Sunday, November 6, 2011

The world calls them "Siberian"... but really, they are...

Panthera Tigris altaica.

I was doing some homework on my favorite species and, on IUCN I was a bit surprised when, in the search bar, I keyed “tiger” and a whopping 112 species with “tiger” in the name appeared.  What is it that the world has against "tiger" beauties regardless of class/order/family?! 

For actual Panthera Tigris, 9 species, 3 of which are already extinct, appear. 

Most of the world knows this fine animal as the Siberian Tiger, though the more appropriate name is the AmurTiger.  This cat isn’t indigenous to the entire geographic range of Siberia, but rather merely the Amur river region where Russian and China converge.  While many subspecies of tiger are endangered or threatened, this cat is my most favorite animal of all.  The Amur tiger is different from any other cat in the world – including being the largest feline on the planet!  Throw that with the usual human fears of predators, some myths about tiger bones and ancient Chinese health tips, the enormous home range, and the fact that this feline has devastatingly beautiful fur and it’s a poster-child for the Endangered Species list. 

Because of the size of the mature adults and the vast ranges they require, many of the tiger conservation areas set up for this cat are really too small to retain a viable population.  Low recruitment rates also hurt their chances for increased populations. IUCN states two factors which increase the tiger's vulnerability to extinction are their low densities (relative to other mammals, including their prey species) and relatively low recruitment rates (where few animals raise offspring which survive to join the breeding population) (Smith and McDougal 1991, Kerley et al. 2003). 

Officially the Amur tiger is decreasing in population due to high rates of habitat loss and fragmentation which even occur inside protected areas.  There are also high levels of human-tiger conflict (including being struck by trucks on a logging road that goes right through the middle of a habitat area) and illegal trade in tiger parts (fur for trade and the bones for ancient Chinese medicines for male ‘enhancement’).  Lastly, they also suffer from prey depletion.

Conservation efforts are generally in habitat conservation and education.  Recently actor Leonardo DiCaprio founded the Save Tigers Now and is attempting to garner more support using his personal celebrity status as a springboard.  In addition, many tiger foundations exist to help the futures of all remaining tiger subspecies.  Illegal poaching of tigers still exists.  Between 1998 – 2002 at least 51 tigers were killed  with 76% being for illegal trade and 15% being human-tiger interactions.  With drastically low numbers for some of the remaining subspecies, one sincerely hopes this is not a case of “too little, too late”.  

To see more on the IUCN Red list for tigers, go here; for the Amur Tiger, go here.

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