In northeast China, one of nature’s most magnificent and endangered mammals roams the dense mountainous forests of a wildlife sanctuary.
Hunchun County in Jilin Province is home to Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park. It was created to protect the rare Amur tiger and Amur leopard.
Shen Xinyi / SHINE
The approximately 60 tigers in the 15,000 square kilometer park are protected by more than 3,000 rangers. Among them is Liu Guoqing, 33, from Hunchun. Last month, he and his colleagues won the championship in a ranger competition organized by the World Wildlife Fund.
“Rangers’ work can get tedious after a while, and the competition has been a boost for all of us,” Liu said. “The prize included a trip to the Shanghai Disney Resort, and I have to admit, it was very attractive.”
From the competition, which is in its sixth edition, we can get an idea of the daily work of the rangers. A field test simulated a real environment where rangers had to practice skills such as placing infrared cameras in the right place to track animal movements, surviving the harsh mountainous environment, and spotting and removing animals. traps set by poachers.
Additionally, a writing test demonstrated the knowledge and skills required of a qualified ranger: identifying animal tracks such as droppings and fur fragments, using navigational tools, and understanding relevant wildlife laws. animal protection.
“The competition is actually more difficult than the usual shooting work because it’s time-limited and also because it’s in the summer,” Liu said.
In winter, it is much easier to find tiger tracks in the snow, and the sun streaming into the leafless trees provides a better view.
One of the field tests was to find simulated hunting tools as quickly as possible. The tools were disguised in camouflage. Liu’s team failed to find them all.
“It was a lesson for us, so we collected the props as future teaching tools,” he said.
The Amur tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger, is the largest feline in the world. Its name comes from the river that marks the northeast border of China and Russia.
Courtesy of World Wildlife Fund
There are approximately 500 to 600 Amur tigers left in the wild. They are distributed in eastern Siberia, the Chinese provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin and possibly in the northern region of North Korea.
The Amur tiger is one of four tiger subspecies in China and the only one with hope for the recovery of the wild population.
Of the other three subspecies, the Indochinese and Bengal tigers are rarely found in China, and the South China tiger now only exists in zoos.
Courtesy of World Wildlife Fund
Courtesy of World Wildlife Fund
The fate of the Amur tiger has been affected by human activity. At the turn of the last century, Chinese and Russian trappers hunted cats for the fur and bone trade. At the same time, hunting deer and other forest dwellers has depleted the tigers’ food supply, and logging has destroyed habitat.
“The Amur tiger population is slowly recovering after conservation measures were put in place,” said Liu Duo, a senior official with the World Wildlife Fund. “In 2015, logging in natural forests was banned in China. In 2017, the national park was established, providing the Amur tigers with a stable and carefully maintained forest ecosystem. All of this portends a bright future for the tigers.
The Rangers are on the front line for the maintenance of the ecosystem and the survival of the tigers. Their work can be both tedious and dangerous.
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Park rangers adjust a surveillance camera in the shrine grounds.
Park rangers analyze tiger droppings to assess the health of the giant cats.
Tiger feces also help rangers track the movements of Siberian tigers in the sanctuary.
Park rangers remove snares left by poachers, which are a constant threat to the sanctuary’s 60 tigers.
Liu Guoqing had no intention of becoming a ranger when he graduated from college in mechanics. After working in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen for three years, his parents urged him to return to Hunchun as he was their only child. But once home, Liu found few suitable jobs. Then he learned that the local forest administration was recruiting forest rangers.
“The only requirement was a strong physical build, which I had,” Liu said. “In addition, I have known Hunchun wildlife since childhood, so I applied for the job.”
Liu and his colleagues carry out 20-kilometer patrols in the forest, equipped with a GPS navigation system, food and water, a first aid kit and an incendiary flare used to scare the beasts away.
Rangers actually see tigers very rarely. Their last encounter was three years ago, when Liu and his other two rangers were checking with an infrared camera. They suddenly heard a roar coming from a nearby hill.
“We stopped and looked around, trying to spot the location of the tiger, but we didn’t see it,” he recalls. “And then another grunt came, and we knew straight away we had to leave the area.”
Facing the direction of the grunts, the trio slowly backed away and only turned to run after retreating several dozen meters. It wasn’t until they got back to the safety of their patrol vehicle that they realized they were sweating profusely.
The recovery of the wild Amur tiger population, however, has created a new problem: the encroachment of tigers into areas of human habitation.
Earlier this year, footprints of a big cat were spotted at a forest farm in Jilin. They turned out to be an adult male Amur tiger.
Last year, in neighboring Heilongjiang province, a tiger appeared in a village and confronted a woman working in a cornfield. As another villager rushed to the scene, the tiger bit the woman on the shoulder and fled. The tiger was then anesthetized and sent to a center in the province. The woman was sent to hospital and survived the ordeal.
Now, in Hunchun and other places near the national park, people are warned to stay away from forested areas if any of the big cats are nearby.
Rangers are responsible for educating the public about tigers. Liu Guoqing often visits community groups in Hunchun to advise people on what to do if they encounter a wild tiger.
Liu Duo of the World Wildlife Fund said the goal was to promote harmonious coexistence between humans and Amur tigers.
“Currently, the Amur tiger population in Russia is close to saturation, but the habitat in China may hold at least another 320 or more tigers,” he said. “A continuous and stable population of Amur tigers has not yet been established here, but there is great hope.”