Endangered Siberian tiger shot dead, another in many recent poaching cases

A Siberian tiger was found dead on November 20 in a forest in the region of Primorsky Krai in Russia's far east. The protected animal may have been killed by hunters seeking to eliminate threats to their game, according to a preservation group. There have been several poaching cases in Russia in recent months, including some implicating senior officials. 

A Siberian tiger, an endangered species, was found dead in the Russian far east on November 20.
A Siberian tiger, an endangered species, was found dead in the Russian far east on November 20. © Amur Tiger Center

A video taken by a civilian was published by the Russian online media Mash on November 27, showing the tiger's remains just after it was taken in on November 20. The person filmed the animal's injury, which was caused by a firearm.

The video was posted on the Telegram channel of the Russian media outlet Mash on November 27. The media suggests that the tiger may have been killed by Ilya Kortchevets. There is no evidence of this at this stage.

The Siberian tiger is an endangered species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are about 600 tigers remaining and they live only in the Russian far east. It is illegal to hunt the animal, listed in the Russian Red Data Book of protected species.

The Amur Tiger Center, a non-profit that studies and protects Siberian tigers, reported the incident on its social networks.

On November 28, the Amur Tiger Center published a photo of the tiger found dead in the forest.

The tiger's body was found on November 20, around 30 kilometres from the village of Glubinnoe, according to a statement from the Primorsky Krai interior ministry on November 28. Ilya Kortchevets, the director of the interior ministry's economic security and anti-corruption department in the city of Vladivostok, alerted the ministry while he was on vacation. A criminal investigation has been opened for the illegal hunting of protected wild animals. 

Several Russian media outlets have raised suspicions that Kortchevets himself played a role in the death of the tiger. However, the ministry said that at this stage there was no reason to believe the official was involved.

'The tiger may have been killed during an illegal night hunt'

The Amur Tiger Center has been tasked with a veterinary investigation into the tiger's manner of death. The centre's director, Sergey Aramilev, explained the likely circumstances in which the animal was killed.

According to one possible scenario [considered in the investigation], the tiger may have been killed during an illegal night hunt for ungulates [hoofed animals such as wild boar, deer and elk]. When the poachers saw the tiger, they shot it – probably out of criminal motives and due to aversion to the predator, which also hunts ungulates, competing with them for resources. They wouldn't have had any intention to sell the tiger, since the remains were left behind in the forest.

Every year, around 10 to 15 Siberian tigers are killed by poachers in Russia. In July 2021, two poachers were convicted of killing Pavlik, a tiger that had been reintroduced into the wild after living in a rehabilitation centre. 

Trafficking in tiger skins and bones, particularly sought-after commodities in Asia, is very lucrative. But there are other reasons why people prey on tigers, Aramilev says:

There is so-called 'protest' poaching, for example when a hunter with little ecological awareness decides that the tiger poses a threat to ungulates and may eat them all. Or a local resident decides to 'get even' with the tiger that killed his cow or horse. There is also 'delinquent' poaching – when someone shoots a tiger just like that, with no real reason, for example from a car window. Sometimes people shoot because they're afraid, that can happen too. Others do it for money. Sometimes they're individuals, sometimes organised groups. But the police always find out who they are.

Government officials implicated in poaching elks and birds

To fight poaching, the government has set up a scheme to compensate people whose livestock or pets have been attacked by tigers. The aim is to avoid retaliation against the animals. A law passed in 2013 sets severe penalties for poaching protected species.

In 2021, several Russian senior officials were accused of poaching. A dead elk was found in October in the car of communist party MP Valery Rashkin, who later confessed to killing it without a hunting license. 

United Russia majority party MP Alexander Kramarenko was identified in June in photos posted on Instagram, showing him posing with a rifle in front of dozens of dead birds which were arranged to spell out "Chukotka 2021," after the name of the region where the hunting party was held.

Another MP was expelled from the United Russia party after running over an elk with a snowmobile in February.

Illegal hunting of protected animals is a common practice among many elites, who are not always convicted, according to Russian media Novaya Gazeta.

This photo shared by the Instagram account Hunting_in_siberia on May 19, 2021 shows MP Alexander Kramarenko with the animals he hunted.