With fewer than 4,000 individuals remaining in the wild, the tiger is one of the most endangered carnivores in the world. Poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, and depletion of prey continue to threaten the survival of this flagship species everywhere in its range. In the Russian Far East, where only some 500 Amur (Siberian) tigers survive, loss of prey species, particularly wild boar and red deer, is especially alarming because local people depend in part on these species also, for food and livelihoods. Conserving and managing such prey populations and their habitat is therefore a priority for communities and conservationists globally.

The Project

University of Montana graduate student Scott Waller is working with Russian communities, scientists and conservationists to preserve these prey populations and their habitat, and thus the Amur tiger and a rural culture. Wild ungulate management strategies are based on surveys of abundance. In the Russian Far East, wildlife managers historically have relied on snow-tracking for these surveys, but warming temperatures and reduced snowfall have made this method unreliable. Waller is developing alternative survey methodology using data from camera traps. He is working closely with both the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Russia Program and the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve, who together have been leaders in Amur tiger research and conservation for decades. These new methods promise the accuracy and climate independence needed for proper surveying, to the benefit of local people, prey species and tigers alike.

Methods

While camera traps have been used in wildlife research for decades, Scott and his team are testing new techniques. Essentially, scientists measure the physical area of the space monitored by each camera, to determine how many animals are “captured” per square meter, and the aggregate data from many cameras allows an estimate of abundance across the study area. This approach, developed recently by University of Montana wildlife biologists, promises an effective, accurate and standardizable way to monitor wild ungulate populations. In addition to further refining the methods, Waller’s work takes the important next step of testing them and the equipment in an especially harsh environment.

The Need

$68,405 will pay for basic un-met budget items, including travel within Russia ($5,250, including snowmobiles), payroll ($39,658 for Scott’s summer data analyses, salaries for four local Russian assistants and short-term field staff) and equipment & supplies ($23,497, including camera batteries, cold weather gear, truck and snowmobile repairs, tires and insurance).

Despite the financial impact of the pandemic, Scott has secured financing for other expenses: The Russian arm of WCS, the Wildlife Conservation Society, has pledged $19,000 for 70 camera traps. The Minnesota Zoo has given Scott $2,900 towards local Russian salaries. Scott also has a Fulbright grant to cover his international travel and living expenses in Russia, and he was awarded the Fay G. Clark Memorial Scholarship from UMT’s W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation.

Timeline

To complete his project (“Devising a Camera Trap Methodology for Estimated Abundance of Tiger Prey Species”) Scott intends to return to Russia in September 2020 to work in the field through the winter, returning to the Univ. of Montana in May 2021 in order to complete his Master’s degree in Wildlife Biology in the spring of 2022.

Credentials

Scott Waller, BS Middlebury College 2018, is a Masters student in the Wildlife Biology Program at the University of Montana, studying under Dr. Jedediah Brodie (John J. Craighead Endowed Chair of Wildlife Conservation; mammal population ecology, landscape connectivity and species interactions) and Dr. Mark Hebblewhite (Professor of Wildlife Biology; large herbivores and how they balance the costs of predation with benefits of foraging). Both are titans in their fields of conservation.

Scott Waller Biography

 

Scott Waller grew up on a farm outside of Kalispell, Montana. At Middlebury College, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Conservation Biology and minored in Russian language and culture. Between semesters, Scott worked for five summers as a grizzly bear trapper for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Scott is currently pursuing a Master’s in Wildlife Biology at the University of Montana, studying under Dr. Jedediah Brodie and Dr. Mark Hebblewhite. The Conservation Frontlines Foundation is helping to fund the fieldwork for Scott’s Master’s thesis, which promises to improve the management of tiger prey not only in Russia, but across Asia. When not immersed his wildlife studies, Scott loves to hunt, fish, ride and ski in Montana. He also writes music, is translating a tiger book from Russian to English, and comes home every summer to help on the family farm.

Images courtesy of: Dale Miquelle, Scott Waller, WCS, Evgenii Tabalukin and the University of Montana Foundation

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