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Laura Klappenbach

Siberian Tiger Population Holding Steady

By June 23, 2005

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Deep in the icy, snow-packed woods of Siberia, tigers prowl. It's an odd place to envision tigers—majestic and black-striped, these felines are more often associated with the humid jungles of India than with the wintry stretches of eastern Russia. But this is no ordinary tiger, this is the Siberian tiger.

Siberian tigers are a critically endangered subspecies of tiger that once roamed the wilds of Russia, China, Mongolia, and the Korean Peninsula. Today, they inhabit small remnants of their former range. They have disappeared entirely from South Korea and survive only in small numbers in North Korea and China. The Siberian tiger's last stronghold is the mixed pine-broadleaf forests of eastern Russia.

Siberian tigers, also known as Amur tigers, are the largest of all the tiger subspecies, and are known to bulk out to as much as 270kg. These fierce hunters are the top carnivores in the habitats they populate and feed on large mammals such as wild boar, red deer, moose, sika deer, and musk deer.

Despite their power and majesty, Siberian tigers have fallen victim to a wide range of threats including habitat destruction, poaching, and lack of prey (due to the hunting of prey species by humans). They are also vulnerable to abnormally harsh fluctuations in climate. In 1996, a census of the Siberian tiger population revealed only 330 to 371 adults remained in Russia's forests.

But there is now cause for optimism. A recent census of the Siberian tiger population reveals that their numbers are holding steady. Scientists have found that between 334 and 417 adult tigers now inhabit the Siberian forests, an encouraging and unexpected increase from the 1996 census.

The slight increase in tigers is attributed at least in part to the logging practices used in Siberia. Only about 20 percent of Russia's tiger population inhabit protected lands and much of the remaining 80 percent live within areas where commercial logging takes place. If logging in those areas involved clear cutting forests, this would be disastrous for tigers. But selective logging, a practice that extracts only the most commercially valuable trees and leaves behind the rest, is more common at present. This logging approach encourages re-growth of browse which in turn provides more food for the tiger's prey species such as boars and deer. A well-fed prey population means the tigers have a reliable food source too.

Photo © Cindy Haggerty / ShutterStock.

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