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Happy tigers: Siberian population continues to grow

Captive Siberian tiger at the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Bronx Zoo. Photo by: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

Captive Siberian tiger at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Bronx Zoo. Photo by: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

The Siberian tiger population continues to rebound, according to the latest numbers from the subspecies’ stronghold in Russia. Ten years ago, conservationists estimated 423-502 Amur tigers in Siberia. But last month, the Russian government and WWF said numbers had risen to 480-540 tigers, including an estimated 100 cubs.

“This success is due to the commitment of Russia’s political leadership and the tireless dedication of rangers and conservationists in very difficult conditions,” said Igor Chestin, the head of WWF-Russia.

Tiger conservation has been a rare environmental priority for Russia’s current government as Vladimir Putin has consistently highlighted the importance of the world’s biggest cats. It’s thought that around 95 percent of the world’s Siberian tigers are still found in Russia.

Siberian tigers (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as Amur tigers, were almost wiped off the face of the Earth. In the 1930s, the population dropped to just 20-30 individuals before being saved by conservationists over decades. The species remains endangered by deforestation and prey decline, but poaching for their body parts is still the biggest threat to the Siberian tiger.

Even as the population grows in Far East Russia, the subspecies may be returning permanently to China as well. Camera traps have caught individual tigers across the border in China over recent years. Then earlier this year, a camera trap video showed a family of tigers–a mom and two cubs–for the first time in China, showing that the subspecies was very likely breeding there. In all, scientists believe more than two dozen Siberian tigers live along the Russian-Chinese border.

China is currently mulling removing barbed wire and other impediments from the border crossing at Primorsky Krai to allow both tigers and Amur leopards easier crossing.

“In nature there are no borders and predators do not have passports, so it is not in our power to tell tigers when to go to China or come back,” Sergei Aramilev, the director of the Primorsky branch of the Siberian Tiger Centre, told The Siberian Times. “The recovery of the tiger numbers in China will create a backup of the population, which may in the future be used to increase the genetic diversity that is important for populations with low numbers.”

No one knows if North Korea still houses Siberian tigers, but there is still suitable habitat there.

Siberian tigers are the world’s largest cats and one of the biggest land predators. They are easily distinguished from other tiger subspecies due to their considerably shaggier coats adapted to the long, rough winters of Siberia. Tigers, worldwide, are in crisis. Conservationists estimate only around 2,500 survive

In 2010, the 13-tiger range countries pledged to double the world’s tiger population by 2022 and raised over $300 million to achieve this goal. Tiger populations are currently growing in India, Nepal, and Russia. But the outlook is far more bleak in many other countries, including Indonesia and Malaysia. The last century saw three tiger subspecies go extinct. Today, six remain, though one—the South China tiger—is likely extinct in the wild.