As you walk through a jungle, nothing can be more chilling than the thought that you are being watched by a big cat. And the most magnificent of them is the tiger. And they do not come any bigger than the Siberian tiger, or the Amur tiger. The tiger population has dwindled drastically in the past century, and they hang on by a thread. They were once common in Siberia, China, and parts of North Korea. But their numbers had dwindled to around 40 in the 1940s.
The erstwhile Soviet Union undertook anti-poaching measures in 1947 and set in place several protected zones. The number of the Amur Tiger has risen to 500, most of them in the taigas of eastern Russia. The enormous birch forests are a natural habitat for the Amur tiger and its prey, the wild boars and moose.
Poaching and habitat loss from development and indiscriminate logging continue to be the primary threat to its survival in the taigas. The use of their body parts in traditional Chinese medicines has further endangered the species, and they continue to be hunted.
Amur Tiger: A Brief Understanding Into These Big Cats
Though it was earlier known as the Siberian tiger, the Amur tiger was named after the river that borders China and Russia. The Amur tigers are adapted to withstand the harsh Siberian winter. Their fur is longer and thicker, and they are much larger than the Royal Bengal and Sumatran tigers. The mane covering their necks, unique to the Amur tiger, gives them further protection against the cold.
But the Amur tigers lack the flamboyant colors of their Asian counterparts. The vivid orange fur that is associated with the tiger is muted in the Siberian tiger. The coat loses its color even further in the winter months. Its strips too are thinner in this period and help them camouflage better in the white Siberian winter landscape.
Night temperatures here plummet to as low as -40C. But the harsh conditions also ensure less human intrusion. The Amur tigers are fiercely solitary, only coming together during the mating season.
The Amur tigers are experts at hiding and are rarely seen despite their size. Tracking them is very difficult, which gives them a measure of defense against poachers. But their elusive nature also makes it a very difficult task for tiger specialists and conservationists.
The Amur tigers are endangered and are included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. The import and sale of body parts are banned in most countries including the United States. but 80% of the mortality rate of the Amur tigers can be pinned down to human action.
These tigers continue to be killed for trophies despite the worldwide attempts to enforce a strict ban on hunting and dedicated conservation efforts. Their size marks them out and makes them especially a prize catch for big game hunters.
Another reason for the dwindling population of the Amur tigers is the decimation of their source of food. Boar and wild deer populations continue to go down due to indiscriminate hunting. this lack of a regular source of food forces the tigers, especially the females to intrude into human habitation and hunt domestic pets and livestock. This makes the tigers even more susceptible to retaliation by the affected humans and also makes them easy prey for the poachers.
And the death of a female will mean the destruction of a litter of maybe two cubs. The tiger cubs depend on their mother for a couple of years before they strike out on their own.
Another reason the Amur tigers continue to be hunted is for traditional Chinese medicine. They are hunted for this reason on both the Chinese and Russian territories and their parts are smuggled into China. They are believed to cure almost everything under the sun including malaria, dysentery, typhoid, rheumatism, and even rat bites. Every part of the tiger is used; even the whiskers which end up as protective charms, or talismans.
Conservation Efforts To Save The Amur Tiger
‘The Amur Tiger Centre’, a conservative group, says that around 70 Siberian tigers were hunted down even 10 years ago. The number has been brought down to 20 after concerted efforts by protection groups and governments. The territories frequented by the Amur tigers are guarded with armored vehicles hunting for the poachers. The laws in Russia have been made more stringent to deal with these poachers. Even illegal logging invites harsh punishment.
Technology has played a big part in conservation efforts. Infrared cameras are used to detect the tigers from a distance and artificial intelligence helps to determine their size, weight, and species. These data banks are helpful for future reference. It helps if the population dispersion of the Siberian tigers can be accurately determined, their frequent habitat established precisely.
Development activity has been a detriment to conservation efforts. Despite the inaccessibility of the Siberian region, roads and tunnels are getting close to their frequent habitat. But dedicated corridors are being set up for their movement over long distances.
A ‘Tiger Tunnel’ helps the tigers traverse safely across a highway cutting through its territory. This tunnel, the Narvinskii Pass, built by the Russians near the border with China has been a great help as it is on a major migratory route for both the Amur tigers and leopards, two of the most endangered cat species on earth.
While the tiger population is increasing thanks to efforts by the Russians, the Chinese continue to make a mockery of the efforts, and hunting on their side of the border continues unabated.