Why is this such a big deal?
According to the blurb that accompanies this YouTube video,
Published on Jun 25, 2013
GoPro Video of the Day – Sept. 20, 2013. Meet Zolushka the luckiest tiger in the world. This orphaned Siberian tigress was left to fend for herself when she was only a few months old — her mother likely killed by poachers. Less than 400 of these rare creatures exist in the wild – the survival of the species literally hangs in the balance with each individual animal. IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare worked with partners in far east Russia to rescue and rehabilitate this amazing animal. Watch as this incredibly rare tiger is released and returned to its wild habitat. For more info, visit http://ifaw.org
Zolushka’s success is remarkable. Few Amur (a/k/a Siberian or Baekdu) tiger cubs in the wild survive, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which lists the Amur tiger as endangered.
Pantherinae are the big cats, and they can roar. Felinae – like bobcats, mountain lions, jaguarundi, ocelots, sand cats and servals – can be very loud, but their hyoid bone structure isn’t shaped the same and so these small cats can’t roar.
(Yes, I’ve used this video before – I love it!)
Reportedly, tigers were the first felids to develop a roar, some 6-10 million years ago.
They certainly can do that:
Tigers like to hunt that way – ambush you when you’re not looking.
In India’s Sunderban preserve a while ago, for instance, local people who had to go into the wild began to wear masks on the back of their heads to confuse the tigers. Apparently it worked; the number of attacks dropped…for a while. It now seems that the tigers are figuring it out, and attacks there are on the rise again. (Source)
But those are Bengal tigers, the most common subspecies of Panthera tigris and deadly enough, but smaller than the Far Eastern Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica).
Bengal males average some 500 pounds (227 kg) in weight, and the females 300 pounds (136 kg) or so. They’re about the same length and height as Amur tigers.
However, if they were humans, Bengals would be in Major League Baseball, while Amurs would all be offensive linemen in the NFL.
Male Amur tigers can weigh up to around 700 pounds (318 kg) for males and 400 pounds (181 kg) for females.
That’s probably a little overweight for the NFL, even if they allowed girls, but at least Zolushka’s “velociraptor” cage and the precautions those cameramen took make a lot more sense now, don’t they?
Finding a home
Amurs are among the largest felids ever to have walked the Earth. They once roamed along the Amur River through northern China and the Russian Far East, as well as away from the river and down into the Korean peninsula, so the name “Siberian tiger” is a bit of a misnomer.
However, the Russians are the ones who brought them back after their numbers fell to as low as only 20-30 individuals in the 1930s to 1940s, and about 95% of today’s wild population are found in Russia.
The Russians put the Amur tiger under full protection and in 1935 established the huge Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve, which over 30 tigers now call home.
Wildlife experts believe that China has 18-22 now, but that number could be as high as 40. It’s still not very many.
Per Wikipedia, China does have the second largest captive tiger population in the world, after the United States, though not all the zoos are good ones.
The Chinese do say (Google Translate) that their Heilongjiang Siberian Tiger Park has 900 captive Amur tigers after a 20-year effort – they are trying for 1000.
Koreans are very familiar with the Amur, too, although its continued existence in the wild on the Korean Peninsula is questionable. As I understand it, there haven’t been any confirmed sightings for a while, but consistent signs and tracks do lead some people to believe there is a wild population there. Others say it’s extinct.
At one point, people believed the Korean tiger, sometimes called the Baekdu tiger because it roamed the flanks of Baekdu/Changbaishan volcano, was a separate subspecies – Panthera tigris coreensis.
Nowadays, though, the overall consensus is that the Baekdu is the same as Panthera tigris altaica – the Amur tiger.
Whatever the situation is in the wild, Korea will soon have two Amur tigers, donated by China, in a forest preserve near Baekdu/Changbaishan volcano, per the Korea Times.
Russia has also donated tigers to a South Korean zoo.
Problems and hope
It’s quite sad that captive Amur tigers greatly outnumbers those in the wild. We all want to see them run free to some extent (see above problem the Indians have with Bengals).
The limited numbers, even counting the ones in zoos, is also concerning because Amurs tigers are inbred, particularly after the bottleneck in the 1930s-1940s.
How can the genetic problems associated with inbreeding be solved? That’s a tough question the experts are wrestling with today.
Still, it’s encouraging to know that we might have lost these beautiful animals forever, yet they’re still with us and their numbers are increasing.
Categories: Friday's Casual Cat