China sees rise in human meetings with tigers in wild

The Guardian, BEIJING

Sun, May 26, 2013 - Page 5

Villagers in northeast China have long endured frigid winters, scorching summers and an occasional drought, but some now have something else to worry about: possible attacks by wild Siberian tigers.

Decades of poaching and logging have ravaged the population of the big cat, also known as Amur tigers — only about 500 still live in the wild worldwide. In 2010, Chinese authorities launched an initiative to boost numbers in the Hunchun National Siberian Tiger Nature Reserve near the country’s border with Russia and North Korea.

The scheme has shown promising results — the State Forestry Administration announced on Tuesday that China’s wild Siberian tiger population has increased from 12 just over a decade ago to 22, according to Xinhua news agency. Officials hope the number will reach 40 within a decade.

Yet residents of Xigou village, part of the county-level city of Hunchun, have mixed feelings about the increase, Xinhua reported on Friday.

Wang Zenxiang recounted a close encounter late in March, saying: “After hearing some noise, I thought it was my cattle coming back home. However, when I opened the door to my backyard and turned on a flashlight, I felt my breath disappear — it was a tiger.”

Tigers had attacked his cattle shortly afterward, despite the fence he had erected to keep them out, he told Xinhua.

Although the tigers have not yet physically harmed any locals, two villagers said they had a narrow escape last week while looking for missing cattle.

“To minimize local residents’ losses and prevent public backlash, Hunchun border police started a campaign on Monday to educate locals about first aid and emergency response methods in the event of a wild tiger attack,” Xinhua said.

The growing number of “human-tiger conflicts” may also pose dangers for the big cats as well. “Eating livestock may cause the tigers to become more domesticated and ruin their relationship with local residents,” said Lang Jianmin, and official at the reserve. “If one of them eats sickened livestock, the entire species could be harmed.”

The World Wildlife Fund, which has worked with the Chinese government on the initiative, recently cited a park ranger’s discovery of a deer carcass as further evidence that the area’s wild tiger population is on the rise.