CHANGCHUN, March 20 (Xinhua) -- China is considering a plan to expand a major Siberian tiger reserve in the northeast and move out half of the local residents in order to better protect the rare species, an official said here Thursday.
The Hunchun National Siberian Tiger Nature Reserve in Jilin Province will be increased by 524 hectares in areas if the proposed plan is adopted by the State Council, China's cabinet, said Lang Jianmin, director of the reserve's scientific research and publicity center.
The State Forestry Administration has already approved the plan, which will see half of the 6,000 residents currently living in the reserve relocated, according to Lang.
The remaining residents in the reserve will gradually move out of it along with the local urbanization process, he added.
The move aims to reduce human disturbance to wild Siberian tigers as deforestation by locals, and their frog breeding businesses in the reserve affect the tigers' living environment, according to the official.
The reserve, currently at 100,000 hectares, has 70 percent of its land owned by the state, while the remaining 30 percent by farmers.
Lang said about 10 percent of the land owned by farmers will be no longer part of the reserve, while more state-owned forest will be included into the reserve.
Currently, villagers in the Hunchun reserve can cut trees on land owned by them upon government approval, or breed frogs for food in the forests. These are the major means of income for some locals.
Sate-owned forests in the reserve have been kept untouched since the reserve was established in 2001.
Compensation policies are under discussion to discourage villagers from chopping trees in the reserve, according to Lang.
Siberian tigers, also known as Amur or Manchurian tigers, mainly live in east Russia, northeast China and northern parts of the Korean Peninsula. Less than 500 Siberian tigers are believed to currently live in the wild, with an estimated 18 to 22 in northeast China's Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces.
With strengthened protection efforts such as repeated crackdowns on poaching, the number of wild Siberian tigers in Hunchun has doubled in the past 15 years, according to Liu Peiqi, executive manager of the Wildlife Conservation Society's China Program.
Three to five wild Siberian tigers were found in Hunchun in a survey conducted in 1998 by experts from China, Russia and the United States. The latest survey, in 2012, showed the number was six to seven in Hunchun.