1940 – The world’s first tiger census is conducted by Russian biologists in Primorye. Their findings are alarming: as a result of over-hunting, the Amur Tiger teeters on the brink of extinction with an estimated 30 individuals remaining in the wild.
1941 – Russian biologist Yuri Salmin issues the world’s first call for a ban on tiger-hunting.
1943 – Yuri Salmin is sent to the western front never to return. Lev Kaplanov, another early advocate for Amur tigers, is murdered by poaching soldiers.
1947 – Russia becomes the first country in the world to declare the tiger a protected species.
1948 – 1988 – The Amur tiger stages the most dramatic comeback of any tiger subspecies to date, recovering from its estimated low of 30 animals in 1940, to roughly 500 in the late 1980’s.
1989 – Geopolitics delivers the Amur tiger a 1-2 punch:
1 – Russia re-opens its border with China (closed since TK ), paving the way for a lucrative black market trade in tiger bone, organs and skins, much of which finds its way into Traditional Chinese Medicines.
2 – Perestroika leads to the dismantling of the Communist system, including the nationalized industries that kept millions of Russians employed and fed. By the early 1990’s, thousands of hunters and loggers in Primorye are unemployed with no way to feed their families. Many turn to poaching in order to survive. Working in conjunction with local mafia, some of these individuals start killing tigers for the lucrative Asian market.
1990 – It is generally believed that the Amur tiger’s nearest neighbor, the South China tiger, is now extinct in the wild.
1991 – It is generally believed that the Amur tiger is now extinct in the Koreas
1992-93 – Approximately 100 Amur tigers (nearly a quarter of the wild population) are killed by poachers. It is clear to all involved that something dramatic must be done – and fast. The Russian-American Siberian Tiger Project is launched by the Wildlife Conservation Society, in conjunction with the Hornocker Institute.
1993 – Tiger trade declared illegal in China
1994 – Inspection Tiger is created. Six specialized teams of well-trained (and armed) inspectors are put to work patrolling hot spots in Primorye. In addition, inspectors and conservationists initiate outreach programs in schools and in rural areas where tigers are present in order to raise awareness about tiger protection. Amur tiger deaths by poaching drop dramatically to between 10 and 30 animals per year.
2000 – Inspection Tiger is gutted by a combination of funding cuts, and major changes in leadership and government policies around wildlife protection. Many of Inspection Tiger’s most seasoned inspectors are driven out or leave in frustration.
2000-2009 – Amur tiger deaths by poaching are on the rise. Privately funded conservation groups like the Vladivostok-based Phoenix Fund try to fill the gap in forest protection by outfitting their own Inspection teams. Elsewhere in Asia, tiger populations are dropping dramatically due to a combination of poaching, corruption and habitat loss due to logging and human competition for land and resources. China remains the #1 destination for these pirated tigers.
2010 – THE YEAR OF THE TIGER. Here’s how YOU can HELP: