The tigers are exploring their ancestral hunting grounds, which indicates that their number is not a cause for concern.
Tigers have fallen on hard times throughout their remaining ranges across Asia, their numbers having plummeted to a mere 5,000 or so from 100,000 a ceuntury ago. Several subspecies of the iconic predators have especially been affected by habitat loss and poaching.
Now and then, though, comes some good news.
One bit of good news has come from Russia where for the first time in a half century the footprints of Amur tigers have been seen in the northeastern Siberian republic of Sakha.
The discovery, which was made by local forestry officials, has been hailed by conservationists as a sign that the area’s wild tigers might slowly be expanding their range thanks to stepped-up protection measures.
The footprints were found on the right bank of the Aldan River in the southeastern region of Sakha, also known as Yakutia, where an absence of suitable forests and wild boars for prey make it harder for tigers to thrive; and so the find was especially noteworthy.
“The fact that the tigers are exploring their ancestral hunting grounds indicates that the number of the northernmost tigers is not a cause for concern,” observed Viktor Nikiforov, who leads the Tigrus conservationist group.
The Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is the largest of the six remaining subspecies of the striped predators and, according to a recent census, around 550 of them roam birch forests across stretches of Siberia as well as parts of China and, possibly, North Korea.
The rebounding of Amur tigers is a notable success story because a mere tenth of their current number managed to cling on by the 1940s when the big cats had nearly been hunted into extinction. In 1947, however, the Soviet Union banned the hunting of Amur tigers, which allowed the animals to begin increasing in number.
Even as recently as three decades ago it appeared to be a case of touch and go for wild tigers in Siberia.
“Back in 1994, it seemed impossible: to defeat tiger poaching, to cut off smuggling channels to China, to mobilize science, to create 10 new protected areas, bringing the total preserved area to 23% of the tiger range in Russia, to preserve habitats in cedar walnut-commercial zones, to work out a technique for resolving conflict situations between man and tiger…,” explains WWF’s Russian chapter.
Yet for all those achievements, Amur tigers remain exceedingly rare in the wild and so conservation efforts will remain vital in preserving their populations.