Endangered Siberian Tiger Making Comeback In China With Human Help

By Philip Ross on October 2, 2013 4:51 PM EDT

siberian tiger
The Siberian tiger is making a comeback in China. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The Siberian tiger, the world's largest cat, was driven almost to extinction in the mid-20th century, but has made a turn for the better following an aggressive conservation campaign. There are currently about 400 to 500 of Siberian tigers in the wild, when just a few short decades ago, there were only 40.

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The Los Angeles Times reports that in China, experts say the Siberian tiger population has doubled - from about 20 individuals to an estimated 40 - and is showing promising signs of making a comeback. They credit the country's protection efforts, including the designation of a 108,700-acre forest preserve, with the spike in the tiger population.

The Siberian tiger, also known as the Amur tiger, is native to the boreal forests of the Russian Far East, northern China and the Korean peninsula. The big cat weighs around 660 pounds and reaches 10.75 feet in length.

According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, or WWF, by the 1940s, hunting, logging and illegal trapping had driven the Siberian tiger nearly to extinction. Their population in the wild was whittled to just a few dozen individuals.

Conservation efforts to restore the devastated Siberian tiger population in the wild began in the 1940s when Russia became the first county to protect the tiger. They were able to bring the tiger population up to around 500. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a slight increase in the incidence of tiger poaching, but the Siberian tiger population has stayed relatively stable since then.

"Amur tigers are a success story in the making only if we can protect them from poaching and ensure their forest homes remain," said Dr. Sybille Klenzendorf, managing director of the WWF Species Conservation Program.

The tigers today are concentrated mostly around the Sikhote-Alin range in the Primorski and Khabarovski provinces of the Russian Far East, and a few clusters of them exist along the China border.

While the exact number of tigers in China is still uncertain, estimates put that number at around 40. That's about double of what the government estimated the tiger population to be a few years ago. While the tiger's aren't tagged, photo images captured by heat-sensing cameras have shown tigers, as well as leopards, in areas where there previously were none.

The Los Angeles Times reports that one plan conservationists are using to reclaim the Siberian tiger population in China is to stock a recently-designated nature reserve with deer, the tiger's prey. The 108,700 acre reserve is in China's Jilin province in Manchuria, the northeastern part of the country.

"If you want to protect tigers, you have to protect their food supply," Zhang Changzhi, a scientist with the WWF, which is sponsoring the project, told The Los Angeles Times.

Read more from iScience Times:

Royal Bengal Tigers In Nepal: How Did Population Double In Just Four Years?

Sumatran Tiger Cubs: Two Cubs Born At National Zoo, A Rarity For The Critically Endangered Species

Tigers Trap Man To Death: Zookeeper Mauro Lagiard, 72, Torn To Pieces Before Italy Medic Arrived [VIDEO, REPORT]

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