The wind roars in from the Sea of Japan, attempting to upend us, but the thigh-deep snow keeps us upright as we scan the forest for snares and wildlife tracks. We are accompanying ranger Guan Feng from the Hunchun Municipal Forest Bureau (HMFB) while he performs his last few patrols of the winter. This year, his team has begun to follow a promising new protocol for improving monitoring efficiency that uses geographical information systems (GIS) and statistical analyses to monitor patrol outcomes and inform future patrols.
In China, WCS has spearheaded the adoption of SMART protocols by translating the software into Chinese, training enforcement agencies, and providing ongoing technical support and equipment for SMART implementation. WCS believes that once widely adopted, SMART will assist enforcement agencies as they tackle the immense challenge of protecting wildlife and ecosystems.
A roe deer that died after being caught in a snare.
As we follow Guan Feng during his patrol, we hold our breath in anticipation of seeing a tiger track all the while knowing it is unlikely, yet hoping nonetheless. Amur tigers and leopards are slowly returning to portions of Jilin Province, but remain exceedingly rare because poaching kills tigers and their prey, which decreases tiger numbers and inhibits their recovery.
Because in Jilin Province firearms are illegal even for hunting purpose, poaching is accomplished using wire snares, which are particularly insidious because they kill indiscriminately; in addition to killing tigers and their prey, snares have also claimed farm dogs and cattle. SMART patrols target all illegal activities, but because snaring is so prevalent, much patrol effort is expended on removing snares from the forest. HMFB began SMART patrolling in November of 2012, and quickly embraced this new responsibility, removing more than 1,800 from potential tiger habitat during the subsequent five months.
As of March 2013, WCS had provided SMART training to seven government agencies, some of which are now independently conducting SMART patrols, allowing WCS to train and support additional agencies. Our goal is to equip all enforcement agencies in tiger range with the ability to independently conduct SMART patrols. Beyond government agencies, WCS also engages local communities to perform annual snare removal campaigns, which since 2001, have removed 10,077 snares from tiger habitat in Jilin and Heilongjiang Provinces.
As we hike along ridgelines dominated by Mongolian oaks, Amur lindens and Korean aspens, we encounter two snares, and tracks of roe deer and wild boar. Although we do not see tiger tracks, thanks to WCS’s support and HMFB’s dedication, we can imagine a future China where snares no longer strangle wildlife, and Amur tigers prowl the forests in search of wild boar and sika deer.
Snares removed by Hunchun Municipal Forest Bureau rangers and volunteers during the past season.