Project Moves Pipes Aside
RIA Novosti Photo
Novosti) — Southern Primorye Territory is to host a guarded
nature reserve for 30
Amur leopards (P. pardus orientalis), the world’s rarest
big cats. To this end, the route of the Eastern Siberia – Pacific
Ocean (ESPO) oil pipeline will be altered, costing its builders
another $3 billion. But there is one more facility jeopardizing
the leopard project – a gas pipeline, which is planned to be
laid across the nature reserve.
Amur leopards have long, thick fur that allows them to survive
in northern territories. They are disappearing before our very
eyes: there are as few as 40 Amur leopards left on earth: 30
of them live in Russia, and the rest in China. If poachers kill
just two or three more females, the population will never be
There is still hope of saving these unique animals. A recent
meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov approved
an initiative from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment
to create a comprehensive nature reserve. The legal documents
should be processed by the end of the year. The decision comes
after pressure from scientists, wildlife experts and the public
to save the Amur leopards.
A century ago, in imperial times, the natural habitat of Amur
leopards and tigers was declared under state protection. In 1916
the Kedrovaya Pad – Russia’s oldest nature reserve – was established.
Many generations of scientists have worked there. Until recently
the reserve was owned by the Russian Academy of Sciences. Over
time two other wildlife preserves – the Barsovy, run by the Ministry
of Agriculture, and the Borisovskoye plateau, belonging to the
local administration – were incorporated into it.
This division of ownership was disastrous. The reserve was guarded
ineffectively and without any coordination, and poachers didn’t
miss their chance. The population was decimated, and the number
of leopards fell to 30 individuals, which is the critical point
for bio diversity.
"Triple government" in the reserve
is now being abolished – the departments are merging to form
a single body responsible
to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. What can
you expect from this redistribution of powers?
Igor Chestin, head of WWF Russia, told RIA Novosti that the
absence of coordination between the departments and the lack
of centralized management was a major impediment to the program
to restore the leopard population. Now that hindrance has been
The main changes in the reserve come down to extended credentials
and new financial opportunities. This year alone, as much as
$400,000 is to be allocated for the project. Scientists will
be in charge of the research work necessary to maintain the conservation
and breeding program. At the same time the reserve will be guaranteed
a preserved status – the security system will be improved to
provide better defense against poachers, illegal deforestation,
industrial development and destruction.
Will this important step eliminate all threats to the leopard?
Hardly. The risks persist, and they are related to industrial
projects. It should be said, however, that one of the most serious
threats has been eliminated this year. Under pressure from public
opinion and environmentalists, Transneft, which operates the
ESPO pipeline project, agreed to remove its oil terminals to
the village of Kozmino, near Nakhodka.
According to the initial project, a branch of the pipeline was
to be laid from the town of Taishet via the most direct route,
entering the Sea of Japan at the Perevoznaya bay. That would
have taken the pipeline across two crucial reserves. First, it
was to be laid in close proximity to the shores of Lake Baikal,
a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and at its final stage, the pipeline
was to cross the leopards’ habitats – the Kedrovaya Pad and Barsovy
Environmentalists long opposed these two sectors of the pipeline,
but it was not until 2007, when President Vladimir Putin interfered,
that it was changed. With all his political will, he forced the
oil producers to divert the pipeline away from Baikal. Some time
later another decision was taken – the final terminal of the
pipeline was removed from the Perevoznaya bay to the Kozmino
bay. As a result of this concession Transneft had to invest another
$3 million in the project and change the completion deadline.
Still, there are some industrial plans that could jeopardize
the leopard project – a gas pipeline across the reserve. This
pipeline goes in the direction of the border with North Korea.
The authors of the project planned that the pipes should be laid
next to the shore, cutting across the coastal part of the Barsovy
"We suggested excluding the coastal area from the development
plans and attaching another territory to the gas project, which
is five times larger, but would take the pipeline along the border
with China," said Igor Chestin. "The matter hasn’t
been settled yet. They have an alternative variant – laying the
pipeline on the seabed, rather than along the shore. We’ve just
started public hearings and discussions."
The 30 leopards and the slightly more numerous but no less threatened
Siberian tiger population are exposed to one more danger nonetheless.
The government of the Primorye Territory has launched a full-scale
reconstruction of the Khasan-Razdolnoye highway, which bisects
the nature reserve. After being renewed it will become a federal
road, and it’s clear that no leopard will be able to cross it.
Meanwhile the species’ recovery depends on their being able to
move freely and comfortably around their habitat, with no obstacles
to their natural routes of migration.
The road is essential to the local human population, but there
are ways to minimize the negative impact. One idea is to construct
the road in a tunnel underneath the migration zone. But the Khasan-Razdolnoye
highway is owned by the local government, which has no funds
to allocate for the expensive business of tunnel building. There
is still a way out: they can hand over the highway to the Ministry
of Transportation. So far the question has been raised and is
The project will take at least two years of hard work and no
less than 25 million rubles. But as a result, a vast Far Eastern
national park will appear on Russia’s map.