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10.02.2013 - The Snare for tiger

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10.02.2013 - The Snare for tiger

Сообщение Kovu » Вс фев 10, 2013 5:54 pm

Русская версия: Проект «Амурский тигр» или «Чума на оба ваши дома…».

Translated by Alexey Bizin
Correction by Vladimir Dinets & Sergey Kolchin

«... I request from you and from entire Moscow zoological community
to help me to stop capturing of tigers in the Reserve»*

(From the L.G.Kaplanov's** letter to A.N.Formozov on January 25th, 1940)

The Snare for tiger

The Project Wildlife Conservation Society “Amur Tiger” has been taking place in Sikhote Alinskiy biosphere nature Reserve (north-eastern part of Primorye, Russian Far East) since 1992. The Project includes capturing tigers with the use of Aldrich foot snare for further immobilization and equipping them with radio or GPS collars. Aldrich foot snare is a steel device made of 8mm rod, spring and big screw bolts. The trap is set in a small hollow on the trail that the animal uses; it is attached to a tree and is thoroughly disguised. When the animal steps on a spring, the loop catches its foot. When the tiger is trapped he starts to throw himself and bite the metal device. As a result, tigers seriously injure their paws and teeth, and it usually later results in their death. Russian zoologists started using this snare as well in 2008.

Dalnauka Publishing House (Vladivostok) has published a monograph Diseases and Parasites of Wildlife in Siberia and the Russian Far East under the editorship of I.V. Seryodkin and D.G. Miquelle. Dr. Seryodkin is an associate professor and acting Head of Laboratory in Pacific Institute of Geography, Far-Eastern Branch, Russian Academy of Science. Dr. D. G. Miquelle is the director of WCS Russia [1]. Pages 108-117 of the book contain a chapter titled “Tooth breakage in tigers: cause for conflict?” [2]. The authors of the chapter are members of “Amur Tiger” Project launched by WCS: D.M. Goodrich, I.V. Seryodkin, D.G. Miquelle, L.L. Kerley, H.B. Quigley, M.G. Hornocker. They try to address the criticism of WCS centered on dangerous entrapment techniques which often harm animals and consequently provoke aggression towards humans [3..6]. They try to prove this wrong by substantiating their work with studies of 46 tigers caught by Aldrich foot snares. Notably, they discuss only dental injuries, and more specifically “… on injured canines with necrotic pulp and open apex; other teeth are beyond the scope of this research”. Limb injuries are not mentioned at all, while it is intuitive to expect this kind of damage after being caught by paw-catching steel snare.

The conclusions derived from the research are hardly unexpected considering the affiliation of the authors:
  1. Dental injuries are rare when using Aldrich snare.
  2. Broken canines do not significantly influence fertility, survival or hunting abilities.
  3. Most of the “tiger aggression” cases have nothing to do with broken canines.

Only two tigers, or 3.7% out of total, turned out to have injured their teeth during the trapping sessions carried out by WCS. Let’s look at the case of a big male tiger caught by WCS in early November 2006 in south-western Primorye (Khasanskiy District). Few days after being caught the tiger was surrounded and shot by hunters who did a game drive while hunting ungulates. The tiger was found near a killed boar and attacked a local hunter. There were two accounts of the case; one claimed that the tiger was shot prior to the attack, while the other claimed that the tiger attacked first. Anyhow, this tiger had been recorded in the area for ten years, never got caught before the incident, and never had conflicts with humans. Game drive is a usual business in Amur tiger habitat. Apparently, the tiger avoided the hunters all his life until this unfortunate day, which brings the question: was the death of the tiger accidental or was the animal inclined to find itself in a situation of high risk and insecurity. The shot tiger had major external damages caused by recent trapping. There were broken canines and paws cut by Aldrich snare, as acknowledged by WCS members. In this particular case there was no chance to cover up the injuries, because the corpse of the tiger was inspected by a third party. Which tiger with dental injuries was officially the second one mentioned out of the total sample is unknown.

So what was going on with other tigers? Were the two tigers mentioned by WCS the only ones which injured the teeth while being caught by Aldrich snares? The teeth of the first tiger were completely destroyed (Fig. 1). Were the other tigers of different kind? Did they lay down calmly waiting to get a dose of tranquillizer? Sure! This is what WCS members claim in their book. We consider that book extremely simplistic and biased, since it claims that tigers with dental problems hunt down bigger prey (the difference is valued about 3kg or 6.6 lbs), successfully reproduce and do not interfere with people. One might think that tigers don’t need canines at all. To support their conclusions, Goodrich et al. compare African lions to tigers, not taking into account totally different ecology, social structure and range patterns. They point out that “Dental injuries caused by trapping were detected only twice”. Interestingly, they also mention that over 70% of trapped tigers were later killed by poachers.

Figure 1. Skull of the male tiger which injured his teeth in the course of trapping by WCS in Khasanskiy District of Primorye in Nov, 2006 (Courtesy of Galina Salkina)

The publication was written solely by WCS members, an interested party in this case, which might have reasons to cover up the negative consequences of its activities.

Below is the testimony of Dr. Sergey Kolchin (research assistant of Laboratory of Ecology of animals in Institute of Water and Ecology Problems, Far-Eastern Branch, Russian Academy of Science):

I participated in “Amur Tiger” Project from October 2007 until March 2009. On October 14, 2007, a few days before my arrival, WCS members Nikolay Rybin and John Paczkowski caught a big male tiger in Dzhigitovka basin (river Kuruma, source Zhadonok, Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve). The animal was initially spotted by Sergey Scherbonos, the inspector of the Reserve. The tiger was named Sergey and received ID number 85. The predator was immobilized and given the radio collar. Ivan Seryodkin, Field Coordinator of the Project, showed me the photos of the caught tiger. The left paw was severely deformed and almost torn off by Aldrich snare. Steel string cut the skin, muscles and ligaments all around the wrist. The tiger tried to pull his paw out of the snare multiple times, which lead to turning his skin and flesh inside out like a sock. The wrist being pulled over by the snare swelled to the size of soccer ball. Presumably, tissue necrosis was to follow shortly. Upper right canine was broken at the base, and there were multiple dents in other teeth. Apparently, the animal struggled in the trap for many hours, damaging its paw and suffering terrible pain. When I asked Seryodkin how serious the injuries were, he answered something like “It’s no big deal. He’ll lick his wounds and get over it”. When I opened the table summarizing the data on all WCS-examined tigers, I discovered the following remark on this tiger in the appropriate cell. “No wounds and injuries”.

Images taken by photo traps in different parts of the Reserve revealed that tiger Sergey was a resident of Dzhigitovka River area, the coastline and river Serebryanka running in central part of the Reserve (Fig. 2). Unfortunately it did not last long after being trapped. On November 7 he got caught again, three weeks after the initial entrapment. The tiger was in dismal condition and deeply exhausted. The wound on the paw was even more swollen. Obviously, he didn’t manage to “get over it”.

Figure 2 (clickable). Tiger Sergey (# 85) one month before he was injured by Aldrich snare. The picture was taken by WCS photo trap on Sep, 9, 2007 in Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve

This time the tiger did not rage in the snare; apparently, he did not have enough energy. He stepped into the trap with his healthy leg. I did not take part in trapping, although I was a witness of the WCS discussion spurred by the second trapping and photos taken. I can recall the words of John Paczkowski, who insisted on immediate halt to trapping, which was the cause of the tiger’s death. Dr. Paczkowski understood the consequences of applying study framework. All Aldrich snares were removed from the area, but the damage was already done.

A few days later we received a weak signal from Sergey’s radio collar coming out of Kuruma-Kunaleyka watershed. After that we got no data on him for a long time. In December Nikolay Rybin and me conducted an inspection flight over the Reserve using AN-2 airplane. Sergey’s radio collar signaled from the valley of Yeloviy creek in upper Serebryanka river basin, which is in the heart of the Reserve. To get to that point on foot, we needed a few days. When I started working for the Project such long hikes were not encouraged. The Project had been running for 15 years by that time. Since the start of the Project the tigers had become a trivial spectacle for the crew. Traditionally the animals were trapped along the Terney-Plastun highway, and nobody travelled up to Serebryanka River. Perhaps the field coordinator had his own reasons. Searching for Sergey was postponed indefinitely. Next time we made a flight over the Reserve in Feb, 2008. The tiger, or should I say the remains of the tiger, were on the very same spot. I offered Seryodkin to take a trip to Yeloviy multiple times, but every time my offers were rejected with different explanations. It became obvious to me that I had to “forget” Sergey for a while.

We monitored two mature female tigers which had radio collars. They were named Vera (#55) and Galya (#56). Vera wandered around river Kuruma (Dzhigitovka watershed) most of the time, but sometimes appeared closer to the coastline on river Kunaleyka. Galya along with her three maturing cubs occupied a neighboring area on the seashore. Spring-summer trapping session of 2008 was organized in the same area. Galya was caught twice previously, in 2002 and 2005. Probably thanks to this experience she managed to avoid the traps, but her cubs were not so lucky. One of her cubs named Ivan (#88) got caught on May 3. When asked about its health, Seryodkin confirmed it was normal besides a minor dent on a canine. Ivan’s brother was caught on May 23 and named Clay (#89) after Clay Miller, the new member of the Project. I was checking the tiger traps occasionally since I was assigned to look after bears and Vera. I was kindly provided the photos of the caught tiger Clay by his “godfather” Clay Miller and Erin Latham, a Canadian who came to Terney to study bears. Lower left canine was broken down to the gum, the wound was bleeding heavily. Notably all Project members headed by Dale Miquelle rushed to the trapping site once they received the message from Seryodkin. For some reason I was not informed on that and spent my day in an empty office. Perhaps the reason I was not informed by my colleagues was my questions about the consequences of trapping for tiger health. I won’t speculate further on Clay’s case. Later I was told by WCS members that Clay had removed the radio collar by himself on the outskirts of Terney in early August.

A notorious case of a tiger escaping the trap and assaulting a human emerged around that time. Mr Seryodkin was the target of the tiger charge. So, here is my version of the event based on my own observations. On Jun, 17, 2008 members of the Project Ivan Seryodkin and Vladimir Melnikov arrived to Blagodatnaya Bay in the morning. They were supposed to check the area near the bay, and Melnikov was to travel further to Golubichnaya Bay, which was another trapping location. He was supposed to meet Nikolay Rybin there. Melnikov and Seryodkin found a big tiger caught in one of the traps. Melnikov walked around the tiger and continued his trip to Golubichnaya Bay sticking to the initial plan. Seryodkin was left alone, that’s why he had to leave the spot and call the help from Terney. After we got his call, a group of eight arrived to Blagodatnaya Bay. We stopped 100 meters before the trapping spot. Once the immobilization gear was ready, four people approached the tiger. First in the line was Seryodkin with a gun (he was assigned to make a shot with tranquillizer), I was the second one (my duty was to distract this tiger so Seryodkin could make a sharp shot), Dale Miquelle was the third; the fourth in the line was Clay Miller. We cautiously approached the tiger about 30 meters. The predator had his right side to us, and it seemed he was taking care of his paw. The next moment he noticed us and furiously charged the group. Most likely the snare binding broke at that moment but we didn’t realize it yet. Seryodkin started running to the left side from the trail while the rest of us started hand flares. The tiger was definitely after the person who broke away from the group. The animal knocked down and started to bite Seryodkin. All of this took just a second. The tiger was scared of burning hand flares; that’s why he soon gave up on Seryodkin and ran away towards the seashore. He obviously could kill the man, but didn’t do it. We applied first aid to Seryodkin and sent him to Terney hospital by car. His shoulder was bitten through and the left wrist was injured. Meanwhile we arrived at the office of Reserve to write a report on the incident. After that three of us returned to the scene along with the Security Head of Reserve Vitaliy Sosedov.

The examination of the scene revealed that the steel string was not torn. As the consequence of the powerful charge the metal tube used for attaching the steel string to the swivel and to the tree was broken. The tiger left the scene with the steel snare on his leg. Coil string was bent in multiple sections, the steel string had been chewed on. Also I found a 3-cm (1.2 inches) piece of a canine covered with blood. Later Dale Miqulle urged me to throw away the piece and not tell anybody about this finding (Fig. 3). We found a gun with a bent barrel and an unused hand flare on the spot where the tiger knocked the man down. Tranquillizer shot hit the ground and did not reach the tiger.

Figure 3 (clickable). Tiger Ivan’s (#90) broken canine piece. The tiger broke the snare during trapping by WCS, Jun, 17, 2008, Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve, Blagodatnaya Bay surroundings (Courtesy of Sergey Kolchin)

Members of the Project checked the memory stick in Seryodkin’s camera. It revealed that Seryodkin had conducted a photo session before his colleagues came to the spot. The pictures showed tiger’s eyes filled with fright and ears pulled back. The predator wisely avoided humans all his life and watched them only from afar, but now he stood in fright and shame in front of the man circling around him to find a better camera angle. Seryodkin stopped only after a couple hundred pictures were made.

This tiger (later named Ivan) was a resident of the area containing Dzhigitovka basin and the seashore. He shared this space with tiger Sergey (Sergey’s grievous story was provided earlier in the text). From the onset of winter he was left alone in the area because of Sergey’s death. Ivan managed a miraculous escape from the trap and turned loose the snare around his paw. We were able to track this tiger using his paw prints around river Kuruma basin, not to mention the pictures made by photo traps. Tigress Vera with her two cubs also wandered around. Perhaps Ivan was the father of the cubs. Tiger Ivan remained neutral to humans. Meanwhile WCS was eager to save something else.

Searching for Sergey’s radio collar was begun only in late Sep, 2008, when the dust settled after Seryodkin’s incident. Nobody was interested in bringing to the spotlight another dead tiger. Actually the corpse of the tiger and the new radio collar remained by Yeloviy source since November or December of 2007 (almost a year). Sergey’s death reveals that not all starving and dying tigers approach human habitation for easy catch. Sergey limped to a secluded spot where he died quietly. Nikoly Rybin and John Paczkowski collected Sergey’s skull (Fig. 4). Obviously it was not possible to state the real cause of death which occurred almost 10 months ago. What a lucky coincidence for WCS members who proclaimed death by natural causes. Administration of Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve and specifically Anatoliy Astafyev often report such incidents to the WCS, but the situation always gets back to usual.

Figure 4 (clickable). Tiger Sergey’s (#85) skull and radio collar found by WCS members in late Sep, 2008 by the source Yeloviy of river Serebryanka in Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve. The tiger died in Nov-Dec, 2007, just after being caught with Aldrich snare (Courtesy of Sergey Kolchin)

* * * * *

Tiger Ivan was caught again on Oct, 27, 2009 around “Ust-Shanduy” outpost (Zabolochennaya River). Sergey Kolchin had already quitted the Project by then. As Mr Seryodkin disclosed on official web page of WCS local branch [7]: “we have known tiger Ivan for a while, because of multiple pictures taken by photo traps in different parts of Reserve. The photo traps were installed by trailways and trees marked by tiger. Territory controlled by this tiger is unusually large. No less than six mature tigresses also inhabit this area”. Interestingly enough, this info had been disclosed on the official web page only on Feb, 9, 2010.

Three weeks before that on January 15, 2010 in the vicinity of village Artemovo on Serebryanka river, tiger Ivan had killed a local fisherman. Next day the predator was shot by EMERCOM officers. The left paw was heavily injured, the tiger suffered from high degree debilitation. This case was brought into spotlight by different media and investigated in details by the late local journalist Evgeniy Suvorov [8].

Project members stated that tiger Ivan moved around actively and had no health issues after entrapment. This statement was based only on radio signals, which of course raises questions. Deep cuts up to the elbow joint and gnawed autopodium with a dactyl completely bitten off (Fig. 5-8) were detected. The WCS employees commented on the injuries: “…apparently the tiger got in fight with another tiger or a bear”. Veterinarians of Primorskaya State Academy of Agriculture affirmed that view. The corpses of dead tigers have been sent for autopsy examination to Primorskaya State Academy of Agriculture since 2007. Unfortunately employees of this establishment lack the knowledge of big predators’ behavior in the wild, causes and consequences of different injuries. Also, their view is biased towards the official view of WCS employees. This bias arises from WCS sponsorship for workshops on diseases of wild animals and training abroad provided for faculty members.

Figure 5 (clickable). The corpse of tiger Ivan, which was trapped by WCS twice and killed a local villager 2.5 months after the last entrapment (Source: WCS)

Figures 6-7. Tiger Ivan’s injuries caused by Aldrich trap

Figure 8 (clickable). Left mandible canine is gone as it was lost during the first entrapmnet (Picture 3). Left maxillary canine is broken (Source: WCS)

It takes some really imaginative thinking and lack of knowledge on hunting behavior of predators to picture a tiger or a bear chewing off a rival’s paw and simultaneously exposing itself to a deadly bite through the neck or skull base.

The picture clearly shows green cuts from Aldrich trap. Agonizing tiger bit off its own dactyl. Hairless areas are the effects of severe avitaminosis in this case, which is also observed throughout ungulate population during periods of abundant snow. Heavy parasite load that was detected is also a consequence of avitaminosis [9]. We doubt that veterinarians and specialists working for WCS were not aware of these facts, not to mention the broken canines. All these symptoms emerged and were aggravated after using the Aldrich trap. Most likely, as pain intensified, the tiger survived on whatever he was able to pick up - carrion or scraps from other predators’ kills. All these symptoms are secondary by nature, they are the results but not the causes of the rapid health decline. Photos of Ivan before its entrapment show that he was in a good shape (Fig. 9-10).

Figure 9 (clickable). Tiger Ivan 2 weeks before entrapment in October 2009. The animal is in a good shape and well-fed. The photo was taken by WCS photo trap on Oct 13, 2009 (Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve)

Figure 10 (clickable). Tiger Ivan 50 days after entrapment and 25 days before his death. The tiger is emaciated. Left paw is severely cut, with little finger missing. Apparently, the tiger walks on three legs. The photo was taken by WCS photo trap on Dec 21, 2009 (Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve)

The other argument on Aldrich traps’ harmlessness was the presumed mating with tigress Galya 10 days before Ivan’s death. This info was brought up by Mr Dale Miquelle, WCS-Russia director, during a meeting on tiger monitoring, which took place in the office of Special Inspectorate “Tiger” in late October of 2010. Ivan could meet Galya at that time, but we doubt he could mate with her. Tigress Galya gave birth to cubs in the beginning of May, which means she was impregnated in mid-January. At that time mating with Galya was unlikely for Ivan, since he was suffering and was spotted wandering around village Terney.

When we analyze Ivan’s action sequence around the body of the killed man, it doesn’t look like the usual behavior of man-eater animals. The tiger didn’t satisfy his hunger the common way. All he could do was bite off the fingers and some skin from the head of the victim. After that he left the man’s body lying and went nearby on road and attacked cars. On top of total debilitation, pathological psychotic change had emerged. If he didn’t die that day, most likely he would die in the near future.

A special WCS commission was established in Vladivostok to analyze this case. They represented the deaths of the man and the tiger as random events. According to them, it was all the tiger’s fault. No wonder!

The Head of the Project “Amur Tiger” as well as junior members should have conducted a real investigation. A loss of a tiger is usual business (it’s a pity, but it happens quite often), but human death is extraordinary. Instead, they blamed the tiger for everything.

Meanwhile, the work of “tiger defenders” continued with no change in the routine.

Bones of tigress Vera were found under the snow soon after Ivan’s death. She died under uncertain circumstances, but the official statement was “natural causes”. Her corpse was in the woods for almost two months and nobody from Project appeared there despite the radio signal coming from the very same spot all that time. Furthermore, the members of the Project had to trap tigress Galya because the battery in her collar was almost dead. This tigress managed to recognize Aldrich traps on her trailways and avoid it. It’s not really an obstacle for WCS, because they have tested for a long time other technique: run the tiger down by helicopter and then immobilize it.

Tigers are not tireless hunters. Usually a tiger chases its prey for up to 150 m (around 500 feet), then it needs a rest [10..12]. Low stamina of tigers is caused by low oxygen factor in their muscle system, which in turn is caused by low myoglobine in the muscles. Low myoglobine generates vast amount of lactic acid and consequently fatigue during rapid charges. The proportion of heart and lungs for a tiger is 1.5-2 times lower than the same proportion for a wolf, a fox, or a raccoon dog [9].

Imagine the stress a tiger is subjected to when chased by a helicopter. Some readers have probably seen the documentary “Tigers of the snow” by National Geographic Society. That movie is about the same “Amur Tiger” Project. In one episode, a chased tiger climbs up a tree trying to reach and attack the helicopter… and gets its dose of tranquilizer. Mr Dale Miquelle published the story “The replacement of radio collar for tigress Galya” [13] on http://www.wcsrussia.org/, in which he describes the 2-day (!!) chase of the poor animal with Russian helicopter MI-8. On first day, she moved 8 km (about 5 miles) deep into the Reserve area. One can see on the photos that there was a lot of snow which is a natural obstacle and a fatigue factor for the tiger, not to mention hypothermia. Lung frostbite and heart hyperfunction are likely consequences of such a chase. Anyhow, the tigress was immobilized. The pictures from the published story showed good shape of Galya, she was well-fed. Mr Miquelle underlined she had intact canines despite her age (8 years), as females are usually more calm when getting caught by the trap.

Getting back to tigress Galya… A month after the helicopter chase, Galya gave birth to three cubs in a den, soon to be found by WCS members [14]. It’s a well-known fact that a tigress moves the litter or simply abandons it if a human is detected near the den. Usually the older cubs are getting moved, the younger ones die. WCS stated [15] that Galya didn’t leave the cubs and returned to the den in the next 11 days. However, the scientists detected gaps of up to two days when Galya did not appear nearby. This was likely the result of Galya having major health problems after the helicopter chase. It’s also probable that the cubs could have been affected by the chase prior to birth. Finally the cubs died. A week later Galya moved to the area around a military base located not far from Terney village (May, 25). She exposed herself to people and finally wandered into the village. On Jun 1 she was shot. WCS announced that she was very exhausted. And the common WCS arguments were once again in place: “… We assume the main cause of all the recent cases may be the disease. We’re concerned that the area experiences an outbreak… there’s no evidence that entrapment technique or radio collars being used negatively influence the tigers. If they did, we could have detected this fact earlier…” [15].

So, what mysterious disease is killing the tigers of Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve???

A lot of questions to WCS arises while assessing the next case of male tiger entrapment in Nov, 5, 2010. It was represented as a long anticipated event since male tigers became hard to find in Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve. The message was posted on WCS page only on Feb, 27, 2011, i.e. 3.5 months after the catching [16]. Everything seemed fine in this case, but earlier on Feb, 17, 2011 the corpse of a dead male tiger was found on the Dzhigitovka river (there was at this tiger a collar or not - it is not known). His paws were severely bitten. Autopsy revealed bits and pieces of another tiger contained in the stomach of the dead tiger. During 4th and 5th of March the employees of Reserve investigated and gave their version of the tragedy. They “… found the area where two tigers held a fight. After the battle the winner left the area while the one who lost moved away for 200 m (218 yards), laid down and died of wounds in the next two days… A few kilometers away there were chewed-on corpses of two cubs approximately 6 months old at the time of death. After inspecting the tiger tracks we think that the female tiger tried to defend the cubs against the male tiger. It was her who initially injured the male tiger. Based on our experience and observations we managed to find out the truth about the deaths of three tigers in the Reserve. This time tiger deaths had nothing to do with human actions” [17,18].
Please note this comment is not made by people obsessed with conspiracy theories or a biased journalist. It’s totally official info disclosed on web pages of Federal Service for Supervision of Nature Resources and Special Inspectorate “Tiger”.

We’re not trying to challenge the track investigation abilities of Reserve employees, but it has to be stressed that the fight took place on the coastal side of Sikhote-Alin mountains. During February and March snow cover changes its characteristics quite rapidly due to increasing sunlight and the proximity of the sea. The track observations by Reserve employees were made 2.5 weeks later after the initial finding of the corpse. No doubt, adult male tiger could have eaten the cubs if the situation was critical for him. However, bitten paws did not look like the results of the common predator fight. Also we question the possibility of a healthy mature male tiger being injured by the tigress. Moreover, in the same note about the last entrapment [16] WCS mentioned that 3 tigers without collars presumably inhabited that area. Why didn’t they ever get caught by the photo traps? On the other hand, we have this tragedy with the tigress, the cubs and the male tiger. Which one of them had the radio collar? We have no answer, but the collar could’ve been taken off before this case has received official announcement.

The behavior of animals being caught by Aldrich traps and consequent injuries can be analyzed through the video made by WCS and Permanent Expedition of Russian Academy of Science (CAE RAS). We possess the raw WCS footage taken in Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve. The curious viewer can observe freshly broken canines of the animals caught by Aldrich traps. The behavior of trapped animals varies from “calm” to “aggressive” or “very aggressive”. Animals which try to run away or charge in sight of a human make very powerful jumps. The length of the rope is limited and once the limit is reached, the animal tumbles and turns while in the air. Injuries of muscle tissues, joints and broken bones are inevitable consequences of a such entrapment technique [19].

Tigers breaking Aldrich traps are also on record. During spring 2011 in Ussuriyskiy Reserve a mature male tiger broke the snare and charged the car with the members of CAE RAS on board. The attack was provoked by a landed tranquilizer shot. The predator was found sleeping a couple of hundred meters away. In early October 2009, we learned that a male tiger broke the snare and injured WCS employee Mr John Goodrich in the southwestern part of Primorye Region. The scientist was checking the traps by himself and managed to set off a hand flare. The scared tiger injured Mr Goodrich’s arm and disappeared in the woods with a piece of the trap on his leg. Before breaking the snare the tiger tried to jump away from the man. This case was not made public, although the injured man was hospitalized.

WCS employees keep quiet about visiting dens with cubs while an UNCOLLARED tigress is off the spot. [20,21]. Disturbing the tigress can lead to the death of the litter. As we mentioned earlier, the female tiger may abandon the litter or transfer it to another place, which most likely would be worse than initial one. Members of the Project coming to the den secure their own safety, but don’t think about the future of the cubs. Once the female comes back, she can smell humans. Usually cubs are being hugged, taken picture of, and radiocollared. As the cubs have constant contacts with humans, they get used to human smell, appearance and voice, and that is obviously a grave danger for them further.
* * * * *

Sergey Kolchin: “At the beginning of my work with the Project I had a chance to see the last days of a 2-year old female tiger Tanya (#80) [22]. Tanya along with her sisters Ira (#79) and Alice (#81) was handled by WCS employees when she was 6 weeks old (October, 2005). At the age of 13 months (Oct, 13, 2006) all three tigresses were collared after being caught by Aldrich traps. The process of putting collars was filmed by journalists. When I came to Terney (a year after the collars were put) only Tanya was alive. Her attitude towards people was nothing but amusing. She did not feel the fear which is usual for the tigers: when people approached she wouldn’t leave. The tigress wandered along Terney-Plastun highway, calmly moved to the roadside to let the cars through, and was watching people as curiously as they watched her. Some people even threw little stones at her, but it all finished with a bullet. Last time people saw her around Malinoviy Passage near village Terney.
* * * * *

In 1992-2010, 53 tigers were caught and collared under project “Amur Tiger” in Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve. 42 of them were adults older than 1.5 years (23 males, 19 females), and 11 were cubs. 3 of the cubs were collared in a den at the age of 1-1.2 months. 8 cubs were apparently caught by the Aldrich trap at the age of 9-18 months.

The longest survivor of the 53 turned out to be tigress Olga, which was caught 6 times in the course of 10 years (1992-2002), and after that for two more years she was monitored by the scientists. WCS assumes she was killed by poachers at the age of 13. Other tigers were not so lucky. The frequency of new catches and disappearance of the old and familiar animals is truly striking. One should keep in mind this area is controlled by WCS. Nonetheless, the attrition rate is appallingly high. WCS doesn’t cover up deaths of previously caught tigers, but blames it on poachers. Meanwhile over 70% of collared tiger population in Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve is permanently lost. WCS states they give an unbiased picture of the problem regarding tiger population in the area. Well-said, but they’re talking about the largest natural reserve area for the Amur tiger population! It’s supposed to be at the forefront of protection and conservation of wildlife, but unfortunately it seems to be a population sink.

How did it happen that the tiger population of Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve has shrunk from 38 to 15 animals under active supervision by WCS? This is nothing but official info [23], which might be favorably biased upwards. During the 1950s Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve became the center stage for the revival of Amur tiger population in Russia. So why has the number of these beautiful predators been steady shrinking, down to the same dismal level as initially detected by Lev Kaplanov in 1940s? Is the poachers’ assault on a federal biosphere Reserve turning it into a death zone? Is it some kind of “selective” plague detected by WCS in a tigress from Khabarovsk Region in 2004 and some other tiger from the Far East [24,25]?! How did this “selective” plague jump all the way to Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve without leaving any signs along its 200-km (around 110 miles) trek from Khabarovsk region?!

Perhaps the constant chase after tigers by WCS employees has a lot to do with the population decline in the Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve.

Based on already stated facts we try to understand the factors affecting the Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve tiger population. Before 1992 (when WCS started its duty) this Reserve was the core of tiger population in north-eastern part of Sikhote-Alin. Younger tigers migrated to adjacent territories: basins of rivers Bolshaya Ussurka, Tayozhnaya, Kema, Amgu. The basins of these rivers traditionaly held tiger populations. Unfortunately, poachers and logging dramatically changed this area. Frequent entrapment by scientists and poaching led to a population decline, which in turn naturally provided more space for newcomers and local tigers. The Reserve was once an attractive place for tigers. Around 2005, tiger counts in adjacent areas were critically low due to anthropogenic pressure. At the same time the number of younger tigers migrating out of the Reserve also experienced a sharp decline. Low reproductive abilities along with overprotection by WCS undermined the status of local tiger population as the main source for recovering populations in nearby areas. Over 20 years of constant deaths of tigers (especially males) after being caught in Aldrich traps have led to a dramatic change in sex-age structure and density of the population. As a result, the survivors started to occupy unusually large ranges. Of course, large individual ranges did not help the tigers to avoid Aldrich traps, as evidenced by the sad stories of tigers Sergey and Ivan.

At the start of WCS project, Russian zoologist E.N. Matyushkin had warned about the dangers of excessive usage of snares and trapping all over the Reserve. He dedicated his life to studies of Amur tiger, the preservation of the species in Russia and specifically in Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve. Thanks to his authority and influence, the entrapment actions were limited to the seashore and river Dzhigitovka basin. Now we can admit that Matyushkin’s concerns were justified and the situation is even worse than he predicted. Only a few surviving tigers still roam the vast area from headwaters of Serebryanka river to Dzhigitovka river and to the seashore.

The situation has deteriorated to a critical point. WCS has de facto replaced the state in tiger preservation. In 1995-2010, WCS sponsored and organized one-time checks and yearly monitoring, it even sponsored government structures responsible for wildlife preservation, and funded scientific research. Federal government does not bother to investigate the problem and evaluate the negative consequences of tiger trapping.

The WCS employees are not evil, but rather the victims of the faulty system. On one hand you have Russian law and wildlife authorities which often lack credibility. On the other hand you have quite naïve Europeans and Americans who donate money but have no clue how it’s used. If WCS officially gave up trapping, it would effectively recognize it as dangerous, which could cut the donations.

Everything could have changed when Constantly Acting Expedition of Russian Academy of Science started its work in Primorye Region. Unfortunately the team did not come to the Far East with any fresh ideas. All they could do was copy WCS methods - Aldrich traps and GPS collars - with less skills comparing to WCS team. Twenty years of WCS experience helped to lower, but not eliminate, the risk of major injuries during trapping. CAE RAS members got to know all the tricks and nuances by trial and error, risking tigers’ lifes for questionable scientific gain. WCS has discovered that a life span of a standard radio collar is 4-6 years with a fault rate around 5%. At the same time GPS collars fail 50% of the time [26]. Russian scientists were initially leaning towards government-promoted GPS collars for political reasons. It sounds strange, but unfortunately it’s Russian reality. At that time the federal authorities proclaimed innovative technologies as the new national priority, that’s why people who got paid by the government were keen to buy whatever new they could find, as long as it was Russian-made. In fact, GPS collars were only assembled in Russia while components were produced elsewhere. Still it was being reported as the usage of Russian innovative technology. So those people risked the lives of tigers and leopards just to take medical and morphometric tests. Does it really make sense? Frequent failures of pseudo-Russian devices lead to loss of data. Local people had found corpses of a leopard and a tiger with GPS collars in December 2011 and April 2012 respectively [27,28]. The animals were found weeks after death, which raises the question: was there any scientific monitoring at all? As the number of failures grew, the lack of success by CAE RAS strengthened the position of WCS.

There’s one more interesting point. WCS members give emotionally neutral names to the tigers, usually a number and a Russian name, i.e. Sveta, Anya, Kolya, Volodya. Russian members of CAE RAS named one tiger Dirty Fellow. The body of this tiger was picked up floating in the waters of Amur Bay with a bullet hole in the body and a GPS collar in April 2012. “The tiger has drowned”. They named another tiger Boxer after his paw became badly swollen because of the entrapment (Fig. 11-12). There is no sign of any respect for the animal.

Figure 11 (clickable). Tiger Boxer was caught by CAE RAS in Ussuriyskiy Reserve. Left paw is snared by an Aldrich trap. Look how unnatural its size is. This is a snapshot from a video by Amur Tiger Study Program in the Far East by The A.N.Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Figure 12 (clickable). Tigress Earring has been caught once again by CAE RAS. This is a snapshot from a video by Amur Tiger Study Program in the Far East by The A.N.Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Once again we want to stress the following point. A tiger’s canines are its main hunting tools. The predator bites through or displaces the neck bone of the prey, or grabs the prey animal by its throat. With smaller animals including young bears, a tiger can even bite through the skull. It works only if the canines are in good shape. Surely, the paws are also important. A tiger leaps, grabs the prey and holds it with its paws. Red deer and wild boar, which are common prey items, and particularly bears can defend themselves. So any miss by the tiger during the initial contact with the prey can subject it to severe trauma. A tiger is not stupid; it usually considers its chances against potential prey. This explains the difference in hunting tactics between male and female tigers, as well as between old and young tigers. So, an injured tiger has virtually no chance of survival. Decline and death of an injured tiger seldom happen quickly. It can take months to slowly starve to death. During the warm season, an injured tiger can eat carrion or hunt small animals like badgers or raccoon dogs. In winter death comes faster. Injured teeth usually decay gradually. Even if the teeth are not broken during the initial entrapment, microcracks and enamel damage are inevitable because the animal tries to bite through the metal. Sooner or later the whole dental structure falls apart. Unfortunately, locals rarely admit killing a tiger. Often there is no way to know whether the tiger was healthy or diseased, collared or not, neutral to people or aggressive.

There’s a description of a hunting tiger with dental injuries made by Russian zoologist K. N. Tkachenko. He monitored the tiger family for many years in Bolshekhekhtsirskiy Reserve. Hunting Red deer and wild boar, the tigress would fail repeatedly before making a kill. Earlier monitoring did not reveal such facts and killing was almost instant. Well, deer and wild boar are dangerous enemies, so at first sight everything looks natural in this case. Health problems forced the tigress to approach villages where she could hunt for dogs. But as time progressed, she no longer could kill them. While inspecting the corpses of dead dogs and interviewing witnesses, the zoologist detected multiple failed attacks and prey that was chewed upon but not bitten through. Also, many dogs managed to escape after being caught. [29,30].

As you can see, a tiger with broken teeth can survive only for short time. The term “dental injury” which is being used in the monograph quoted above has a broad meaning. Sometimes a tiger injures one canine in the course of his life and keeps living with that [9]. But in other cases a tiger crushes most of his teeth against metal. The injuries affect not only canines, but also incisors and molars, which are used for chewing and grinding the food including frozen meat, skin and bones. There are no dentists for wild animals. Tiger Lyuty was a unique exception because he had a rare chance to recover in Rehab Center for Wild Animals “Utyos”. That’s why arguments like “a tigress gave birth to cubs half a year after being in Aldrich trap” or “ a tigress immobilized from helicopter killed a red deer next day hence we did not harm her” are flawed.

Aldrich traps are dangerous not just for the tigers, but also for other animals. There are multiple stories about entrapment and marking of brown and Asiatic black bears and lynxes. Most of those cases happened by accident because the traps were initially installed to catch tigers or leopards. This raises a question. There’s plenty of data on predators entrapments. Why isn’t there any data on entrapment of ungulates? Don’t red deer, roe deer, sika deer or wild boar get caught? Aren’t scientists interested in migration of these species? Sure, they are. Zoologists of Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve and WCS even constructed corrals for trapping and marking these species. Wasn’t it easier just to put a bunch of Aldrich traps on deer trails or at the rutting grounds? That’s what poachers usually do. The reason poachers use those traps is they do not care about the survival of the population. All they care about is meat. Broken legs and torn muscles are the result of Aldrich trap usage. So why would a scientist waste an expensive radio collar on an animal that is going to die soon? Such animals end up either in a cooking pot or in a ditch.

Can we ignore the deaths of a few deer and wild boars if the main goal is better data on tigers and leopards? Trapping is conducted in special protection areas, i.e. Reserves Sikhote-Alinskiy and Ussuriyskiy, and “Leopard Land” National park. Is there much difference between scientists maiming animals from the Red List of Threatened Species (Fig. 13) to boost their ego and local villagers poaching rare species for money? Well, the only difference seems to be that the locals get punished from time to time, while scientists don’t.

Figure 13 (clickable). A ghoral accidentally trapped by an Aldrich trap. WCS conducted tiger trapping in Sikhote-Alinskiy Reserve around Blagodatnaya Bay in summer 2008. The skin is severely torn by the snare. (Source: WCS)

It will be very interesting to know what unique knowledge helping to preserve the population of tigers was extracted from Aldrich trapping. It doesn’t seem useful for anything, except for developing the techniques to handle the animals aggressive towards humans. Still there’s no detailed plan on tiger preservation, there are no scientifically justified and legally plausible criteria of economic activity in the area inhabited by endangered predators. “Amur Tiger Preservation Strategy” (2010) is nothing more than a mere declaration of intention.

Entrapment of animals with Aldrich traps along with helicopter chasing severely undermines their health and sometimes causes deaths of tiger as well as humans.

There is no scientific or ethical justification for using these techniques on endangered species.

Sergey Kolchin, PhD
Platon Maystrenko, biologist.

* - L.G. Kaplanov opposed trapping of cubs for Khabarovsk zoo station.
** - Lev Kaplanov was a Russian zoologist, one of the first to start the discussion on Amur tiger preservation while working for Sikhote-Alinskiy reserve. He was the director of Sudzikhinskiy reserve (now it is Lazovskiy reserve of a name of L.G. Kaplanov) from 1941 until being killed by poachers on May, 13, 1943.

Addendum by G.P. Salkina

I have inspected corpses of three male tigers and one female. These tigers were caught by Aldrich foot snare or immobilized with tranquillizer. Head and skull photos of the first tiger inspected can be seen in the article by Sergey Kolchin and Platon Maystrenko. There were osteophytes in metacarpal bones of the forepaw which were caused by earlier periosteal reaction. The corpse of the second tiger (Ivan – remark by BIGCATS.RU) was decapitated. It’s the tiger which was killed after an attack on a human. Forepaws were injured intra vitam and festered, the dactyl bone was sticking out of the skin. Almost all the phalanges had osteophytes, one of the dactyls was broken. This tiger had weight loss assessed at 100 kg (220 lbs) compared to average Amur Tiger measurements. The third tiger (female Galya - remark by BIGCATS.RU) was a female which was shot in Terney village. She had three cubs, apparently she was not feeding them considering the state of her mammae. I can’t be 100% sure on that because the corpse of this female tiger was severely cut during previous autopsy in Primorskaya State Academy of Agriculture. Ultimately I had a chance to explore only one nipple and adjacent mamma piece. Also it had a weight deficiency, but teeth and bones were not injured. The corpse of the 4th tiger, which was killed in early 2012 in south-western Primorye (“Dirty Fellow” which was monitored by CAE RAS - remark by BIGCATS.RU) is being currently studied. For now it’s clear that the tiger had broken the teeth and injured the forepaws just before its death.
In the end of 2010 Special Inspectorate “Tiger” requested from me the description of injuries found in the course of autopsy of the first three tigers. Evidently dental and paw injuries resulted from the entrapment by Aldrich foot snare. Other acting veterinarians confirmed my view. The only conclusion generated by autopsy evidence is that the entrapment practice should be immediately discontinued. There are lots of research techniques which are less harmful for the predators and do not eventually cause their death.
There were more tiger corpses. We have complained before. I’ve written the research paper in the volume referenced in the article by Sergey Kolchin and Platon Maystrenko.

Galina Petrovna Salkina, PhD.
Studied Amur Tiger for many years
as Senior Research Fellow
in Lazovskiy Reserve


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