During a recent 6-day search in China’s northeastern province of Heilongjiang, a group of 59 volunteers set out into the woods, braving deep snow and frigid temperatures. Their mission: Clear illegal wildlife snares, often perilous to critically endangered Amur (Siberian) tigers.

The volunteers, who included doctors, computer engineers, public servants and college students, worked alongside WCS staff as part of an ongoing conservation effort. Together, they removed 162 illegal wire snares. Though generally set to catch animals like rabbits and roe deer, the snares have been known to catch tigers. Last October, one of the big cats was found dead in a snare near the city of Mishan in Heilongjiang Province.

“It's heartening to see a new generation of environmentally committed young Chinese willing and able to volunteer their time to do something challenging but important for their country's natural heritage,” said Joe Walston, WCS Director of Asia Programs. “Tigers need our help whether it’s from grassroots efforts like these or governments putting more funding toward enforcement.”

The snare removal campaign was organized by WCS, Harbin Newspaper Company, the Forestry Department of Heilongjiang Province, and the Forestry Industry Bureau of Heilongjiang Province.

Amur tigers exist in very low numbers in China. Several hundred do remain in the nearby Russian Far East, however, giving conservationists hope as the cats venture across the border in increasing number. This region is critically important in stemming the poaching and illegal trade of tiger parts. Several U.S. government agencies have played a vital role in supporting those efforts, including the U.S. State Department, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Latest reports by WCS suggest that fewer than 3,500 tigers remain in the wild; 1,000 are breeding females.