East Meets West: Liu Peiqi and Wild Tigers
Over the past century or so, human activities have pushed tigers in the wild to the brink of extinction. Twelve years ago, at the initiative of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), 13 tiger-range states around the world launched a project called "TX2" in St Petersburg, Russia, to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022. As a member of this project, China has succeeded in returning the almost extinct Siberian tiger to its home, making it one of the countries with the best prospects for the recovery of wild tiger populations worldwide. What does China's management experience tell us? On the occasion of the Lunar Year of the Tiger, Liu Peiqi, Changchun Regional Programme Director of the WWF (Switzerland) Beijing Representative Office, gave an exclusive interview to East Meets West of the Chinese News Service to explain this.
Liu Peiqi is the Changchun Regional Programme Director of the WWF (Switzerland) Beijing Representative Office. He joined WWF in 2014 and is responsible for the conservation of wild Siberian tigers in northeast China, leopards, wetlands, and migratory birds in the wild; from 2011 to 2014, he was the Wild Tiger Conservation Program Manager of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). He has been involved in conservation work for more than 20 years, adhering to a pragmatic conservation philosophy, introducing scientific techniques and methods for the conservation of Siberian tigers and leopards in northeast China. He has also gone into the wild to make a documentary film on the Chinese scaly-sided merganser alone, accumulating data for the conservation of endangered migratory birds. He is the author of A Study on the Potential Habitat of Siberian Tigers in the Changbai Mountains of China, Recommendations for Conservation Planning of Wild Siberian Tigers in Northeast China, and other books.
China News Service: What are the causes of the deterioration of the survival of this iconic species of tigers in the wild? What are the key ones?
Liu Peiqi: It is generally believed that the main factors contributing to the deterioration of the survival of tigers in the wild are the following: firstly, the shrinking area of wild tiger habitats, which are severely fragmented, isolated, and degraded in quality; secondly, poaching activities; thirdly, the indirect impact of human-animal conflicts on wild tiger conservation; fourth, the inadequate management capacity of nature reserves; and fifth, wildlife diseases. I believe that the first two reasons are crucial.
WWF TAI (Tiger Alive Initiative) has estimated that the existing tiger habitat worldwide covers an area of about 2.5 million square kilometres. This may seem large, but it is not enough for tigers. Studies have shown that ideally a single wild Siberian tiger in northeast China would need a territory of 500 square kilometres. On the other hand, these fragmented and insular habitats have resulted in the isolation of tiger populations, blocking their genetic exchange and making their ability to adapt to changes in the external environment vulnerable.
A bengal tiger in the wild. Photo by WWF
Globally, the competition between humans and tigers for land is intensifying, and in the course of forestry management, which is mainly aimed at timber production, the stand structure of forest ecosystems is being destroyed, and biodiversity and biomass are declining. One of the most important things to mention is the large number of plantations, which have low biodiversity due to the monoculture of tree species planted. This has led to a strange phenomenon - habitats may appear to exist, but the quality has deteriorated to such an extent that it is difficult for them to perform their normal ecological services.
Poaching is the biggest threat to tigers worldwide, especially in Southeast Asia. In 2019, our report The Silent Trap: The Hunting Snare Threat in Southeast Asia revealed that there were approximately 12.3 million hunting snares in Southeast Asian rainforests. China has done a relatively good job in this regard, especially since the pilot project in the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park, where more than 10,000 hunting snares have been cleared, the hunting snare encountering rate has dropped by more than 95%, and the threat of poaching has been significantly reduced.
The hunting snare threat in Southeast Asia. Photo by WWF
China News Service: Since the introduction of "TX2", the global wild tiger population has recovered significantly and now stands at about 4,000, but it is still short of 6,000, the target set by "TX2". How do you evaluate the gains and losses?
Liu Peiqi: Although we are still short of the target, we have basically reversed the decline of tiger populations, which is very remarkable. Tigers are at the top of the ecosystem food chain, and their natural population growth rate is already low, especially when more than 95% of the world's tiger habitats have been lost. "TX2" has increased global attention to tiger conservation, promoted international collaboration and information and resource sharing, facilitated a unified understanding, and solved widespread conservation problems. For example, in 2019, we brought together more than 300 representatives from the governments of 19 tiger and leopard range countries, including China, Russia, Vietnam, and Laos, and 10 international organisations in Harbin for in-depth discussions on monitoring techniques, population and habitat restoration, and landscape resource allocation in reserves, and such seminars are significant in establishing mechanisms for international exchange and cooperation.
The trend of tiger population. Photo by WWF
China News Service: What is the essence of wild tiger conservation?
Liu Peiqi: The essence of our conservation of tigers in the wild as a flagship species is to protect the natural ecosystem on which humans and wild tigers depend. Protecting tigers in the wild is not just about protecting a species, and is more about protecting the forest ecosystem in its habitat and the derived ecosystem services. As an apex predator, the tiger maintains the balance of the forest ecosystem by regulating the population of herbivores. Some studies have shown that protecting a single tiger is equivalent to protecting a forest the size of more than 10,000 football pitches, so saving tigers is also protecting natural resources and ensuring a better future for humans, wildlife, and our Earth.
A diagram of the biodiversity structure of the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park. Photo by Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park
China News Service: The great forests of northeast China were once the habitat of wild Siberian tigers. As previously analysed, they were eventually endangered because they could not find suitable habitat, and now they are returning, as now China has 50 of them. What do you think China's experience in tiger conservation can tell the world?
Liu Peiqi: Currently, tiger populations are on the rise in China, India, Russia, and Nepal, while they are generally declining in Southeast Asian countries. The Chinese government has always attached importance to the conservation of tigers in the wild. 2011 saw the release of China's Wild Tiger Recovery Plan. In 2015, China banned all natural forest logging and established the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park, giving wild animals such as the Siberian tigers a bright future.
The landscape of the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park.
Photo by Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park
Under the national park system, China has ensured that the area of wild tiger habitat does not shrink any further, and on this basis, has strengthened the management of forest ecosystems within the Siberian tiger's habitat to improve habitat quality and connectivity between habitats. At the same time, China has also strengthened law enforcement and management, and established a large and highly skilled team of rangers to provide a safe habitat for wild tigers. Another prominent feature of China's conservation efforts is the development of green development projects in the communities around the reserves, which has reduced the community development pressure on the environment and alleviated conflicts between humans and animals, thus creating a green development path that is a win-win for both humans and animals.
In addition, the close cooperation between China and Russia in the field of tiger and leopard conservation is also commendable, as the two countries have signed several documents related to the conservation of cross-border Siberian tiger populations, which is suggestively important for cross-border conservation efforts in other areas of the world.
China News Service: WWF has a wealth of experience in wild tiger conservation, and what are the prospects of you and your team for wild tiger conservation in the Year of the Tiger?
Liu Peiqi: Wild tiger conservation has always been an important part of WWF's work, and we have been doing this in China since 2006. In collaboration with relevant management departments and local partners, we have worked hard on monitoring Siberian tigers and their prey populations, protecting and restoring their habitat, anti-poaching, and mitigating human-animal conflicts. In 2010, we released A Study on the Potential Habitat of Siberian Tigers in the Changbai Mountains of China and Recommendations for Conservation Planning of Wild Siberian Tigers in Northeast China, which are useful guides for the conservation of wild Siberian Tigers in the past decade. In terms of transnational conservation cooperation, we promoted the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Administrations of Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park and Russian Land of the Leopard National Park, and formulated a three-year work plan (2020-2022).
A Siberian tiger. Photo by Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park
At present, the wild Siberian tiger population in Russia is nearing saturation, there is still vast unused habitat in China capable of hosting at least 320 Siberian tigers, and China has not established a sustainable, stable population of Siberian tigers, which is one of the hopes for continued growth in the global tiger population. I recently received the good news that wild Siberian tigers are spreading into the inland areas of China at a rate of 13.8 kilometres per three years.
The conservation and recovery of the Siberian tiger population is not something that can be done by one department or one organisation, but the result of the combined efforts of the governments, NGOs, enterprises, and the public. We hope to work with the Chinese government, enterprises, and the public to further promote connectivity of the Siberian tiger's habitat and mitigate human-animal conflicts, so that the Siberian tiger population can achieve sustainable growth.
A Siberian tiger. Photo by Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park
The traditional Year of the Tiger in China is a vital point for wild tiger conservation. In 2022, the Second Global Summit of 13 Tiger Range Countries will be held to summarise the experiences and achievements of the past 12 years of global tiger conservation and to jointly formulate and release the next 12-year global wild tiger conservation plan. I firmly believe that the future of wild tiger conservation will continue to progress towards the goal of harmonious coexistence between humans and tigers.
blog comments powered by