The big cats at risk of exhausting their nine lives

Edited by Sun Chao and Shen Xinyi. Subtitles by Sun Chao, Lu Feiran and Li Qian.

In northeast China, one of nature’s greatest and endangered mammals roams the dense mountain forests of a wildlife sanctuary.

Hunchun County in Jilin Province is home to Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park. It was established to protect the rare Amur tiger and Amur leopard.

The big cats are in danger of exhausting their nine lives

Shen Xinyi / SHINE

The site of Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park

The approximately 60 tigers in the 15,000 square kilometer park are guarded by over 3,000 rangers. Among them is 33-year-old Liu Guoqing, a Hunchun native. Last month he and his colleagues won the championship in a ranger competition organized by the World Wildlife Fund.

“The ranger work can get tiring after a while, and the competition has been an encouragement for all of us,” said Liu. “The price included a trip to Shanghai Disney Resort and I have to admit that was very attractive.”

The big cats are in danger of exhausting their nine lives

Imagine China

Northeast China’s Tiger and Leopard National Park in northeastern Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces has become a sanctuary for Amur tigers.

The competition, which is now in its sixth year, gives us an insight into the daily work of the rangers. A field test simulated a real-world environment in which rangers had to demonstrate skills such as placing infrared cameras in the right place to track animals’ movements, surviving in the harsh mountain environment, and spotting and removing traps set by poachers became.

In addition, a written test demonstrated the knowledge and skills required of a qualified ranger: recognizing animal tracks such as droppings and fur fragments, using navigation tools and understanding relevant animal welfare laws.

“The competition is actually more difficult than the usual shooting range work because it is limited in time and also because it is held in the summer,” said Liu.

The big cats are in danger of exhausting their nine lives

A ranger participating in a field competition organized by the World Wildlife Fund

In winter, it’s much easier to find tiger tracks in the snow, and sunlight filtering through leafless trees provides better visibility.

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One of the field tests was about finding simulated hunting tools as quickly as possible. The tools were camouflaged. Liu’s team couldn’t find them all.

“It was a lesson for us, so we collected the props as future teaching tools,” he said.

The Amur tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger, is the largest cat in the world. Its name comes from the river that marks the northeastern border between China and Russia.

The big cats are in danger of exhausting their nine lives

Courtesy of the World Wildlife Fund

Tigers are easier to spot in the winter snow.

About 500 to 600 Amur tigers remain in the wild. They are distributed in eastern Siberia, the Chinese provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin, and possibly the northern region of North Korea.

The Amur tiger is one of four tiger subspecies in China and the only one showing hope for a recovery in wild population numbers.

Of the other three subspecies, the Indochinese and Bengal tigers are rarely found in China, and the South China tiger only exists in zoos.

The big cats are in danger of exhausting their nine lives

Courtesy of the World Wildlife Fund

An Amur tiger with its cub

The big cats are in danger of exhausting their nine lives

Courtesy of the World Wildlife Fund

The face of hope for the species

The fate of the Amur tiger was negatively affected by human activities. At the beginning of the last century, both Chinese and Russian trappers hunted the cats for the fur and bone trade. At the same time, hunting of deer and other forest dwellers depleted the tigers’ food supply and deforestation destroyed their habitat.

“The Amur tiger population is slowly recovering after conservation measures have been put in place,” said Liu Duo, a senior official at the World Wildlife Fund. “In 2015, logging in natural forests was banned in China. In 2017, the national park was established, offering the Amur tigers a stable and carefully maintained forest ecosystem to live in. This all points to a bright future for the Tigers.”

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Rangers are at the forefront of ecosystem conservation and tiger survival. Their work can be both tedious and dangerous.

Liu Guoqing had no plans to become a ranger when he graduated from university as a mechanic. After working for three years in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, his parents urged him to return to Hunchun as he was their only child. But when she returned home, Liu found it difficult to find suitable jobs. Then he learned that the local forest service was hiring rangers.

“The only requirement was a strong physical constitution, which I had,” Liu said. “Also, I’ve been familiar with the wildlife in Hunchun since I was a child, so I applied for the position.”

The big cats are in danger of exhausting their nine lives


Surveillance cameras capture a fierce Siberian tiger in all its glory. Only an estimated 500-600 of the big cats remain in the wild.

Liu and his colleagues patrol 20 kilometers in the forest, armed with GPS navigation, food and water, a first aid kit and a fire missile used to scare away beasts.

The rangers actually see tigers very rarely. Their last encounter was three years ago when Liu and his two other rangers were checking an infrared camera. Suddenly they heard a roar from a nearby hill.

“We stopped and looked around, trying to spot the tiger’s location, but we couldn’t see it,” he recalled. “And then there was another growl, and we knew immediately that we had to leave the area.”

The big cats are in danger of exhausting their nine lives


The loss of these magnificent beasts would be an indictment of humanity’s relationship with nature.

Staring in the direction of the growls, the trio slowly backed away, not turning to run until they had retreated dozens of yards. It wasn’t until they were safely back in their squad car that they realized they were sweating profusely.

However, the recovery of the wild Amur tiger population has created a new problem: tiger encroachment into areas of human habitation.

Earlier this year, a big cat’s footprints were discovered on a tree farm in Jilin. It turned out that they belonged to an adult male Amur tiger.

Last year in neighboring Heilongjiang province, a tiger appeared in a village and confronted a woman who was working in a corn field. As another villager rushed to the scene, the tiger bit the woman’s shoulder and fled. The tiger was then stunned and taken to a center in the province. The woman was taken to the hospital and survived the ordeal.

The big cats are in danger of exhausting their nine lives

Imagine China

An Amur tiger captured by a camera near a village in Jilin Province. The relationship between tigers and local people can be delicate.

Now, people in Hunchun and other places near the national park are being warned to stay away from forested areas if any of the big cats are reported nearby.

Rangers are responsible for educating the public about the tigers. Liu Guoqing often visits community groups in Hunchun to advise people on what to do if they encounter a wild tiger.

Liu Duo of the World Wildlife Fund said the goal is to promote harmonious coexistence between humans and Amur tigers.

“Currently, the Amur tiger population in Russia is near saturation, but the habitat in China can accommodate at least another 320 or more tigers,” he said. “A continuous, stable Amur tiger population has yet to be established here, but there is great hope.”

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