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Saving Russia's Rare Panthers

The Plight of the Siberian Tiger and the Amur Leopard

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Siberian Tiger - Panthera tigris altaica

Siberian Tiger - Panthera tigris altaica

Photo © China Photos / Getty Images.
On Russia's eastern coast lies one of the world's most unique temperate forests. The region, nestled against the Sea of Japan, plays host to an extraordinary mix of species, including two of the most endangered cats in the world: the Siberian Tiger and the Amur Leopard.

These extraordinary panthers have been slipping towards extinction for many decades. During that time, they have faced a number of growing threats. Intense logging throughout much of their range has destroyed habitat, forcing the panthers into small remnant patches of once continuous forest. Demand for the cats' fur and bones (used in Chinese medicines) has resulted in large scale poaching of the two species. Hunting of large ungulates (such as sika deer, roe deer, and wild boar) has resulted in a smaller supply of prey. The decreased availability of prey has meant that fewer cats can survive in the region. Additionally, when prey is scarce, some cats resort to killing livestock for food, an action that often results in retaliation killings by local farmers.

Scientists estimate that there are less than 530 Siberian tigers in the wild today. Although their range once extended well into China and North Korea, the majority of the population now inhabits Russia's Far East. The Amur leopard survives in much smaller numbers, there are thought to be fewer than 40 individuals alive in the wild.

Over the past decade, efforts to save the Siberian tiger and Amur leopard have intensified and there is growing reason for hope. Coordinated efforts between the regional governments and organizations like the WWF and World Conservation Society have made great strides in educating local people, reducing poaching, and establishing a network of protected areas for the endangered cats. In 2001, a portion of the panthers' range, called the Central Sikhote-Alin, was established as a World Heritage Site. Additionally, the number of conservation projects in the region is growing and include:

To understand why this region is so unique, it helps to view it as a melting pot. Here, species from the boreal forests to the north (brown bears, red deer, lynx and wolves) mix with species (Himalayan bears, tigers, leopards, and Sika deer) from the subtropical habitats to the south. The complexity of the region's landscape is due to the Sikhote-Alin Mountain Range, which stretches northward along the coast and is cloaked in boreal forests.

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