While it is encouraging that some countries have made great efforts to protect critically endangered wild animals, how these animals and the humans living in their habitat can co-exist peacefully is a huge challenge. Such is the case for the 150,000 sq km of forest in Russia’s Far East which is the habitat of about 350 Amur tigers and is also dotted with small human settlements.
Even though Amur tigers are now extremely scarce, they do sometimes come close to villages. When they do, they might prey on a domestic animal or even attack humans. That is where the special Tiger Response Team, set up by the Russian government in 1999, serves the important function of helping to resolve "human-tiger conflict". When a tiger is seen or discovered in a certain neighbourhood, the team is contacted and dispatched. Depending on the situation, the team takes different actions. Sometimes it just scares the tiger away. Sometimes it capture the animal, after which it puts a radio collar on it and either puts it back where it was or moves it to a different location.
One can imagine how very threatening it is when a tiger walks into the neighbourhood of the local communities, so it is really important that there is such a support team to deal with that and to give the local people a signal that there is a group that cares about their welfare.
Dr John Goodrich, a conservationist and wildlife photographer who has worked with the team, said that most tigers that attack people in Russia have been shot by poachers or injured by traps. It is these injuries that change the tigers' behavior. When they are incapacitated and unable to hunt, they move into human populations to pick on domesticated prey. Wounds from botched poaching attempts, according to Dr Goodrich, are a leading cause of Amur tiger attacks on people.
It is my belief that wild animals and humans can co-exist peacefully. I also believe that they probably did, a long long time ago, in pre-historic times, but human beings changed that relationship forever when, driven by greed, they started to threaten the survival of the wild animals.
Can we still revert the situation? Or are we to drive them to extinction?