China: Where tigers are returning
In 2010 there were no more than 20 wild tigers in China, most of which had crossed the border from Russia. That was until 2014, when camera traps captured footage of a tigress and her cubs in Jilin Wangqing Nature Reserve: it was a landmark moment - tigers were breeding in China again.
Thanks to the efforts of the government and conservationists, the population has been gradually recovering and dispersing inland from the country’s northmost province at the border with Russia. But as poaching and deforestation remain a threat, rangers play a crucial role in protecting tiger habitats. Gathering data and deterring poaching and illegal logging, they act as the eyes and ears of the forest.
Qui Shi is a member of a patrol team for the Dongning Forestry Bureau. Uniquely, her team is the only all-female patrol team in China’s tiger range. Together they work to protect the country’s north-most region of Heilongjian. When they are not on patrol, they often visit their local markets and interact closely with the communities in which they grew up, listening to their challenges and concerns (especially related to wildlife conflict) and raising awareness of the need to protect tigers and other wildlife from poaching. It is hard work; in this region temperatures often drop as low as minus 40 degrees.
Though the terrain and weather is consistently challenging, Qui Shi has begun to notice positive changes in the landscape thanks to conservation efforts. “The territory is wider, the food is richer, and the species are now more diverse,” she says.
“I am very proud of the work that I do,” she adds. “We live beside the forest, regarding it as a companion, and I encourage my family to pay attention to the harmonious coexistence of humans and nature, and to care consciously about wildlife.” It is a sentiment that has been passed down through generations; many of the patrol team members’ fathers and grandfathers were also forestry people.
The tigers’ return to her home holds particular significance. “As a keystone species, tigers represent to me that my work is meaningful,” she explains.
As tigers return to the northmost area of China, efforts are underway to ensure they are able to travel deeper into the country.
The tale of a solitary male tiger named Hu Wa demonstrates exactly why enabling tigers to move is so important. This eight-year-old male is the sole individual known in the Huangnihe Nature Reserve. His frantic search for a mate has seen him travel extensively, as far as the major city of Jilin. But with major infrastructure such as the Heda Highway impeding his movements, and stopping any tigress coming to him, there is an urgent need to restore wildlife corridors before it’s too late for Hu Wa to breed. On Global Tiger Day 2020, WWF-China is initiating a national campaign #TigersNeedCorridors, calling on the public to facilitate government actions on corridor building.
Despite the challenges faced by China’s tiger population, the government has made commitments demonstrating ambition to safeguard wild tigers in China into the future. Hu Wa’s home - the Huangnihe Nature Reserve - is the first site of the country to be registered under the Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CA|TS) accreditation scheme, a commitment showcasing its ambition to safeguard the habitat for tigers into the future. China has also committed to increasing the extent of its protected areas, including creating the new Amur Tiger and Leopard National Park which covers 14,600km2, an area 60% larger than Yellowstone National Park in the US.
TX2 is the global goal to double wild tiger numbers by 2022, the next lunar year of the tiger. Whilst some tiger range countries have made significant progress, this big cat still faces threats from poaching and habitat loss. In Southeast Asia, a snaring crisis could wipe out entire populations unless urgent action is taken. WWF is working with partners, governments and communities to secure the future for tigers in all tiger range countries, and to reintroduce the tiger to its historic range in Kazakhstan and Cambodia.