Dr. Yury Darman is a champion of the Russian conservation movement who has given inspiring leadership to the Amur Ecoregion Program. He has devoted 40 years of professional service to the Amur River − one of the ten greatest rivers in the world. Since 1989, he has investigated the impact of dams on freshwater ecosystems and organized five campaigns against dam construction on the main stem of the Amur River. He has integrated scientific and traditional knowledge into a comprehensive program for biodiversity conservation under the umbrella of iconic rare species, such as the Amur tiger, the Far Eastern leopard and the Oriental stork. Thanks in large part to his efforts, protected areas in the region have been increased and species populations have recovered.
Dr. Darman took leadership in the elaboration and implementation of the Program for Protected Area Network development, which now covers 12% of the Amur Ecoregion. He prepared scientific background materials and contributed to the establishment of Norskii nature reserve, Orlovsky federal refuge, and seven provincial wildlife refuges (in total 980 thousand hectares) to save the unique migratory population of Siberian Roe deer (more than 40,000 animals) and the biodiversity of the boreal taiga and the northern wetlands. In cooperation with the Wild Bird Society of Japan, and Tokyo and Hokkaido Universities, he conducted a large-scale investigation of the migratory paths of cranes and stork. Based on the results, all important stop-overs and breeding grounds were designated as protected wetlands along the Amur River and its tributaries (12 new protected areas on 943 thousand hectares). Since 2000, he has been focusing on the creation of a protected area network for the Amur tiger. Through his efforts, 2 million hectares of protected areas were created, including innovative arrangements related to national parks and ecological corridors. The biggest success has been the gazetting of the Bikin national park (1,160 thousand hectares) in 2015. Now, 25% of Amur tiger habitats are under protection which, together with anti-poaching and law enforcement, has contributed to increasing the population from 350 to 430 adult cats.
Cooperation with civil society, engagement in policy-making, and international cooperation are each essential to the success of such conservation activities. Dr. Darman initiated a public campaign, “Save each of the survivors”, to protect the last population of the Far Eastern leopard (also known as the Amur leopard) and, consequently, this rarest cat has stepped out from the edge of extinction (recovering from 30 to 80 animals). The establishment by Government of a united federal protected area, the “Land of the Leopard”, which covers 262 thousand hectares (60% of the species remaining habitats) was a major success of the efforts. An initiative to prevent forest fire (leading to a major decrease of burned area) and promote reforestation (planting 1.5 million Korean pine seedlings) was implemented to restore degraded habitats. His conservation activities reach across borders. Cooperation between bordering nature reserves along the Amur River is conducted with reserves in China and Mongolia under a large international initiative, the “Amur Green Belt”.
Dr. Darman also elaborated and implemented a large project to ensure sustainable use of non-timber forest products instead of logging in the context of a Russian-German Climate Initiative. He has given focus to interlinkages between biodiversity and climate change and faced important biodiversity challenges through his influential work on the ground.
Given the reasons mentioned above, the contributions made by Dr. Yury Darman to biodiversity are tremendous and he well deserves the MIDORI Prize.