Russia is to propose new laws to close the loopholes that poachers use to target the countries last remaining tigers. Currently it is illegal to kill tigers but possession, trading and transporting tigers and tiger parts is not illegal. If poachers are caught all they have to do is say they found the tiger already dead to avoid prosecution and severe penalities.
The WWF have been working with the Kremlin to draft the new laws which will be a major boost to tiger conservation efforts in the region. The Russian Federation’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will work with the WWF-Russia to prepare a draft law to present to the government.
“It is a significant step towards protection of tigers and other endangered species threatened by trade and poaching,” said Igor Chestin, CEO of WWF Russia. “Trade, transportation and possession of endangered species becoming a crime is a long-awaited measure that we believe will dramatically reduce poaching,”
The WWF highlighted recent cases where Russians were found with tiger parts but would only be subject to minimal fines under the current legislation. In one case a man was found with parts from 6 tigers and another case saw a man caught with 8 tiger skins and a host of other endangered species. [pullquote]Trade, transportation and possession of endangered species becoming a crime is a long-awaited measure that we believe will dramatically reduce poaching.[/pullquote]
The later case relates to a raid conducted by russian police and authorities on a house in Arseniev following intelligence. There they found 8 tigers skins including tigers cubs one of which was still sucking. The raid was undertaken in August and the trader was arrested for illegal hunting and receiving stolen goods.
At the time of the raid Sergei Aramilev, biodiversity conservation program coordinator at WWF Russia Amur branch said, “Tiger population has suffered a severe loss as the skins detained belong to a tiger male, two female, one young tiger of an unknown sex, and to four cubs one of which is only 1-2 months old. The number of tigers killed was probably higher as no skins of nursing females were revealed but one of the killed cubs was suckling. “
“It means that more female were killed and sold. If to take into account that, for example, only on 120 000 hectares of the Lazovsky Nature Reserve 8-11 tigers roam then theoretically poachers have destroyed the tiger group of the same size on the same area. It is still unknown for how long the suspect was buying skins but it is clear that they have come from different districts of Primorye. Interrogation faces not easy task – to define the whole chain of people involved in the criminal business.”
Russia is home to the Amur tiger - also known as the Siberian tiger – a sub-species of tiger. There is an estimate 400 individual cats remaining, predominately within the Primorsky region. Russia has committed to doubling the number of the tigers by 2020.
The Amur tiger hit a low point in the 1930′s due to hunting when as few as 20 animals survived but major conservation plans since then has seen a steady growth in numbers. While the population is still thought to be no more than about 400 the population was considered to be stable enough and secure enough for it to be upgraded from critically endangered to endangered in 2007.
It is thought though that populations are back on the decline mainly due to direct poaching of the tiger and also over-hunting of its prey animals.
In 2009 a genetic study discovered that the Amur tiger has extremely low genetic diversity which is though to be a consequence of the 1930′s devastation of the population. This limited genetic diversity could have implications for the long-term success of the Amur tiger due to risks of in-breeding.