt52 and Pt57) met these criteria, avoiding people and feeding on natural prey with evidence from a single scat each and remains of 11 and one kill, respectively. Neither of the Pt43 or Pt51 translocations was successful. These two tigers moved into areas of high human activity and were soon killed (see below).

Survival & establishment of new territories:

Pt43 – preyed on domestic dogs (despite good body condition) after translocation and was shot 27 days after release.

Pt51 – signal lost after only 20 days in the vicinity of a logging camp. It is suspected that this individual was poached and the collar destroyed.

Pt52 – established a home range of 614 km² but was poached 13.5 months after release. The poaching was not thought to be related directly to the translocation - of 28 radio-collared Amur tigers tracked, 23 (83%) were killed by people, 73% being poached – this is therefore the most frequent fate of these tigers, translocated or not.

Pt57 – although all tigers were released close to the SABZ this was the only one to establish a home range (in an area of 299 km² over a period of 10 months) within it. Tracking ceased after this tiger slipped its collar. This individual survived despite his young age (seven months) and poor condition when orphaned and subsequently captured.

Conclusions: This translocation represents the only known translocation effort with subsequent post-release monitoring. Although the sample size is small the data suggests that in some cases translocation succeeded with two released individuals surviving over one year. It provides an alternative to killing individuals of an already critically endangered population. It is hoped although success of released animals has been low, that improvements in techniques and better discrimination of suitable release candidates will result in increased survival of future translocated individuals.


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