Siberian tiger | Taken at the Hamburg Zoo, Germany Jan. 7th, 2010
Credit: Daisyree Bakker on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Kiss | Tatiana and Tony expressing affectionchadh on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThis week, I was thrilled to learn that World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has video proof of a Siberian tiger family (a mother and two cubs) at Wangqing Nature Reserve (inland China).

For seven years, WWF has been working tirelessly to help tigers re-establish in the area.

This rare footage, only 10 seconds long, captures a Siberian tiger family 18.6 miles (30 km) from the Russian border, in China. Previously, only footprints were seen at the reserve. In 2012, one lone Siberian tiger was captured on camera.

The vast majority of Siberian tigers, aka Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica), live in Russia - the first country in the world dedicated to their full protection.

WWF has a goal of doubling the number of tigers in the wild by 2022. The struggle to keep Siberian tigers a part of our world has been long and difficult. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 100,000 of them. In the 1940s, they were almost extinct - only 40 could be found. In the 1980s, there were 500. Today, there are about 450 in the wild - yes, it's taken 75 years to reach that number.

Sir David Attenborough Introduces the Siberian Tiger

Uploaded on June 18th, 2010 by BBC Earth

Tigers Face Habitat Loss, Humans, and Global Warming

It's a sad fact that we are responsible for the hardships these big cats face. There were nine tiger subspecies - however we've lost three of them - all due to human pressures. And poaching is the considered the number one threat by most experts (followed by habitat loss).

WWF Managing Director of the Species Conservation Program, Dr. Sybille Klenzendorf, stated:

"Amur [Siberian] tigers are a success story in the making only if we can protect them from poaching and ensure their forest homes remain."

Happy cat :) spisharam on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericIn a 2014 National Geographic article by Sharon Guynup, I was astounded to learn that tiger poaching is a 19 billion dollar a year operation run by sophisticated international crime syndicates.

Apparently, these same crime rings are also responsible for rhino, elephant, giraffe, and pangolin poaching.

Yet a February 18th, 2015 article by Shaun Walker in The Guardian cites a new threat: the deterioration of the ecosystem in which tigers live. This makes perfect sense for those working to breed and rehabilitate them back into the wild. Without enough prey, tigers will starve or travel further to find food. Some have even killed pets or humans.

What's more, global warming has caused snowier winters. Deer and boars can become stuck in deep snow. What results is a "bumper year" of prey for tigers - followed by lean years when prey populations cannot reproduce quickly enough.

Tiger 0412 6262
Credit: Ross Elliott on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Why Are Siberian Tigers Hunted?

Siberian TigerJean on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericAccording to Shaun Walker's fascinating article, every part of the Amur [Siberian] tiger is used in traditional Chinese medicine - including its bones, eyes, and whiskers.

Thankfully, personal intervention by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin six years ago has imposed a seven year jail term for poachers. Hunting tigers for "trophies" is largely unheard of in Russia.

Craig Kasnoff, an endangered species journalist, explained in his Tigers in Crisis website how tiger parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Yet there is no evidence that the tiger has any proven medicinal value. The active ingredients in tiger bone (calcium and protein) are purported to reduce inflammation and promote healing. However, a baby aspirin would probably be more effective.

Tigers are also considered a delicacy and are served at private banquets. Sadly, in some social circles, tiger parts or medicine are revered as a sign of wealth or status symbol. Traditional Chinese medicine has recognized the use of tiger parts for over a thousand years; it's especially difficult to dispel these culturally-ingrained beliefs.

According to Single Vision Inc., the demand for tiger parts has grown worldwide and includes the United States, Great Britain, China, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. Tiger RugSimone Smith on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericLegislation in Japan bans the trade in endangered species, however it doesn't include products which contain tiger (mostly ground up tiger bones) in pills, powders, and wine. Apparently, these products are not "recognizable" as tiger parts.

In a 2011 article by Jeremy Hance, I discovered that China had re-opened the trade in wild cat skins (including tigers). I found it disturbing that the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) found tiger skins for sale online - including a tiger rug for $124,000 and a stuffed tiger for sale at $700,000. 

Siberian Tiger at Whipsnade Zoo
Credit: Martin Pettitt on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Who is Leading the Way in Breeding Siberian Tigers?

Standing cub | one of the Siberian 3-month old tigersTambako The Jaguar on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThe Öland Zoo in Sweden is world renown for its success rates breeding Siberian tigers.

In the following video, you'll see how at just 4 weeks of age, they hiss and show their teeth. In fact, the photographer was chased off and "beaten" by 3-month old Siberian tiger cubs.

In 2012, another success story came from the Columbus Zoo in Ohio when two male Siberian tiger cubs were born June 28th and 29th. At first they were struggling to feed and were placed in intensive care but were reported to be doing well and gaining weight.

Siberian Tiger Cubs at Öland Zoo, Sweden

Uploaded on Dec. 31st, 2011 by Anders Sjögren

Fascinating Siberian (aka Amur) Tiger Facts

  • Each adult Siberian tiger needs to consume about 50 deer or wild boars per year to in order to survive. 
  • Siberian TigerEmma Websdale on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThe Siberian or Amur tiger is the largest cat in the world. They can grow to be 11 ft (3.3 meters) long and weigh up to 700 lbs. (318 kg) or more.
  • Siberian tigers are protected from their colder environment by a thicker fat layer and extra fur around their necks and paws.
  • Compared to other types of tigers, they have fewer stripes and less orange in their coats.
  • Their coats are unique, like fingerprints - no two tigers have exactly the same stripe pattern. 
  • The white spots on the back of their ears help mother and cubs keep track of each other at night.
  • Siberian tigerinternets_dairy on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericA Siberian tiger has been clocked at 60 miles per hour (96.5 km per hour). However, they only will run short distances.
  • Siberian tigers prefer to hunt in the night. They have good night vision, hearing, and sense of smell.
  • Like all tigers, Siberian tigers usually live alone and only pair up during mating season which is generally December through January. 
  • Female Siberian tigers are pregnant for 3 to 3.5 months and usually give birth to litters of two to six cubs, which they raise with little or no help from the male.
  • According to National Geographic, cubs are unable to hunt until about 1.5 years old. They stay with their mothers for two to three years and then disperse to find their own territory.
  • Siberian tiger cubs are born blind and toothless. Remarkably, at just 3 months of age, they can leave the den and go on hunts with their mother.

Siberian (Amur) Tigers Enjoy Being in Water

Amur Tigers Love Water
Credit: Lil Shepherd on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Want to Find Out More?

In my research, I found that the WWF has the boldest, bravest plan to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022. They are focusing their efforts on twelve regions of the world. In WWF's solutions to save tigers, I found a comprehensive overview of 'what it will take' to ensure these precious tigers remain a part of our world.

DSCN4277  The male Siberian tiger at the Toronto ZooSaraYeomans on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericIn short, here is the list of what we need to work towards to save all tigers:

1) Stop the demand for tiger products and parts. Ban any product containing tiger.

2) Put an end to poaching - maintain and enforce laws to protect tigers.

3) Protect tiger habitat, expand, and create new areas for their expansion. Reduce degradation of areas deemed future habitat for tigers. Implement sustainable practices in agriculture and logging.

4) Continue to monitor populations and work towards reducing tiger-human conflicts. 

5) Increase political commitment and funding.

My sense is that educating people about the Siberian tigers' plight and busting any myth that consuming tiger can benefit human health will be key to their survival. We need more people to understand and respect their rightful place in our world. 

Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) at the Buffalo Zoo 2008
Credit: Dave Pape (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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