Emergency situation in Amur leopard reserve
Friday 23 October 2009
A poorly managed reorganization of the protected area in the range of the critically-endangered Amur leopard has left a key Russian reserve without protection and even the most basic funds to fight fires and poaching.
Kedrovaya Pad Reserve, the oldest nature reserve in Russia’s Primorski region, recently had its 93rd anniversary, but there was no cause for celebration. The reserve’s work has been paralysed due to a lack of funds.
In October 2008 Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a decree creating the Leopardovy Wildlife Refuge, combining the territories of two refuges into one large refuge.
This reorganisation was meant to bring the three connecting protected areas, in which half of the estimated 30 remaining Amur leopards live, under one improved management structure. But instead it has left this tiny population of Amur leopards without any protection at all.
In June the bank accounts of Kedrovaya Pad Reserve were closed. No state funds have since been transferred to the newly opened accounts for the new protected area, and as a result the reserve’s staff have not received salaries for five months.
Currently 24 of the reserve’s 32 employees are on a forced vacation. Even staff members that volunteered to continue their work without pay cannot do so because there is no money for fuel needed for patrols to protect against fires and poachers.
The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA), which is coordinated by ZSL, is an international coalition focused on conservation and fundraising efforts for these beautiful big cats.
ALTA’s work includes protection from illegal hunting and habitat destruction, firefighting, awareness programmes with local villages and compensation schemes for deer farmers. As part of this programme, ZSL works closely with local NGO Phoenix on key conservation issues such as anti-poaching patrols and fire-fighting strategies.
Sarah Christie, Amur leopard conservation manager for ZSL said: "The current lack of funds is especially alarming because the fire season has already started. The first fire has already been observed in the south of Leopardovy Wildlife Refuge and the protected areas will suffer from dozens more fires until the first snowfall.
"ZSL is working on fire prevention in Kedroya Pad and has a grant in hand for the purpose, but with the reserve staff unable to work, our hands are tied. The remaining wild leopards are at such low numbers that any disuption to the effort to protect them from risks like poaching, fires and disease could prove disastrous."
Despite appeals to the courts, official letters and the support of several high-ranking officials, there have been no concrete results.
At present, there are no funds left and the director has started to pay for essential necessities, such as telephone, postage and court fees, with his own personal money.
Phoenix has sent a letter to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, asking for him to take action in resolving the prolonged burearocratic delays, before they have detrimental effects for the Amur leopard.
ZSL, Phoenix, IFAW, Tigris Foundation and individuals are seeking funding to support the reserve, although the reserve’s management believes that it is the government’s responsibility to at least provide funds for salaries and basic necessities.
Please see the ALTA website for further information on Amur leopards and efforts to conserve them.