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Build Corridor for Tigers

9 august 2021

Today is the 10th Global Tiger Day. You may have heard that the global wild tiger population has decreased by more than 97% in the past century.They lost more than 80% of their habitat. The world's existing tiger habitat also full of problems, serious fragmentation, degradation of forest vegetation, increased risk of human and wildlife conflict, etc. To realize the harmonious coexistence of human and tiger, we need to build a lot of "roads" for tigers. Today, let’s talk something about "building roads" for tigers.

©Emmanuel Rondeau  WWF-US

The most important task of restoring wild tiger population is to protect and restore tiger habitat. The biggest problem of global wild tiger homes is habitat fragmentation: large and small habitat patches that are not connected enough,imprison tigers in small homes, which is difficult to spread and migrate to more inland potential habitats, and also difficult to communicate and reproduce freely.

What is eco-corridor?

Wildlife corridor is a narrow strip connecting two large-area habitat patches. The eco-corridor will be significantly different from the surrounding landscape, which can be understood as "a narrow strip vegetation channel for wildlife that can help the diffusion of wildlife between two or more relatively closed areas".

It is not only a tiger "Street overpass" connecting the habitats of highways and railways, but also a large wildlife channel connecting the habitat patches, which may be several kilometers or even hundreds of kilometers long. Eco-corridors can improve the connectivity between patches, promote the diffusion, migration, communication and reproduction of wildlife in habitats, and reduce the risk of wildlife extinction.

Build many "roads" for tigers

As one of the most successful countries in protecting wild tigers, India has many successful cases of improving habitat connectivity. One of them is the corridor construction in Terai arc and Assam distribution area. Terai arc Nature Reserve in northern India occupies a national boundary of 700 kilometers, connecting with Nepal.

The tigers’ home covers an area of 50,000 square kilometers and is also one of the most densely populated areas in the world: there are a large area of farmland, communities and even small towns. There are also 16 protected areas (11 in India and 5 in Nepal). With the joint efforts of the two countries, six eco-corridors connecting tiger habitats have been improved.

In order to verify whether these corridors are effective, WWF patrols in Nepal and India have conducted a survey for a total of 38319 days, covering an area of 9000 square kilometers. The survey shows that 11 tigers travel the forests of the two countries through these corridors. This also allowed the tiger to spread to Nepal successfully .

Pranav chanchanchani, WWF India tiger conservation program Commissioner, said: "we found that farmland can also be used as a corridor connecting habitat plates. The current challenge is that in the region, some infrastructure construction has planned in the future. If we are lack of the reasonable ecological considerations, habitat fragmentation in the region will be exacerbated.

The connected habitat has increased the number of tigers in Assam reserve to 190 (2018), up from about 70 a decade ago.

In 2019, WWF India and our partners launched an eco-corridor construction project to improve the corridor of satpuda–pench in central India, connecting two tiger habitats and ensuring the free diffusion of tigers and other wildlife. More than 6000 farmers from 124 villages participated in the project, covering an area of 2400 hectares.This project successfully improved the connectivity of large tiger homes in central India.

Experience the eco-corridor

What is the experience of walking on the eco-corridor? Last year, WWF India convened 62 volunteers to walk 200 kilometers to investigate the tiger corridor in satpuda–pench, crossing rivers and forests.

The team found that the tiger corridor not only facilitates the spread of tigers, but also serves for other wild animals, such as wild dogs, leopards, water deer, wolves and bears. Volunteers found the footprints of many kinds of wild animals on the corridor.

However, the biggest challenge to the connectivity of tiger habitat is the construction of roads and railways. Like Terai arc reserve, many linear infrastructures are planned there, and many have been put on the construction schedule. WWF is working with local government departments to ensure that these projects have the design concept of ecological protection.

In order to protect the only hundreds of wild Amur tigers on the earth, Russia will build a "big project" , the "Sredneussuriisky" tiger corridor, covering an area of 180000 acres.

This large-scale eco-corridor will connect Sikhote Ali mountain in Russia and Wanda mountain in China. More Amur tigers can travel between Russia and China. This will become the only corridor connecting northern China and Russia, and will also provide a good resting place for endangered migratory birds such as oriental white stork.

Connecting China's tiger home has a long way to go

China's road construction, especially the construction of high-speed railway and expressway, has made remarkable achievements in the world, contributing to economic development and social progress. But we can also note that roads are constantly destroying the ecological environment and reducing biodiversity. It not only cuts the habitat of wild animals, hinders or blocks the migration and diffusion of wild animals, but also increases the probability of death from collision between wild animals and vehicles.

Researches show that the population of Amur tiger in China has been increasing since the 21st century, and has been spreading from the border area between boarder of China and Russia to the inland of China. However, the closed Heda Expressway (Hegang-Dalian), Suiman Expressway (Suifenhe-Manzhouli), Hunchun Ulanhot Expressway (Hunchun-Ulanhot) ,railway and other linear infrastructure divide the Amur tiger population into four independent habitat patches: Changbai Mountain, Wanda mountain, Xiaoxing'an Mountain and Zhangguangcai mountain, resulting in the failure of population exchange, proliferation and expansion among the Amur tiger populations. It also increases the risk of inbreeding and gene degradation.

In the rescue and release of tiger "Wandashan No. 1",Professor Zhang Minghai of the school of wildlife and nature reserves of Northeast Forestry University said ,"there are many problems of military fences, transportation facilities and agricultural reclamation, fragmentation and habitat division in the eco-corridor area with frequent cross-border activities of Amur tigers between the border of China and Russian. Although the Chinese and Russian governments have established a certain number of protected areas on the Amur tiger corridor, there are still serious protection gaps in some key areas.

From the perspective of tiger global protection strategy, opening up the corridor and effectively connecting these fragmented habitats has become the priority of Amur tiger protection. China and Russia should establish an effective cross-border protection mechanism to jointly protect the endangered rare species of Amur tiger. "

Over the years, China has attached great importance to habitat restoration. Eco-corridor construction is the top priority of wild tiger protection in China. In 2017, China established the Amur tiger and leopard National Park, covering an area of about 14600 square kilometers, which is a milestone for the protection and restoration of the Amur tiger population.

In 2020, the national development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of natural resources jointly issued the master plan for major national ecosystem protection and restoration projects (2021-2035), which clearly pointed out that "strengthen the habitat protection and restoration of flagship species such as Amur tiger and Amur leopard, and connect the corridor of species migration and spread". With the largest population of Amur tigers in China, Jilin Province also mentioned, "Amur tiger and leopard National Park: Deepening the reform of natural resource asset management system and national park system" in the key measures for the construction of nature reserves in the 14th five year plan for national economic and social development of Jilin Province and the outline of long-term objectives in 2035. “To carry out the relocation and resettlement of the existing production and living facilities and residents, effectively restore the ecological environment of the habitat of the Amur tiger and Amur leopard, revitalize the prey population of the Amur tiger and leopard through forest vegetation restoration, strengthen wildlife protection, open up the migration and expansion corridors of wild animals, and comprehensively promote ecological restoration, industrial development, urban construction and people's livelihood, promote the transformation of production and lifestyle of indigenous residents. "

How to build an eco-corridor?

In 2020, WWF released a report entitled Landscape Connectivity Science And Practice. The report recommends the principles and methods of eco-corridor construction and management, including the design principles, monitoring and management of corridors, as well as several application cases of corridor construction in tiger protection.

1. Design methods and principles of eco-corridor

(1) Research on diffusion resistance of wild animals in different natural and man-made landscapes.

(2) The design of eco-corridor should comprehensively consider the needs of target species, spatial land use planning and community development, and establish a double-layer corridor design scheme.

(3) Design different corridor schemes targeting on multiple species to provide reference information for spatial land use planning.

(4)The regional development planning should be focused on the content of wildlife corridor.

2. Monitoring and management of eco-corridor

(1) Determine the criteria for the functional connectivity of the ecological corridor in the habitat of the target species.

(2) Monitor potential indicators that change the connectivity of eco-corridors.

(3) The purpose of strengthening monitoring is to provide information for better corridor planning, improve its functions, minimize contradictions or problems, and expand the application scope of sustainable development.

(4) The government should formulate a national eco-corridor construction plan to ensure that the eco-corridor has legal status and recognition, and has a specific monitoring and management plan.

WWF's efforts in the eco-corridor of Amur tiger

In 2010, WWF, together with partners such as Northeast Normal University and Northeast Forestry University, carried out research on potential habitats and corridors in China's northeast tiger conservation priority area, and proposed conservation priority plans and potential locations for corridor construction in the north of Laoyeling, the south of Laoyeling, Wanda mountain and zhangguangcai mountain.

In 2019, in the study of the Amur tiger corridor in Heilongjiang Province, four international corridors (Wanda mountain-sikhotalin, Fenghuang Mountain-Russia-niaoqing mountain, Laoyeling-Russian coastal border, Xiaoxing'an Mountain - Russian Jewish state) and four domestic corridors (West Wanda mountain - east Wanda mountain, Laoyeling - Zhang Guangcai mountain, Wanda mountain - Zhang Guangcai mountain Xiaoxing'an Mountain - Zhang Guangcai mountain). These research results have important reference significance for the future construction of China's northeast tiger corridor.

© Emmanuel Rondeau  WWF

The eco-corridor construction of Amur tiger not just happen overnight. It requires the joint efforts of multiple government departments, NGOs and local communities. At present, there is no construction case of Amur tiger corridor in China. We need to learn from the corridor construction methods of other endangered species, put forward the construction location and design method of Amur tiger corridor in combination with the current situation of Amur tiger population and habitat in China, prepare accurate construction plan, and widely solicit the opinions of experts, the public and local communities. We should comprehensively consider the balance between the local socio-economic development and the protection of the Amur tiger, so as to realize the harmonious scene of "people walking on human roads and tigers walking on the tiger roads".