Posted by David Braun of National Geographic in Rolex Awards for Enterprise on November 25, 2012
Earlier this year Rolex announced the five winners of the 2012 Rolex Awards for Enterprise, who are being honored in New Delhi, India, on November 27. This profile looks at the work of 2012 Laureate Sergei Bereznuk, director of the Phoenix Fund, a small environmental NGO in Russia. Bereznuk and his team of six people are carrying out an impressive range of activities to preserve the endangered Siberian tiger over a territory of 64,000 square miles (166,000 square kilometers).
“The Russian Far East is home to 95 per cent of the remaining population of the Amur, the biggest of the world’s tigers (also known as the Siberian tiger), which weighs on average 200 kg [440 pounds], Rolex says in document prepared for the award ceremony. “Today, an estimated 350 to 500 of this subspecies (Panthera tigris altaica) roam the frontier region bordering China and the Sea of Japan. Although sustained conservation efforts over recent years have moved the Amur tigers from Critically Endangered to Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, they still remain at risk – mainly due to poaching.
Wild tigers worldwide now number an estimated 4,000 adult individuals in the wild, down from 100,000 in 1900.
“For the past 17 years, Sergei Bereznuk, a staunch Russian conservationist and ecologist, has been working valiantly to save the Amur tiger. Based on his experience since 1995 with a tiger anti-poaching brigade in the Primorsky Krai, the Russian Far East province commonly known as Primorye, Bereznuk is convinced that saving the Amur tiger depends on both the efficiency of anti-poaching measures and the education of the local people, two elements at the core of his Rolex Award-winning project. Moreover, he considers the Amur tiger as a powerful driver for the general conservation of its ecosystem, the taiga forest.
“As director of the Phoenix Fund, a small, environmental NGO that he has headed for 12 years, Bereznuk and his team of six people are carrying out an impressive range of activities to preserve the Amur tiger over a territory of 166,000 km2. These include support of anti-poaching units, awareness-raising among local people, reversing habitat reduction due to fires and logging and resolution of human-animal conflicts, along with providing compensation for damage and monitoring invasive industrial projects in the region.”
Sergei Bereznuk (center) and his rangers use special software to help track poachers. Lazovsky Nature Reserve, Primorsky krai, Russia, 2012. Photo: ©Rolex Awards/Marc Latzel.
“Poaching remains the principal threat to the tigers’ survival,” Rolex adds. “The animals are killed in retaliation, mainly for loss of cattle and wild prey and as hunting trophies. There is also demand for their skin, bones and body parts, used primarily in Chinese traditional medicine. Despite international laws banning the sale of tiger parts there is a lucrative market that fuels poaching. In their campaign to reduce the slaughter, Bereznuk and the Vladivostok-based Phoenix Fund provide anti-poaching teams with software – the Management Information System (MIST) – developed specifically for this purpose by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Up-to-date, relevant and timely information is an integral part of effective protected area management.
“Bereznuk provides anti-poaching units with fuel, spare parts for their patrolling vehicles, incentive payments, as well as training. With the Phoenix Fund’s support, these teams could improve their efficiency in terms of the number of arrests, prosecutions and influence on poachers.
“He is conscious, however, that these methods are not a solution in the long term and so he has developed extensive educational and outreach activities. Phoenix Fund-supported educators work with children, creating educational materials, films, competitions and eco-events, most notably the annual Tiger Day Festivals in Vladivostok and other regional centres, and generally encouraging villagers and young people to treasure the planet’s wildlife. For Bereznuk, the Tiger Day Festival is a powerful motivational tool.”
Sergei Bereznuk explains the purpose of new brochures to pupils in Natalia Drobysheva’s class of young children. Slavianka City, Primorsky krai, Russia, 2012. Photo: ©Rolex Awards/Marc Latzel.
“Bereznuk’s project is the first example of cutting-edge, anti-poaching methods and environmental awareness-raising activities in Russia’s Far East. The Phoenix Fund, while partnering with other major environmental organizations, is the only Russian organization conducting and supporting these programmes in the region. It has strong community ties, cultural sensitivity and an extended network of local field workers.
“A modest and pragmatic man who has overcome major odds in a highly challenging environment, Bereznuk has, with great tenacity, begun to change attitudes and empower a young team of collaborators to sustain the Amur tiger population.
“His Rolex Award for Enterprise will provide funding for his project in 2013 and, significantly, focus world attention on his efforts to protect this flagship species.”
Since receiving his Rolex Award in June 2012, Sergei Bereznuk has made great strides in his continued efforts to preserve the Amur tiger and its forest habitat in Russia’s Far East, according to Rolex.
“In September, Bereznuk organized a meeting of the four anti-poaching units working in the Lazovsky Nature Reserve, 300 km north of Vladivostok, where the Phoenix Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society introduced the wildlife Management Information System (MIST) software last year. Each unit, comprising three to nine rangers equipped with GPS and patrol equipment, provided with fuel and uniforms thanks to Bereznuk’s Rolex Award, compared data on the number and routes of patrols they conducted, along with their observations on tigers and wildlife in general, the state of the forest, and the reach of poachers and loggers.
“In order to help reduce forest fires and agricultural burn-offs, which take a toll on the tiger’s habitat by turning forest into open meadows and brushwood, Bereznuk and the Phoenix Fund signed an agreement with three other local organizations, including the All Russia Volunteer Fire Organization, to create a network of volunteer, fire-fighting teams ready to be deployed in the Primorsky Krai region.
“On 30 September, Bereznuk’s Phoenix Fund, along with partner organizations, led the 13th annual Tiger Day Festival in Vladivostok. Over 4,000 costumed schoolchildren and students, decked out in various shades of orange tiger stripes, walked down the city’s main street to raise awareness of tiger and forest conservation, while 5,000 spectators looked on. Bereznuk then received an award from the city’s mayor for “his invaluable contribution to the ecological education of the local community.”