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This project started in 2020, focusing on the local population of Brown bears in the Dagestan mountains. Emphasis was laid on occurence and distribution of bears in Tsunta and Tlarata districts, south-western part of the Republic of Dagestan, confined to the northern slopes of the Great Caucasus Ridge. Human-Bear Conflict assessments were carried out and between 2020-2021 a total of 153 cases were registered. Mainly involved depredation on sheep. A year later, the total number increased to 171 cases.

One of the objectives is involving local people in the bear conservation program. The team was able to attract 18 locals, assisting mainly in anti-poaching activities. They were trained by gamekeepers of three local reserves. They collected information on possible poachers in villages of the study area. For nine months, anti-poaching teams detained 35 poachers who had no licenses to hunt and collected 59 illegal traps. 9 criminal and 41 administrative cases were opened, 11 fines issued and 14 arms confiscated. A year later, between 2021-2022, the anti-poaching teams arrested 75 poachers who were involved in illegal hunting activities. 15 criminal and 136 administrative cases were opened, 27 fines issued and 30 arms were confiscated.

Awareness raising is an important component of this project. The team use posters, guidebooks, school visits, leaflets, pictorial guides and community meetings to explain what they are doing and why. The main focus of these activities is to provide information about bears and other carnivore activities, their role in nature and possible competition with domestic livestock and accurate identification of killed livestock, so that people are able to distinguish depredation from other cause of loss, and can identify the species concerned so that the team can help them implement the most relevant methods to prevent further losses. In 2020, the team rolled-out the education program for 1,400 people, including; 800 school boys & girls, 600 adults. Involving of local people in the project is key objective of the project! Between 2021-2022, 1,700 people were reached in the education program; 1,000 school kids and 700 adults.

Bears in Mind will support this project into 2023.

Low public awareness of the Asiatic black bear (ABB) in Russia leads to ignorance of this species and threats to its population from government agencies, the media, as well as a negative attitude towards bears from the local residents, which perceives them (along with other large carnivores) as a problem and threat.

This project supported by Bears in Mind since 2021, aims to raise the level of awareness of the public, local residents, authorities and journalists about the the ABB and the current population status; to debunk the negative image about these animals; to form an information agenda aimed at protecting this species and its habitat in Russia, promoting coexistence of bears and people.

The aim of the project is to develop a science-based program of conservation, population health monitoring and human-bear conflicts mitigation for the Kamchatka brown bear. The team supposes that the recent rise of human-bear conflicts resulted from the increased stress level during the past decades due to the high anthropogenic pressure and resource degradation. The project will discover whether there is a correlation between these external factors and the health of the population (including genetic diversity and stress level).

The objectives are:

  1. To investigate genetic structure and genetic diversity of the population,
  2. To estimate the level of cortisol for understanding bears’ reactions to long-term stress due to environmental changes and anthropogenic pressure,
  3. To assess the role of various food categories in the diet of bears during the fattening period and to evaluate whether a linkage exists between stress level and diet of bears,
  4. To compare the current data from hair samples and the same obtained in 2002 – 2005 to reveal the dynamics in population health,
  5. To analyze the current situation in human-bear conflicts (causes, trends and consequences) and to suggest the initial preventive measures based on the pilot study results.

Genetic research shall be done by collecting hair samples to gather DNA material, through hair-trapping stations. These are ‘favorite’ rubbing trees used by the bears to mark their territory with scent. The trees are wrapped in barb-wire, which captures the bears’ hair. Direct behaviour observations are also done, next to mapping the bears’ habitat (e.i. vegetation, terrain, food items, negative human impacts etc.).

The project was focused not only on Amur tiger and Amur leopard conservation, but it has also helped protect other wildlife, such as the Asiatic black bears, brown bears and ungulate species which inhabit the ‘Land of the Leopard’ National Park (LLNP) in Far East Russia. By conducting regular anti-poaching patrols, rangers ensured security and protection of natural habitat that is home to as many as 1,300 plants, including 68 species listed in the Red Data Books of Russia, 329 vertebrates, 32 fish species, 12 reptiles, 65 mammals and 220 bird species. The LLNP serves as an ecological corridor connecting wildlife from Southwest Primorye to neighbouring protected areas in China.

The aim of the project was to conserve biodiversity through intensive anti-poaching activities. The objectives of the project were:

  • To improve anti-poaching efforts in ‘Land of the Leopard National Park’ with the use of drones;
  • To protect Amur leopards, tigers and other wildlife from poachers and forest fires.

Research has shown that >20% of the southwestern Primorsky Krai, a region of almost 7,500 km2, is impacted by forest fires each year. Within this region there is also a small UNESCO biosphere reserve “Kedrova Path”, where the Amur leopard still lives. Each year 7% of the area is destroyed by fire. Between 2002-2008, nearly 30% of the reserve has been affected by fire. Especially shrubs, trees and seedlings burn but the larger trees usually survive the fires. If the old large trees die, the forest will slowly change into grassland. This habitat is not suitable for tigers and leopards, nor for the brown- and black bears which live in the same area.

The importance of firebreaks
Forest fires are more frequent in areas where people live. Most fires are started by farmers in order to refertilize their land. Old and dead plant material is removed to stimulate growth of new grass for cattle to graze. However, also the more remote areas which are leased by hunters, are more frequently burnt. The new growth of grass attracts deer and other wildlife. Unfortunately, this also gives poachers easier access to their prey.

Bears in Mind donated a bulldozer for the park management to create the necessary firebreaks.

In the spring of 2009, three orphaned Asiatic black bears were taken to a small animal sanctuary in Far East Russia. The bears, one female and her two brothers, have been part of an intensive rehabilitation programme between 2009 and 2011. They were prepared for a life in the wild. During this period the three bears have been ‘guided’ around the woods by two researchers. During these sessions, the guides were wearing camouflage clothing and they did not speak. By means of photographs, sound and image recordings, the researchers have been able to follow the development of the bears in detail.

In 2010, the bears were released into the wild. Just before their release, the two males weighed between 20 and 23 kilos, while the female weighed around 8 kilos. All three bears are wearing radiocollars with a transmitter, enabling the researchers to keep track on the bears. In the forest, a chance meeting with a Siberian tiger or an adult bear is very likely.In the time since their release, the bear were followed closely and did well. After two years, the collars automatically fell off.

The project has proven to be a great success and a lot of vital information about adolescent rehabilitated bears has been gathered and shared.

In the Russian Far East, two of the world’s most endangered big cats occur: the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) and the Amur or Siberian Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica). The estimated wild population (2021) of these leopards is around 100 individuals and the tiger population hangs around 500-550 animals. The necessity to protect these two species is eminently clear and will also benefit the brown bear and Asiatic black bear populations, which occur in the same habitat. The Phoenix Foundation has organized many different activities, ranging from educational activities for kids, asking media attention, executing research projects and setting up anti-poaching teams. Bears in Mind supports the anti-poaching teams.

Red Wolf Brigade
Since January 2002 the Red Wolf anti-poaching team has been patrolling the perimeter and the core of the wildlife refuge. Their activities range from confiscating poached wildlife, illegal rifles and fining people for violation of hunting regulations. The rangers are also involved in making fire breaks and providing food and saltlicks during harsh winters for the prey animals of the leopards and tigers. They also visit schools and give lectures to people who visit the forests.

Borisovkoye Plateau
Borisovkoye Plateau wildlife refuge has always been considered as one of the best remaining tracts of the leopard habitat. During the tiger census in January 2000 the tracks of seven leopards, two or three tigers, and 60-70 fresh ungulate tracks (per 10 km² of route) were found on the monitoring site including the Borisovkoye Plateau wildlife refuge and Nezhinskoye hunting society. The 2003-2005 surveys showed the same leopard and tiger density. It proves the important role that protection of territories and anti-poaching activities play in leopard and tiger conservation.

The important anti-poaching work done by Phoenix Fund was continued & supported from 2013 onwards by Bears in Mind under the project Conservation Drones in Russia.


Phoenix Fund

The goal of this pilot study (2007-2009) was to gather valuable data on bear populations in the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik (SABZ) by providing training and information exchange on non-invasive hair snagging survey techniques (DNA study). This methodology has been introduced to many scientists studying bears, but the development of this (then new) methodology has lagged in some parts of the former Soviet Union. Study design and project implementation, as well as DNA and data analysis needed to be demonstrated to become self-sustaining in the future. WCS laid the groundwork for a more extensive survey of the entire SABZ.

The pilot study has utilized the non-invasive hair-snagging methodology to sample the brown and black bear populations of the SABZ using remote hair-snag stations and bear rub trees. WCS has also used remote cameras to verify species, identify individuals, and document behaviour and interactions.

Overall, the research has shown that the non-invasive hair-snagging methodology is feasible for both brown bears and Himalayan black bears in the Russian Far East. However, due to the small study area, the researchers have had to speculate on many questions related to the current data, although further study may provide some resolutions. To be continued…