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2 Nov, 2009 06:52

Strive for life: wild beauty under threat

With its vast natural habitats, Russia has some of the greatest wildernesses on Earth, but hunters, combined with a lack of funding, are threatening some of its most exotic inhabitants.

One such inhabitant is the Amur tiger, the biggest cat in the world, which can reach nearly ten feet in length and weigh more than 400 pounds. Given their beauty, it is no wonder that some see them as a great decoration for the house.

One tiger skin can fetch up to $10,000 on the black market, which is why over the years these masters of the Taiga have become endangered. Only several hundred are left in the wild.

“Utyos” is one of the few wildlife rehabilitation centers in Russia's Far East. Locals often bring animals to the center, as they have either been injured, or orphaned as cubs because their mothers were killed by hunters.

“A tiger’s jaw was broken and most of his teeth were knocked out. How can a predator survive without his teeth? It was too dangerous to let it back into the wild, so we decided to keep it at this center,” Utyos contributor Yana Panova says.

Currently, there is no systematic approach to building and financing these rehabilitation centers.

The lack of funding for wildlife rehabilitation centers is a problem across the whole of Russia. The law prevents them from buying or selling anything for profit, making the business unattractive. Many centers are forced to work on charity alone, but they are often vital for the survival of many wild animals.

“The problem needs to be looked at from the highest levels in order for state money to start flowing in,” Vasily Bogoslovsky from the Federal Service for the supervision of natural resource usage believes.

A lack of finances isn't the only problem.

According to Sergey Ramilev from the Amur department of the World Wildlife Fund, for 17 years there was no law on hunting preserves, despite the fact that a large number of rare animals live on the territory.

“Only 10% of Amur tigers live in legally guarded habitats, the rest inhabit hunting preserves. A law reforming game preserves has only been passed recently, but it still leaves a lot of questions about preserving cattle, which is the main food source for these tigers,” Ramilev says.

Nearly 10,000 kilometers away, in the Western part of Russia, another animal rehabilitation center can be found, as the act preserving wildlife is no different than its Eastern cousin.

Lynxes, wolves, foxes, owls and other creatures are there after becoming victims of hunters, poachers or careless drivers.

The center manages to function with a monthly budget of just over $400.

“We barely have enough money to take care of the animals we currently have, and there's certainly no plans for expansion. The food for some of these animals is very expensive,” Aleksey Varashyov, who works at the center, says.

Being the biggest country in the world with such diverse geography, there is no doubt Russia's wildlife is among the richest. However, given the economic downturn affecting every walk of life, it may become a thing of the past.