China | Vast PA, soon-to-be Changbai Mountain NP, aimed at boosting tiger, leopard populations
Small villages of a dozen or so houses emerge around each bend in the highway that cuts through the snow-laced foothills of the Changbai Mountains. Farmers, mainly old men, putt-putt by on motorized carts laden with birch branches, steam pouring from their mouths in the single-digit cold. Bronze-colored cattle graze, and large, black pigs root between rows of corn stubble.
It is early January, and I am traveling with a carload of Chinese volunteers who will spend much of the day in the forest looking for traps and snares, which locals set to catch roe deer and boar. These are the main prey of the rare, big cats — both Siberian tigers and Amur leopards — that roam these hills, but the traps occasionally ensnare one of the critically endangered felines. Our goal is to find and dismantle the snares.