By Ashley Phillips
Green Right Now
In the first half of the century, the number of Amur Tigers, or Siberian tigers as they are more commonly known, was declining at a scary pace. There were an estimated 30 Siberian tigers in the world. In fact, they became so sparse that the Russian government took responsibility for the preservation of the species. They not only listed them as an endangered species, but also become the first country to ban tiger hunting. This led to a successful recovery of the species, with the population growing to about 500 tigers, at least until 2005.
But the world’s biggest cat is in danger of extinction again, according to a report released by the Siberian Tiger Monitoring Program, a group made up of the Wildlife Conservation Society, in association with Russian governmental and non-governmental organizations.
A 12-year study showed that in the last four years, the number of Amur tigers has gone from an average of 95 to 56. That is a 41% decline in the species population. Sixteen monitoring sites were scattered across 180,000 square kilometers of Primorski and Khaborvski Krais in Eastern Russia to monitor the Siberian tigers and the factors affecting them.
Natural deaths are rare among tigers. But the study found that they are succumbing to an increase in poaching, with illegal hunters claiming 60-85% of the Siberian tigers killed.
While illegal poaching has been continuous throughout the last few decades, reproduction could previously compensate for the losses. This is no longer the case.
There also has been a significant reduction in the size and quality of the Siberian tiger’s habitat. Logging for development and forest fires have degraded the natural environment, with the loss of trees affecting the tiger’s prey. Wild boar and sika deer, for instance, feed on acorns, which are becoming scarce.
The reduction in the species’ prey — red deer, roe deer, sika deer, and wild boar — is a major factor in the decline of the Siberian tigers.
“The sobering results are a wake-up call that current conservation efforts are not going far enough to protect Siberian tigers,” said Dr. Dale Miquelle, of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Russian Far East Program in a statement. “The good news is that we believe this trend can be reversed if immediate action is taken.”
The report specifies the steps required to reverse the swift decline:
- More money for conservation
- Habitat protection with logging legislation
- Establish wildlife refuges
- Strengthen legislation against poaching
Conservationists say they also need a more reliable and efficient yearly monitoring system. It is difficult to track Siberian tigers because they are rare and sparsely distributed across a large area, and they are secretive animals.
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