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How to preserve Russia’s endangered species of northern deer

Most populations suffer from poachers and predators, from the changing climate and degrading pastures

TASS, May 12. The endangered subspecies of northern deer, which are on the Red Data Book, requires close attention: preservation methods should include regular monitoring, including from air, and fighting poachers, scientists and experts of national nature reserves told TASS.

The Russian Red Data Book was updated in spring, 2020, - for the first time since 1997. The endangered species lists were updated with 29 species of birds and 14 species of mammals, including a few subspecies of northern deer - the European, Siberian and Okhotsk subspecies.

The habitat

In Northern Eurasia northern deer used to be a popular species. In the 20th century, scientists said its habitat was forest areas in European Russia, entire Siberia and the Far East, Alexei Klementyev of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Scientists told TASS.

"As of now, its areal is the tundra, but not many locals know that small populations live across the taiga and in the mountainous tundra in southern Siberia and in the Far East," the expert said.

Most populations suffer from poachers and predators, from the changing climate and degrading pastures.

Organizing nature reserves and fighting poachers

Declining numbers of the European subspecies’ northern deer have been registered in all regions in Russia’s north-west - in the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions, in Komi and Karelia. For example, in 2014, in Karelia the population was about 2,300 animals, while in the 1970s it was 7,000. Results of the monitoring, organized in the Murmansk Region in 2019, show that the population is scattered and limited. According to the Russian Arctic National Park’s Deputy Director Ivan Mizin, deer has been on all regional Red Data Books.

"Over ten years, the population [of northern deer] declined by a half. The reasons are: first of all, the poaching hunting, and secondly, shrinking habitat - cut woods, active tourism - animals get disturbed in spring," he said.

For example, deer left islands in Karelia’s northern lakes when tourists began visiting them, Danila Panchenko of the Karelian Scientific Center said.

Experts told TASS poachers are the main reason for the declining population. Hunting deer is outlawed everywhere, and yet poachers continue killing animals. One poacher may kill 14 animals at a time, like it happened near Karelia’s Topozero in 2010.

Echo through years

The Red Data Book contains also the Siberian population of northern deer’s subspecies - Angara and Altai-Sayany (with the exception for the deer living in Tuva). The Angara species is least studied. Recently, scientists of the Central Siberian Nature Reserve installed satellite collars on a few animals hoping to learn more about them.

"We have been watching them every day. The current situation (the coronavirus pandemic and the self-isolation - TASS) offers us much time to follow them online, to watch how they move, what they eat and what the weather there is like," the nature reserve’s Director Pavel Kochkarev told TASS.

Another forest population lives further to the south - in the Altai and Sayan Mountains. WWF’s local representative Alexander Karnaykhov told TASS the situation there is disappointing - the species continues to disappear: about 100-130 animals remain in the Altai Biosphere Reserve, and slightly more than 100 animals in the Kuznetsk Alatau Reserve. Tiny isolated populations are scattered across a huge habitat.

Roman Afanasyev of the Sayano-Shushensky Nature Reserve says about 50 animals used to live there in the late 20th century, and now - only about 30 remain there. "It is a small branch, a relict subspecies, which survived high in the mountains after the glacier period. The population suffered greatly in the 90s - the time of poach hunting off helicopters. The forest northern deer is trustful and allows people close to it," he said.

Forest deer reacts to the climate changes and does not stand blood-feeding insects, which multiply rapidly in the warming climate.

"However, the main reason [for the shrinking population] is poaching, though climate changes also affect. Another big threat is a competition with domestic deer, as they share same pastures. The herders, breeding northern deer, for example in Tuva, practically eliminate the forest subspecies," the expert said.

Registration and fighting poachers

Experts pointed to necessary regular monitoring and studies. Regions organize new reserves for wild deer: for example, Karelia has been organizing three new nature reserves. Scientists hope for additional financing to make regular air registration. Presently, such registrations are not systematic due to a shortage of funding. For example, the recent air registration in the Murmansk Region was in 2018, and in Karelia - in 2014 only.

Another necessary measure is to have much bigger responsibility for poachers. Presently, most poachers manage to escape any administrative or criminal charges.