Tiggywinkles, Tigers and Tunnels

What do tigers and hedgehogs have in common? The answer is ….. tunnels. Or to be more precise, wildlife corridors. Tigers and hedgehogs happen to be two of the animals who benefit from them.

tunnel road wildlife corridor crossroadsI should be more specific: wildlife corridors don’t have to be tunnels. They can be wide green bridges over highways, disused railway lines, or something as small as a ditch, a hedge, or even a hole in a fence. They are protected stretches of land or water that connect two significant animal habitat areas which would otherwise be cut off from each other. And they’re of immense importance because they can make the difference between an animal species surviving. or going extinct. They also help avoid inbreeding among animals in isolated pockets – species need genetic diversity to thrive. And they have the potential to halt the decline in biodiversity.

So they are all round good news – vital, in the true sense of the word, “indispensable to the continuance of life”.

Landscape corridors are among the most important conservation strategies in the face of global changes such as habitat fragmentation, habitat destruction, & climate change.         Conservation Corridor

So now let’s look at one or two. Let me take you first to the Kremlin, to meet a certain Sergey Ivanov.

Amur tiger cub snow wildlife big catMr Ivanov –  Chief of Staff to President Putin, no less – dreamed up an ambitious plan for Amur leopards and Amur tigers, two of the most endangered big cats in the world. Thanks to him, Russia now boasts the newly-opened, money-no-object Narvinskii Pass Tunnel at its Siberian border with China. The tunnel, which runs for a third of a mile underneath a major migration route for the cats, is truly a matter of life and death to them because it contains what 15 years ago was a quiet road, but is now a four-lane highway buzzing with traffic from a new and sizeable city on the Chinese side.

Amur tigers, numbering about 540, need to range over large areas to find food. Their prey is sparse and widely scattered, so the tunnel is critical to their survival. The Amur leopards need even more help. There are estimated to be now only about 80 of these beautiful cats, taking into account the animals in both countries. With such a very small population remaining, it’s essential they are able to move freely around their territory on both sides of the border.

amur leopard big cat endangered rare head(5 years earlier, the splendid Mr Ivanov designated an area of just over one thousand square miles at this site as a leopard reserve, the Land of the Leopard National Park. Heroes for wildlife are found in the most unlikely places!)

News of the tunnel’s opening is a much needed ray of sun in a generally gloomy picture for big cats.

“Pretty much all the recent news for tigers and leopards alike has looked grim. A few weeks ago, I reported that tigers have lost 93% of their historic range, with a 40% decline since 2010. This week, Panthera, the cat conservation group, published a study demonstrating that leopards have lost 75% of their historic range. Make that 95% in West Africa and up to 87% in Asia, where several leopard subspecies totter on the brink of extinction. The study recommends uplisting those subspecies to critically endangered and endangered and reclassifying the entire species as vulnerable—meaning in urgent need of conservation—on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.”  Wildlife writer,  Richard Conniff

In spite of the depressing picture Mr Conniff paints, just this week we’ve had another positive story for big cats:-

The snow leopard—like the Amur leopard and tiger, also among the world’s rarest big cats—got some good news when the Mongolian parliament voted to create a nature reserve in the Tost Mountains of South Gobi province. The whole nature reserve itself will act as a wildlife corridor since it “will be a bridge between two existing protected areasthe Great Gobi and the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park,” Charu Mishra, director of science and conservation for the Snow Leopard Trust, said in a statement. “The resulting landscape will be one of the world’s largest continuous protected snow leopard habitats.”  TakePart

A wildlife corridor on a prodigious scale.

Now to home. From the sublime to the humble. From the wilds of Siberia and the vast Gobi deserts and mountains to our own backyard. From iconic big cats to a small ball of prickles. Our own homegrown hedgehogs are in alarming decline, so what can we do? While we individual animal-lovers are not in a position to implement the kind of  grand projects we’ve been talking about, happily there are easy small-scale things we can do to help the hedgies on our own patch. Recently I posted about Hedgehog Highways– wildlife corridors for hedgehogs, a heartening initiative from a building firm in Cumbria. It’s so simple. The firm left little holes in the garden fences of their new homes which allow the hogs free movement from one green space to another.

“Something as basic as linking up a series of small isolated green patches with a hole no bigger than the size of a CD is a remarkably powerful and positive action for hedgehog conservation.  Making these connections between our own fenced-in islands of green spaces creates a continuous habitat corridor through which hedgehogs can forage, seek shelter and even rendezvous with potential mates.”  Simon Thompson, Hedgehog Officer (lovely title!) for Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.

This is such an easy and  effective step we can all take to improve the outlook for these much loved native mammals. That and banning slug pellets from our gardens (about which see more in Hedgehog Highways).

Come on, who wouldn’t want to set Ms Tiggywinkle’s heart aflutter by helping her find her Romeo!

hedgehogs mate pair garden wildlife male female prickles

Species-saving wildlife corridors are not of course just for big cats and hedgehogs. Bears, bats and butterflies, crabs and chimps, wolves and wildebeest – just about any creature can and does benefit. And plants too. Naturally, the ones that especially need them are those on the endangered lists. In a world of increasingly isolated habitats, we could hardly have too many wildlife corridors, and we don’t yet have anything like enough.

The Mongolian and Russian governments are clearly on it. And in theory at least, other countries too. A summit at Nagoya, Japan saw over 190 countries around the world reach an historic global agreement in 2010 to take urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity. The following year, our own government published The Natural Choice – the first Natural Environment White Paper for 20 years. This was closely followed by EU Member States approving the European Commission’s EU Biodiversity Strategy with its special focus on EU-level action. Lots of ‘EUs’ there!

Luckily we also have some farsighted individuals like Sergey Ivanov, and like Conservation Corridors, NGOs determined to mitigate the damage we humans have done to nonhumans’ habitats. They’ve succeeded in getting wildlife corridors in place in some critical areas, and they keep working to make sure that wildlife and its much needed corridors are included in future infrastructure plans.

So let’s finish on an uplifting note, and celebrate some of their work in this short snapshot of wildlife corridors around the world, courtesy of DearKitty.Some blog

Further reading:

England’s Biodiversity Plan 2020

Five Things You Need to Know About Wildlife Corridors

World Land Trust – Wildlife Corridors

Fish need corridors too!

Updates

May 28th 2016 TakePart’s article about 4 new crossings in Texas for endangered ocelots.

Aug 6th 2016 Purr and Roar’s blog post about new lifesaving Wildlife Detection Systems in British Columbia to warn traffic when there is wildlife on the highway.

Aug 19th 2016 Daily Sabah Turkey’s first highway wildlife crossing nears completion

Nov 14th 2016 Town Builds New Zealand’s First Penguin Tunnel – Mother Nature’s Network

April 7th 2017 America’s National Park Service celebrates this gorgeous new arrival, and explains how her birth underlines the need for a wildlife crossing on Highway 101 in southern California – Mother Nature’s Network

mountain-lion-kitten.jpg.990x0_q80_crop-smart

May 4th 2017 Meet Los Angeles Newest Mountain Lions – wildlife corridor across Freeway 101 in the offing, hopefully to be completed by 2021 – Care2

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