The Latest Updates from Amur Tiger Habitat

21.02.2011
Photo courtesy Inspection Tiger

Photo courtesy
Inspection Tiger

With the end of 2010, the Year of the Tiger, a lot of articles about a tiger-human conflict and the death of a young tigress in Primorye appeared in local press.

On December 21, 2010, a 30-year-old hunter was attacked by a tiger in Krasnoarmeisky district of Primorye, near Udege Legend National Park. His head, hands and hips were badly lacerated. The hunter was hospitalized. Immediately upon receiving information about the incident, tiger specialists went to the scene. According to the hunter, he was in the woods with two dogs following wild boar’s tracks when suddenly a tiger attacked him. Luckily, he managed to fight off the tiger. After examining the place of the incident, tiger specialists concluded that the man was deliberately tracking the tiger and shot at the animal when spotted it with its prey. Also, there is a rumour that this hunter have killed many tigers before. Unfortunately, the police did not initiate a criminal proceeding due to scarcity of direct evidence.

Photo courtesy Inspection Tiger

Photo courtesy
Inspection Tiger

The hunter also informed that the tiger had a radio collar on its neck. If we talk about tigers fitted with radio collars, four beasts can be suspected to be involved in the incident. First, it could be an adult tigress from Lesozavodsk region that last winter attacked horses in one’s backyard and was caught by WCS’s specialists and moved to another remote area. Second, it could be one of three cubs which were released in Udege Legend National Park in September 2010. Recently, it has been determined that it was the tigress from Lesozavodsk. When tracking the female tiger, the specialists noted that it avoided approaching human settlements and killed a deer despite the fact of being injured by the hunter. Further investigation is required in the case to get a more accurate picture of the incident and determine the cause of the conflict.

Photo courtesy Inspection Tiger

Photo courtesy
Inspection Tiger

The fate of three orphaned tiger cubs, which were released back into the wild in September 2010 in Udege Legend National Park, has become the focus of attention after one of the young predators was reported dead on December 28, 2010. Below, we present comments by Vyacheslav Rozhnov, deputy director of the the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the Russian Academy of Sciences (IEE RAS), who is in charge of the Amur tiger research programme in the Russian Far East. After successful release, IEE RAS scientists and Inspection Tiger specialists have been monitoring the cubs’ movements by radio telemetry.

“Two cubs – Tatiana and Volodya – were found in poor health in December 2009 on the roadside in Primorye. In February 2010, the third cub – Lazurina – was found in a kennel near Nagornoye village, Northern Primorye. Initially, the cubs were kept at the Inspection Tiger’s facility, and then in April, after a period of quarantine and dehelmintization, they were transported to Dr. Yudin’s scientific centre in Gaivoron village, Spassky district of Primorye, according to Rosprirodnadzor’s permit № КТ-04-01-32/810 as of February 26, 2010.

During five months the three cubs were kept under careful attention of zoologists and were isolated from humans. Costs of housing and food were covered by IEE RAS in terms of the Amur tiger research programme in the Russian Far East. The tigers were fed meat. In addition, they regularly had a possibility to hunt live wild boar (five boars) and sika deer (8 deer) inside the enclosure to develop hunting skills. In September 2010, the young predators were thick-fleshed (Volodya’s weight was 101 kg (222 lb), Tatiana’s – 77 kg (169 lb), and Lazurina’s – 83 kg (183 lb)) and their hunting skills were good.

On the 27th of September 2010, the three cubs were released in Udege Legend National Park pursuant to permits issued by Rosprirodnadzor (№ СМ-04-01-32/5652 as of August 13, 2010 and № ВС-04-01-32/6599 dated September 16, 2010). Before transporting the young predators to the release site, the specialists immobilized and weighed them, took blood samples and fitted them with radio collars. The animals were in good health (veterinary certificates: 225 № 0023595 and 225 № 0023596 as of September 27, 2010). Lab tests of their blood did not reveal any infection.

The tigers were at one year age or older (their deciduous teeth were replaced by permanent ones). Usually, tiger cubs are accompanied by their mother until 1.5 to 2 years of age. However, it was too risky to continue keeping the three tigers in captivity. It was clear that it was impossible to release the animals in winter when there is lack of prey and severe weather conditions. If they had been kept in captivity for another seven months, for instance, till April when number of tiger’s prey species increases, the tigers would have lost fear of humans because of a prolonged contact with tiger specialists that could have triggered human-tiger conflicts in future.

From the 27th of September, 2009 to the 17th of January 17, 2011, as many as 183 locations of tiger Volodya were determined by signals received from his radio collar. He roamed a 900-km² (347 square miles) area. From time to time his radio collar sent out signals indicating that the tiger stopped moving for several days during which the predator ate its prey. Since the release in September 2010 there have been 11 analogous stops with intervals from 1 to 13 days.

On 15–16 January, 2011 the specialists of Inspection Tiger and Udege Legend National Park traced Tiger Volodya in the Armu River valley. On January 15, they found the predator’s tracks and determined that the tiger covered long distances and that about 2-3 days earlier it had killed a young wild boar. Additionally, the tiger tried to attack a red deer but failed to catch it.

Signals from the radio collar coupled with the data received in the field prove that the tiger can hunt its natural prey. Weather improvement benefits the tiger too. The frost has yielded and snow depth has reduced.

In regard to tigress Tatiana, as many as 19 locations were determined by signals from her radio collar during a week after her release. Since then, no more signals have been received for some technical reasons. The specialists also assume that the tigress might have been killed by poachers.

Lazurina’s radio collar sent steady signals from September 27 through December 26. All in all, the tiger specialists received 324 position signals. Tigress Lazurina roamed a 570-km² (220 square miles) area. From time to time the young predator stopped moving for two-three days in order to eat its kill. Within two months after her release Lazurina killed nine animals with time intervals between hunting attempts ranging from 1 to 10 days. On December 8, the young female tiger left her range. Probably, scarcity of food and difficult hunting conditions due to deep snow forced the predator to forage for food. First, the animal moved northeastwards, and then it turned sharply to the west and ended its way on the Bolshaya Ussurka River bank near Dersu village. From that moment and during four next days her collar sent out signals from the same location. A group of IEE RAS and Inspection Tiger specialists went off for the scene and found Lazurina dead on December 28. The dead body was transported to Primorsky Agricultural Academy for postmortem examination that was performed by assistant professor I.V. Ivanchuk, associate professor I.P. Korotkova and veterinarian D.V. Evtushenko. Based on an autopsy report and consultations with other experts, such as Moscow Zoo’s Chief veterinary doctor, M.V. Alshinetsky, and Associate professor of Moscow State Academy of Veterinary Medicine and Biotechnology named K. I. Skryabin N.V. Yesaulova, Cand. Sc. (Biology), the following conclusions were made:

The animal died from emaciation. Also, the cause of death might be some infection as the predator had swollen lymph nodes. Extreme emaciation caused the most part of other anomalies and injures, such as catarrhal pneumonia, helminthic infection, and enteritis. The cause of emaciation could be lack of food or infectious disease. All in all, Lazurina spent three months in the wild, and tiger specialists believe that if she had not acquired good hunting skills it would not survived without food for such a long period of time. In addition, her collar’s signals indicated regularly her presence near her prey. About 18 days passed between her last kill (December 4) and estimated date of death (December 22). Apparently, during this period of time Lazurina became weaker, and then irreversible damage to body tissue occurred which resulted in animal’s death. Tissue specimens were sent to the laboratory for histological analysis results of which to be announced soon”.

We hope that two other young tigers –Volodya and Tatiana – will survive this winter. Even if only one of the three tiger cubs adapts to new environments and is able to live on its own in the wild, it is a big success. It is undoubtedly worth giving tigers chances for survival in taiga than sending them to a zoo. Actually, wild tigers may have a litter of 3-4 cubs and sometimes only one survives. This process is called natural selection.

To increase chances for tigers’ survival in future it is necessary to build a rehabilitation centre in Primorye for sick, injured and orphaned tigers where rescued animals will receive a physical exam, medical treatment and given professional care. The good news is that the Russian Government has approved this idea and is now funding base costs of the project. Construction of the rehabilitation center has now begun in the Nadezhdinsky district of Primorski Krai. The $184,000 project will be managed by the A.N. Severtsov Ecology and Evolution Institute. The Institute has already received 50% of the base funding from the Russian Federation government and is seeking financial support from foreign donors and environmental NGOs to cover the running cost of the center. The rehabilitation centre, which is expected to be the largest one of its kind in Russia, is scheduled to be built by August 31, 2011. There will be 3-hectare enclosures, big enough for the big cats to roam, where predators will be prepared for living in the wild. There, tigers will be trained to hunt prey species and will develop fear of humans, prior to their release into the forests of the Russian Far East.

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