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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'No Time to Lose' to Save Tiger From Loggers

From the distant taiga of the Far East, the director of a nature reserve is appealing to Moscow to prevent loggers destroying a crucial winter refuge of the rare Amur tiger.

"There is no time to lose," said Anatoly Astafyev, director of the Sikhote-Alinsky nature reserve in the Primorsky Krai, bordering the Sea of Japan.

In a telephone interview, Astafyev said loggers were chopping away at an area of 59,000 hectares that is used as a winter refuge by Amur tigers and other wildlife. Within three years, the whole area could be cut bare, and loggers freelancing as poachers may manage to kill off most of the remaining 20 tigers in the region, Astafyev said.

The winter refuge used to be part of the nearby reserve until the 1960s, when the park was cut from 2 million hectares to 347,000 hectares to make room for logging firms, Astafyev said.

The remaining reserve, across a mountain range from the disputed area, is too cold in winter for the deer, the tiger's main prey.

According to Astafyev, the Primorsky region was home to over 250 tigers in the 1980s, but poachers have already killed more than half, selling the bones as expensive aphrodisiacs to China and Japan.

Natalya Danilina, head of the Ecology Ministry department in charge of national reserves, said that Moscow favored expansion of the park but was waiting for a recommendation from the local forestry officials.

Although the land is state-owned, the logging company that has the rights to use the land, Terneyles, has refused to give it up, she said.

Astafyev said the local authorities had sided with Terneyles, saying they would transfer the area only after the firm has finished logging, because they received part of the revenues. If Moscow were to intervene and assign the land to the park, the region would demand huge compensation, he said.

"Land costs money now," he added. "It's unprofitable to close this line of business."

Terneyles and local government officials could not be reached for comment.

Greenpeace in May campaigned on behalf of Astafyev and also protested against a Korean logging joint venture in the region.

Greenpeace activist Sergei Tsiplyonkov said the Svetlaya joint venture of Hyundai and its Russian partners had broken their contractual promises to cut selectively and ensure reforestation.

Instead, the firm had opted for clearcutting, leaving the land bare but for a few dead trees, Greenpeace said.

Cans of oil and diesel, used by the cranes that cut the trees, were left behind and had spoiled nearby rivers, Tsiplyonkov added.

Hyundai cuts around 300,000 cubic meters of timber each year, and exports it to South Korea. Its representatives in Moscow and Vladivostok declined to comment.

Vladimir Stegny, president of Svetlaya, told The Moscow Times in an interview in May 1993 that the venture had started logging selectively and was prepared to stay one kilometer away from nearby rivers, to avoid pollution. He added that it was running a loss.