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Cablegate: A Hike Through Leopard Territory

R 180252Z AUG 08
FM AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 0995
INFO MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
EPA WASHINGTON DC
DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHINGTON DC
AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK

UNCLAS VLADIVOSTOK 000089


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV TBIO PGOV RS
SUBJECT: A HIKE THROUGH LEOPARD TERRITORY

REF: A. A. VLADIVOSTOK 83
B. B. 07 VLADIVOSTOK 45
C. C. 07 VLADIVOSTOK 64
D. D. 07 VLADIVOSTOK 124


1. (U) Consulate staff hiked through World Wildlife
Foundation's (WWF) leased forest in Barabash on August 17. The
trail takes about two hours and includes information on the
leopard habitat and how the forests of the Far East have
changed. The forests are much more diverse than in northern
Russia, with iron, yellow, and white (Manchurian) birch, elm,
Manchurian Pine and oak. The mix of trees in the forest is
critical for leopard and tiger survival. Pine nuts, for
example, are a staple for the wild boar that is the foundation
of the tiger diet. For the leopard, the favorite habitat is 200
to 300 year old virgin forest with oak, Korean pine, and
abundant grass for deer, raccoon, badgers, and other prey. WWF
is planting pine in hopes of changing the forest mix, but it
will take many years for the project to be fully implemented.
Pine nuts, like many forest products, are harvested illegally
and sold to China. WWF is working with local firms to develop
ways to sustainably harvest pine nuts and other forest products
and they are working to label these products as "tiger
friendly." Most of the wood that is illegally harvested and
exported to China winds up in furniture in Wal-Mart and other
U.S. chains.

2. (U) The hike itself is a perfect introduction for school
children into the importance of conservation and the rich
natural heritage that they still enjoy in the Far East. The
students respond with beautiful artwork dedicated to the
leopards and they are forceful advocates for the environment
with their parents and teachers. Given that changing the forest
is such a long term endeavor, working with local young people is
an excellent strategy.

3. (U) WWF's has two immediate goals. First, to put three
separate conservation areas in Primorye under one national
forest reserve umbrella. That project is moving forward with
Vice Minister Ivanov's blessing and encouragement. Although
that project looks hopeful, Dennis Smirnov, WWF specialist,
cautions that there is a lot of infighting between local
reserves so the union of these protected forest areas is far
from certain. The other goal is to provide some tunnels or
bridges that allow the leopards to move back and forth through
their range where a new highway is being built. The highway
will link Vladivostok with North Korea, and it bisects the
leopard territory. Inbreeding is already a critical problem,
and isolating the leopards into two groups on either side of the
road would probably spell the end for the leopards. WWF does
not favor introducing captive leopards into the wild population
because the range is too small to support more leopards.

4. (U) WWF is also working to reduce illegal logging by taking
core samples of Far Eastern trees so that they can identify
where the wood is coming from. Then they will know if wood from
forest preserves is being illegal sold. WWF's other challenge
is working with North Korean and Chinese partners to try to ban
the flow of tiger and leopard parts into China. The Far Eastern
Border Guard Directorate is involved in WWF leopard and tiger
projects, as wild cats often migrate across the border to the
neighboring northern province of China.

5. (U) WWF has rented some 40 thousand hectares of forest in
Khasanskiy Rayon to use as a model territory to implement its
programs on the sustainable use of natural resources, wildfire
protection and forest restoration. Farmers use fire to clear
agricultural land, but the fires inevitably spread to the
forests. Smirnov said 99 percent of the fires in the Russian
Far East are caused by man. A special program on protection of
Korean pine includes pine planting, banning pine logging, and
increasing public awareness of the importance of pine for
Primorye's ecosystem. Another forest creature, the forest cat,
is so secretive that WWF does not know anything about its
numbers or habits, but they do have photographs that were
tripped remotely so the forest cats do inhabit Far Eastern
Forests. The cameras are also useful in identifying and
tracking the habits of individual leopards. While no leopards
were spotted (inevitable leopard pun--sorry!) on this trip, it
is evident that the leopards have some strong supporters in the
area and that WWF is making some gains politically. Whether it
will be enough to save the world's most endangered big cat
remains to be seen.


ARMBRUSTER

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