By Jeremy Hance
The Russian Far East is one of the wildest places on Earth: where giant tigers roam snow-covered forests and the world's biggest owls stalk frozen rivers. Bordering northern China and North Korea, the forests of Primorye are known for the diversity of habitats, including coastal forests along the Sea of Japan, vast coniferous forests in the Sikhote-Alin mountains, and even steppe. These diverse ecosystems also makes the forests a hotspot for endangered species, including Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica), Blakiston's fish owls (Bubo blakistoni), and one of the world's rarest big cats, Amur leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis), which number only 30-50 animals.
Though remote and still wild, threats are rising in these forests: poachers are killing a record number of tigers, logging roads are allowing access to remote areas, prey numbers are constantly threatened by over-hunting, and unsustainable logging practices and bushfires imperil whole forests. Still, the wildlife of Primorye has champions.
Jonathan Slaght first came to the region with the Peace Corps and was quickly captivated—not by the big cats, but by the birds: most particularly Blakiston's fish owl, the world's owl heavy-weight. After years roaming the forests as a birder, Slaght went on to get a PhD in Wildlife Conservation and now works for the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Russia Program. While tackling projects for both the Siberian tiger and the Amur leopard, Slaght remains one of the foremost experts on Blakiston's fish owl.
Slaght recently spoke with mongabay.com about his work in the far-flung forests of Russia, including a rise in tiger poaching, possible good news for Amur leopards, and the recently-discovered hunting habits of Blakiston's fish owl. More....