Khunta Mi Initiative
Russian Far East - Supported since 2005
The Khunta Mi Initiative is an effort, in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society, to encourage greater commitment from the worldwide hunting community for conservation of the Siberian tiger. Approximately 330-370 adult Siberian or Amur tigers are left in the wild, all residing in the Russian Far East. Since 1992, the WCS Hornocker Wildlife Institute has conducted intensive studies of tiger ecology and initiated a series of conservation initiatives to save this big cat. Primary threats to tiger survival are habitat loss from intensive logging and development, poaching and depletion of prey from illegal hunting. In the Russian Far East, less than 20% of the habitat needed for the survival of the Siberian tiger is protected. All other tiger habitat exists as multiple use lands, where hunting is allowed. Therefore, tigers and hunters must find a way to live side by side.
Under the Soviet regime, natural resource management decisions were centralized in Moscow, eliminating local communities and hunters from management processes and decision-making. In 1995, new legislation provided opportunities for local people to create non-governmental ‘societies’ that could in turn obtain rights to manage hunting lands. This new arrangement does not provide land ownership, but it privatizes the right to use and manage game species on the leased territories. These revolutionary changes ushered in a new era of wildlife management in Russia. For the first time ever, local people were provided with the responsibility to manage wildlife. Rather than poach or take as much as possible from the once state-owned properties, people now had a reason to properly manage resources that were theirs, upon which they depended for recreation, income and food.
Now hunters and hunting societies are responsible for managing game species (including the deer and wild boar that tigers depend on) on over 80% of tiger habitat. With more than 40,000 registered hunters in tiger habitat, hunters form a primary stakeholder group that holds the fate of tigers in their hands. However, without adequate training, and with inadequate means to generate revenue, they lack the capacity to effectively cope with these new responsibilities.
WCS is committed to demonstrating that tiger conservation can go hand-in-hand with preservation of the rich hunting tradition in the Russian Far East. Both tigers and hunters have a common interest – high densities of red deer, roe deer, sika deer and wild boar. By helping local hunting societies better manage their resources we will be helping both tigers and hunters.
Since 1996, WCS has been working with hunting leases and hunters across the region to support newly established hunting leases; increase capacity for self-management and financial independence; increase wildlife populations (specifically ungulate populations) through effective hunting management on hunting leases; create well-controlled use of renewable wildlife resources; and disseminate information to the local hunters to improve and enhance their understanding of tigers.
We may perhaps have the nucleus for re-colonizing tigers in their former range within Russia. More rehab tigers may follow Zolushka. How this all plays out is yet to be seen, but it is an example of how having the techniques for successful rehabilitation on hand, combined with the right timing politically, could result in a net gain of tiger habitat in the Russian Far East, and thus, one of the few examples of reclaiming lost tiger habitat in Asia.