Drones to keep an eye on big cats

Updated: 2016-01-28 08:07

By Zhao Xinying(China Daily)

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Drones to keep an eye on big cats

An image of a Siberian tiger taken with an infrared camera in Hunchun, Jilin province. [Photo/Xinhua]

Jilin province cooperates with Russia to protect endangered Siberian tigers, Amur leopards

Jilin province is planning a series of measures to protect endangered Siberian tigers and Amur leopards, some of which inhabit territory along China's border with Russia, according to a provincial forestry official.

The province plans to invest an estimated 12.8 billion yuan ($2 billion) in the project, making use of advanced technologies and collaborating with Russia to protect the two species, said Lan Hongliang, director of the Jilin Forestry Department, at a symposium in Beijing on Wednesday.

According to Lan, unmanned aerial drones will be used to keep an eye on the tigers and leopards in the future. About a dozen drones will be purchased to monitor the animals' activities.

"We have also cooperated with Russia on the establishment of protection zones and personnel exchanges," Lan said. "We hope to further that cooperation in the future."

Joint monitoring by China and Russia found that there are at least 35 Siberian tigers and 70 Amur leopards in an area around Russia's Land of the Leopard National Park and China's Hunchun, Jilin province, near the borders of China, Russia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

But the area, which measures no more than 4,000 square kilometers, is isolated - blocked on the north, south and east. The tigers and leopards are unable to enter the Russian interior. What's more, the number of the animals in the area has exceeded its ecological carrying capacity, said ecologist Ge Jianping.

"Under such circumstances, the tigers and leopards can only come westward to the large forested areas in Northeast China," said Ge, who is also vice-president of Beijing Normal University and vice-president of the Central Committee of China Democratic League. "It is a great opportunity for China to have more wild Siberian tigers and Amur leopards."

To seize the opportunity, Lan said measures should be taken to reduce grazing and other human activities around Hunchun to make space for the big cats.

"In this way, the tigers and leopards could enter the forests of Changbai Mountains and Heilongjiang province's Lesser Hinggan Mountains," Lan said.

"It's important for the living and breeding of these endangered species in China."

From 2012 to 2014, at least 27 Siberian tigers were found active in Northeast China, all along a 5-kilometer corridor on the China-Russia border. The number of wild Siberian tigers in Russia was reported to have reached 540 last year.

Su Zhou contributed to this story.