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why are siberian tigers important?
Tigers are part of our planet’s natural heritage, a symbol of Earth’s biodiversity. They are a keystone species, crucial for the integrity of the ecosystems in which they live. As top predators, they keep populations of prey species in check, which in turn maintains the balance between herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed. In short, when tigers thrive, the whole ecosystem thrives. This in turn provides important financial, cultural and spiritual benefits for local communities who live with or near tigers.
The Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica, also known as the Siberian tiger) is the largest of the tiger sub-species. Once found in the taiga and boreal forests of the Russian Far East, China, and the Korean peninsula, it is now restricted to two provinces in the Russian Far East, and possibly to small pockets in the border areas of China. The population of the highly endangered Amur tiger is currently estimated at 500. Among that population, 20 tigers have been periodically spotted within the borders of China’s Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces.
Siberian tigers are distinguishable by their striped fur. Similar to people’s unique fingerprints, no two tigers have the same striped pattern. Siberian tigers differ from other tigers because they have fewer, paler stripes, and they also have manes. The mane, in addition to their thick fur, helps keep them warm.
Also known as the Amur tiger, the Siberian tiger resides in a small region in the southeast region Russia. They are also located in small numbers in China and North Korea.
Siberian tigers are solitary animals, marking their scent on trees to keep other tigers away. They roam many miles and hunt often. They stalk their prey, which include elk, boar, bears, and deer, until they are close enough to pounce. When successful, they drag their kill to a secluded area before devouring the meat.Tigers also hunt smaller animals like rabbits, pikas, and fish.
Because tigers are not always successful on their hunts, they need to hunt often. They can eat up to 27 kg (60 lb.) if they are very hungry, but generally they eat about 9 kg (20 lb.) of meat in one sitting.
The gestation period in Siberian tigers is 3-3.5 months. Female tigers give birth once every two years at any point during the year.
A litter consists of two to six cubs. The mother tiger will care for the cubs by herself, at times, leaving the babies alone while she hunts. Often she cannot catch enough food for the cubs, and some will die.
At 3 months, the babies will be able to leave the den; they may even go on hunts with their mother. At 18 months old, they are able to hunt on their own, but will not leave their mother’s den. When they reach 2-3 years old, they will leave the den and begin life on their own.
Loss of Food Sources
Siberian tigers rely on prey such as deer, fish, bears and rabbits. When these animals disappear, tigers turn to domesticated animals. Humans see tigers as a direct threat and may shoot or kill them, and spooked tigers may attack humans. One Chinese farmer in Xigou village, near the border with North Korea, reported that he found a Siberian tiger in his backyard in March 2013. The animal went on to attack his cattle.
In Russia, human population growth does not threaten habitat as it does in many other tiger-range countries. However, activities such as logging, grazing, various development projects and uncontrolled fires are all resulting in direct habitat loss in the Russian Far East. Habitat is increasingly being divided into isolated patches, particularly at the southern edge of Amur tiger range.
Logging takes place in most of Amur tiger habitat. Although existing guidelines for timber harvest are actually quite sufficient, significant illegal logging and overharvest still occur. Selective logging, rather than clear cutting, is most common in tiger habitat, and does not seriously impact the quality of the habitat, if access to the extensive road system is controlled (thereby limiting poaching).
Fires are another important form of habitat loss. Many local residents consider fires to be the main cause of loss of forest habitat in parts of Primorsky Krai, and Amur tigers avoid areas that have burned, as they provide neither adequate cover for hunting, nor the habitat needed for prey.
Tigers live alone and aggressively scent-mark large territories to keep their rivals away. They are powerful hunters that travel many miles to find prey, such as elk and wild boar, on nocturnal hunts. Tigers use their distinctive coats as camouflage (no two have exactly the same stripes) and hunt by stealth. They lie in wait and creep close enough to attack their victims with a quick spring and a fatal pounce. A hungry tiger can eat as much as 60 pounds in one night, though they usually eat less.
Despite their fearsome reputation, most tigers avoid humans; however, a few do become dangerous killers. These animals are often sick and unable to hunt normally, or live in areas where their traditional prey has vanished.
Siberian Tigers and Poachers
Large number of tigers have been killed by poachers. Many are believed to have been killed to supply bones and other parts for the Chinese medicine trade. Some may have been killed by Chinese hunters who come across the border into southern Russia. Most are taken by Russian hunters working on a contact basis with Chinese buyers. The hunters were getting paid around $25,000 per tiger crcass in the 1990s, several times what most Russians were making an entire year .
Dale Miquelle, an American scientist based in Primorsky, told Smithsonian magazine: “Mothers are a lot more vulnerable to poaching than other tigers, because they’ll try to stand their ground—a mother doesn’t want to abandon her cubs, and she might not have time to get them together to escape.
During the winters of 1992, 1993 and 1994, dozens of tigers were trapped and shot and their bones, organs and skins sold in China. At this time the amount of money available for conservation sharply decreased and logging, mining and road construction to bring in foreign currency increased. The collapse of the Soviet Union made it easier for poachers to smuggle tiger parts into China and Southeast. There were also people collecting pine nuts, ginseng and musk deer in the forests where the tigers lived.
In 1998, there was big uproar over the fact that the governor of Russia’s Far East gave the Belorussian president a Siberian tiger pelt as a gift when he visited Vladivostok.
Siberian tigers are considered to be polygamous. Reproduction periods and birth giving are not confined to certain season. Nevertheless, the Siberian tigers usually produce offspring in April – June.
After three to four months of waiting tigress gives birth to two or three blind cubs. Mother tries to arrange a den for cubs in most safe and hard to reach places where they will be hidden from other predators – in thickset forests, caves, splits in rocks.
Cubs open their eyes on the ninth day and their teeth start to grow at the age of two weeks. Tigress feeds her cubs with milk until the age of 6 months. At the age of two months cubs start to find out how the meat tastes like.
Cubs play a lot and acquire hunting skills. Starting from the age of six months cubs follow their mother during hunting and perceive tricks of searching and procuring food. At the age of one year cubs try to apply their skills for the first time. But first attempts often fail. They will be able to get their first large prey only by the age of 2 years old.
Cubs spend first years of their live with their mother. Tigress hunts with young tigers until they hit puberty. On a second year young tigers separate from their mother but continue to live on her territory.
Solitary — but Not Anti-Social
Except for mothers and their dependent young, tigers generally live alone in their individual home range. A male usually defends a large territory (up to 4,000 square miles!) that overlaps the ranges of multiple females.
Though they spend most of their time alone, tigers are not really anti-social. They keep in contact by a variety of methods.
Scent marking may be the most important way tigers communicate. Both males and females spray “marking fluid” (often mixed with urine) onto upright objects. They may also deposit scent from their anal glands. These fragrant “calling cards” provide important information about the animal that left them — individual identity, gender, breeding status, and the time the mark was made.
Tigers also “talk” by leaving each other visual cues. These include scrapes (marks made by raking the ground with the hind feet), claw marks, and feces. Another important visual cue is the tiger itself. Since every tiger has a unique pattern of stripes, it’s likely that individuals identify each other, at least in part, by their appearance.
Besides visual signals and smells, tigers communicate through sounds. They have a wide range of vocalizations, including a roar, growl, snarl, grunt, moan, spit, hiss — even a meow. Different sounds are used for different situations (like the roar sounded by females when they’re ready to mate).
So even though tigers are loners, they do keep in touch!
In 1947 the Siberian tiger was taken under protection and tiger hunting was fully prohibited and it was moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered status in 2007.
Other conservation actions needed to help protect the Siberian tiger include improving poaching control; connect discontinuous patches of forest habitat; mitigate human-tiger conflicts; strengthen tiger (and all wildlife) legislation; and increase public awareness of the ban on tiger trade and tiger products.
In order for the Siberian tiger to survive in the wild habitat encroachment must stop and the thousands of years old tradition of using tiger parts for medicinal purposes must also end.