Out of eight traditional subspecies of tiger (Panthera tigris), recognized on the basis of geographic distribution, three – Bali (P.t. balica), Javan (P.t. sondaica) and Caspian (P.t.virgata) – are now extinct. According to population genetic structure, Stephen J. O’Brien suggests recognition of six subspecies: Amur tiger (P. t. altaica), northern Indochinese tiger (P. t. corbetti), South China tiger (P. t. amoyensis), Malayan tiger (P. t. Jacksoni), Sumatran tiger (P. t. sumatrae) and Bengal tiger (P. t. tigris).
Because the Amur tiger lives primarily in the South of the Russian Far East, the Phoenix Fund is extremely concerned about protecting this magnificent cat and its habitat.
Status of Amur tiger
In Russia’s Red Book of Endangered Species, the Amur tiger is attributed to Category II as a rare, decreasing in numbers subspecies, which is placed under the threat of extinction. It is also included in the IUCN Red Book of Endangered Species, as well as in Appendix I of CITES. Hunting for tigers is prohibited since 1947. According to the latest Amur tiger population census carried out in winter 2015, there are 540 individuals inhabiting the Russian Far East.
Distribution and habitat
At present, the Amur tiger range includes Primorsky and Khabarovsky regions in the South of the Russian Far East. In Primorsky region, the Amur tiger habitat area makes up 123,000 km2. The tiger range is fragmented, being represented by three sites: the core population inhabits the Sikhote-Alin mountain chain; two other dwell along the southwestern and northwestern borderlines with China.
The typical for the Amur tiger habitat is mixed cedar-broad-leaved forest, covering mountain slopes and hills. It is on these territories, inhabited by boar, siberian stag and deer, where tigers find food and shelter. By protecting its habitat and prey base we save the Amur tiger, which is on the top of the food chain.
Amur tiger biology
The Amur tiger is one of the largest of actually existing tiger subspecies. On average its body length with head makes up 2 meters (6.5 feet), and with tail it can reach up to 3 meters (9.8 feet). Adult female weighs about 130 kg (290 pounds), and adult male – 190 kg (420 pounds). However, males can reach up as much as 300-350 kg (660-770 pounds). A newborn cub does not exceed 1 kg (2 pounds), when it is 3 month it weighs approximately 10 kg (22 pounds). Only at the age of 2.5-3 years its weight turns over100 kg (220 pounds).
Amur tiger coloring is paler in comparison to other tiger subspecies, with the reddish-brown coat carrying black or brown cross-stripes. In summer the coloring is brighter, and in winter the fur becomes long and shaggy.
With the help of its large, up to 7.5 cm – long (3 inches) canines tiger snaps at its prey and kills it. Tigers, as well as other cats, do not chew the meat, but divide it into pieces with the help of molars and then swallow.
Soft pads allow tigers to sneak silently upon its prey, and long (up to 10 cm (4 inches)) sharp claws serve to capture it.
Females become pubertal at the age of three, males – approximately a year later. Most often the reproduction period falls on the second half of winter. After copulation males usually leave and do not participate in bringing up the litter. Females bear their cubs for 100-105 days. Usually, female brings 2-4 cubs, and rarely 5-6. Cubs are born blind and weigh only 1 kg (2 pounds). They feed on their mother’s milk for 1.5-2 months before tigress starts taking them to hunt. Young tigers begin hunting on their own at the age of 18 months. Female arranges a lair for the cubs in low-accessible thick bushes, caves and rock clefts. Males as a rule do not have a permanent den usually having a rest not far from their prey. Young females stay with their mothers until they are 18 – 36 months old, depending on whether the tigress has a new litter. They settle close to their mother’s range more often than males. In the wild, the complete change of generations takes 15-20 years, if not less.
The area of individual tiger range can vary depending on the ungulates numbers. Females with cubs under 12 months have the smallest territories (10-30 km2). On average, the adult female range makes up 300-500 km2, whereas adult males live on 600-800 km2.
Tigers are polygamous animals: the habitat of a single male usually overlaps habitats of several females. Both males and females mark trees and bushes on their territories with the mixture of urine and scent gland secretion. Besides they leave claw marks on trees and excrements in the foregrounds of their habitat. Tigers can travel great distances, covering from 20 to 100 km per day. However, from year to year these predators stick to the very same routes and paths along the habitat. The large cat is active mostly in the evening, the first half of the night and in the morning. At daytime it prefers lying on a height for better observation. Amur tiger is not afraid of deep snows due to its thick pelage and wide paw. Besides, with deep snow it is much easier to come closer to the prey for a sure leap. But plentiful snowfalls lead to decrease in numbers of the ungulates, depleting the animal’s food resources.
Each tiger has it own hunting area. The size of such area depends on prey availability: the greater is its density, the smaller is the territory that can provide tiger with food, and vice verse. Main Amur tiger prey species are Siberian stag, wild boar, roe deer and sika deer. The predator can perfectly hear and locate its prey and then either lays an ambush in front of it or sneaks on the animal from the side. At the same time tiger takes into account the wind direction, so that the prey does not smell it approaching. Tigers hunt the ungulates near salt licks, water and feeding places. This big cat chases its prey with several huge leaps – it is the most impetuous way for tiger to run. Usually tigers need about 10 kg (5 pounds) of fresh meat a day, but after long starvation they can eat as much as 18 kg (9 pounds) at once.
Main threats for the Amur tiger survival
1. Habitat destruction due to massive logging. An estimated 30,000 ha of tiger habitat disappear every three years in the Russian Far East.
2. Depletion of tiger prey base. The recent years have been witnessing a considerable fall in numbers of boar, Siberian stag, roe deer and sika deer, that make up the Amur tiger’s food resources.
3. Habitat fragmentation. As a result of anthropogenic influence, the Amur tiger’s population does not represent a single whole. Dozens of small populations are isolated from each other, causing the decrease in genetic biodiversity.
4. Poaching. Regardless of all anti-poaching efforts, the illegal tiger trade continues thriving. Situation modeling shows that with 5 % of individuals shot per year, the whole population will disappear in 50 years.
There are several ways to study tigers in the wild:
1. Tracking, that is following tiger tracks in wintertime in order to determine the population numbers, dynamics, sex and age composition, as well as reproductive capacity. To detect the sex of individual tracks’ author, the surveyors employ the method of measuring its paw width. Distinguishing adult males from females is a difficult task, and one can say for sure that it was a male only when the paw width exceeds 10.5 cm (4.2 inches).
2. Radio – tracking, that is following tiger location and movements with the help of signals from radio transmitters fixed on tigers.
3. Camera – trapping, specialists set photo cameras (photo traps) on tiger paths. When an animal passes by, the device takes a picture. This technique allows identifying individual tigers and helps determine the population numbers and density on a certain territory.
- Home of the Amur tiger: teacher edition. Vladivostok, 2004.
- Dunishenko Yu. M., Kulikov A.N. The Amur tiger. Khabarovsk, 1999.
- Primorsky region Red Book of Endangered Species. Animals. Vladivostok, 2005.
- The Russian Federation Red Book of Endangered Species. Animals. AST Astrel, 2001.
- Rare animals of our country. Leningrad, “Nauka”, 1990.
- Brakefield, Tom. Big Cats: kingdom of might. Voyageur Press, 1996.
- Save the Tiger Fund www.savethetiger.org
Ligers are not fairy-tale characters
Eho-DV, Vladivostok. August 09, 2006. Hybrids are crossbreed of animals that possess similar genes. They live mostly in capture and their appearance comes a result of human interference. Thus, a liger is a crossbreed of a lion-male and a tiger female whereas a tigon is a hybrid of a tiger male and a lion female. Ligers are the biggest felines in the world. Tigons on the contrary tend to dwarfism and are usually less than their parents in size. Ligers and tigons are sterile while females can give birth to cubs. In the American Institute of Protected and Rare Species in the state of Miami, for example, lives a liger nicknamed Hercules that is 3 m of height. There are some ligers in the Russian zoos as well. Thus, in the winter 2004 in the Novosibirsky zoo two ligers came to the world.