Chinese and Russian provincial officials have agreed to set up a protected area straddling their countries' common border to safeguard the highly endangered Amur tiger.
It is estimated that only about 500 Amur tigers, also called Siberian tigers, survive in the wild.
Officials representing China's Jilin province and Russia's Primorsky province, areas just north of the Korean peninsula, signed the agreement, which was facilitated by the World Wildlife Fund, a global conservation organization.
"A new transboundary protected area would provide a wider and healthier habitat for Amur tigers and other endangered species, such as the Far East leopard, musk deer and goral," said Yu Changchun of the Jilin Forestry Department. A goral is a goat-like, mountain-dwelling animal.
As part of the agreement, officials of the two provinces said they will increase information-sharing on Amur tiger and Far East leopard protection and will work to adopt identical monitoring systems for tigers and their prey.
The two countries also plan to conduct joint ecological surveys and to launch an anti-poaching campaign along the border.
Destruction and fragmentation of habitat, poaching and a lack of prey have reduced the number of wild Amur tigers. One of six remaining subspecies of tigers , the Amur tiger is primarily found in eastern Russia, with a small number in northeastern China. Among that population, 20 tigers have been periodically spotted within the borders of China's Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces.
"This agreement is a great boost for Amur tiger habitats in Russia and China," said WWF-Russia official Sergey Aramilev. "Since both countries play a crucial role in terms of global tiger recovery, a future transboundary network would represent a big step in WWF's global tiger conservation effort." Aramilev is biodiversity coordinator for the Amur Branch of WWF-Russia.
The announcement of the agreement coincides with China's Amur Tiger Cultural Festival, a two-day event designed to focus attention on the plight of the endangered animal. This is also the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese calendar, and conservation agencies have pushed to highlight tiger protection efforts around the world since January.
While over 95 percent of Amur tigers are now found in Russia, the situation differed in the 1950s. An estimated 50 tigers were then found in the Russian Far East, while about 200 were in China. Anti-poaching efforts and other conservation policies allowed Russia's tiger population to rebound and remain stable, but the WWF says the big cats still face destruction at the hands of hunters who sell tiger parts for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
"There's a lot of work to be done to implement this agreement, such as making sure it receives proper government funding, but this is a major step forward nonetheless," Aramilev said.