Siberian tiger population falls sharply

Last Updated: Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 11:36

Washington: The population of Siberian tigers is dropping sharply, with researchers blaming the slump on poachers who are killing the feline for its pelt and bones, a report showed Wednesday.

A survey of a representative portion of the tigers` range in the Russian Far East found only 56 of the large felines, according to the report coordinated by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Russian government and non-governmental organizations.

That represents a 41 percent decline from a 12-year average of around 95 tigers in a monitoring area of around 15 percent of the tigers` total natural habitat, the report said.

Researchers are "extrapolating there`s a decline across the board" from a range-wide count of the tigers completed in 2005 that showed there were 500 of the beasts roaming Siberia, WCS spokesman Stephen Sautner said.

The report`s authors blame the decline mainly on increased poaching of the big cats and their preys.

The animals are being killed for their fur and for tiger bone, which is used in traditional medicines, Sautner said.

Annual tiger surveys aimed at detecting changes in the tiger`s numbers are conducted at 16 monitoring sites scattered across the feline`s habitat.

Range-wide surveys of the tigers are conducted less frequently, largely because of the logistical problems associated with working in icy Siberia, tracking a secretive animal whose habitat covers hundreds of thousands of square miles (kilometers).

A 1996 survey covering the tigers` entire habitat of around 69,500 square miles (180,000 square kilometers) found over 400 of the felines in the Russian Far East, and the most recent range-wide survey counted up to 500 tigers in 2005.

"They were never an abundant species. But they have come back quite a bit since the 1940s when there were only 30 Siberian tigers," said Sautner.

Russia has taken many key steps to conserve the species, starting with a hunting ban in 1947.

The new slump in the number of tigers was "a wake-up call that current conservation efforts are not going far enough to protect Siberian tigers," said Dale Miquelle of WCS`s Russian Far East Program and a lead author of the report.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 11:36
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