October 18, 2009
The Siberian Tiger Monitoring Program—a collaboration between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and several Russia government organizations—has found evidence that after a decade of stability the Amur tiger's (popularly known as the Siberian Tiger in the west) population may be falling. This year's annual survey, which covers only a portion of tiger habitat in Russia, found only 56 adult tigers: a forty percent decrease from the average of 95 tigers. While the cause of this year's decline may be weather-related, researchers fear something far more insidious is going on.
"We’re deeply concerned," said Yuri Dunishenko, a scientist at the All-Russia Wildlife Research Institute in Khabarovsk, Russian Far East, and a coordinator of the Siberian Tiger Monitoring Program. "Deep snows this past winter may have forced tigers to reduce the amount they traveled, making them less detectable, but nonetheless, we’ve seen a 4-year trend of decreasing numbers of tigers and this is most likely due to poaching. It’s time to respond."
Amur tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger, and cub at Buffalo zoo. Photo by: Dave Pape.
Researchers also found that tiger prey—red deer and roe deer—in far-east Russia is declining, but they don't believe this is why tigers are disappearing.
"If tiger numbers were responding to the reduced number of prey we would expect there to be a lag before we saw tigers decrease. The fact that both prey and tigers are falling simultaneously strongly suggests that poaching is the driving force," said Dimitri Pikunov, one of the coordinators of the monitoring program.
Researchers say that improved laws in Russia, more anti-poaching teams, and better protections—for tigers and their prey—in reserves are necessary to stop the present decline before it worsens. As if to underscore the urgency felt by conservationists, the day before the annual survey was released to media, a young male tiger was found dead in Russia with two bullets in his head.
Amur tiger. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) are the largest tiger subspecies, making it the largest cat in the world. From 1995 to 2005 the Amur tiger population had remained steady while most other subpopulations suffered declines. In 2005 the last survey of the whole Amur tiger population found 428-502 tigers. This has made Siberian tiger conservation a cause for celebration—until now.
Three subspecies of tiger already vanished in the 20th Century: the Javan, the Balinese, and the Caspian tiger.
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