Key tiger habitats in Russia at risk of destruction: WWF

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Nature conservation body WWF on Wednesday said key tiger habitats in Russia's Far East were slated for logging in what would be a new blow to the dwindling population of the highly endangered Amur tiger.

Next week the local government in Primorsky region is planning to auction off some 28,000 cubic metres (990,000 cubic feet) of forest which includes cedar and oak forest inhabited by the Amur tiger, said Denis Smirnov, head of forest programme at WWF Russia's Amur Branch.

"Essentially these are the key habitat areas for the Amur tiger," Smirnov told AFP by phone from the regional capital Vladivostok.

"That is being done under the guise of improvement felling," he said, referring to the cutting down of damaged or old trees. Once a tree felling permit is obtained, it will be next to impossible to control how much timber will be cut, he said.

The timber parcels slated for logging October 26 include forestland in a future nature reserve that contains a cross-border habitat corridor between Russia and China.

Betweeen 400 and 500 tigers remain in the wild in Russia, and a further 20 to 25 live in China. Degradation of the animal's habitat and poaching of the tiger and its prey are blamed for its rapid disappearance.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the past years has made a big show of his love for nature, publicly kissing animals and engaging in a string of stunts involving wildlife including tigers, leopards, bears and whales.

Late next month Russia is scheduled to host a tiger summit in Saint Petersburg expected to be attended by Putin.

© 2010 AFP

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