Creature Feature – Amur Tiger

06302012

It’s Global Tiger Day! Learn more about what’s being done to help protect tigers in the wild and how you can help by visiting http://www.tigercampaign.org

Today we learn about the largest of the tiger subspecies, the Amur Tiger.

Panthera tigris altaica
Range: small areas of Asia, primarily in the Russian Far East
Body Length: 6-9 feet
Tail Length: up to 40 inches
Weight: 300-450 pounds
Lifespan: 15-20 years

The Amur tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger, is a reddish yellow to rusty-brown color on top and white underneath. The body is covered in black stripes. The orange-ish color of an Amur tiger is often paler than that of other tiger subspecies, especially in their winter coat. No two tigers have the same stripes. The skin as well as the fur shows the animal’s unique striping pattern. The dark and light pattern of a tiger’s stripes helps conceal them by breaking up their body profile.

White tigers are not a distinct species of tiger, but a rare recessive color variation. White tigers are only born when two tigers that both carry the recessive gene for white coloring mate. Wild white tigers are very rare and none have been seen since 1951. In captivity, these tigers are produced by breeding related animals. In tiger conservation the goal is to maintain as much genetic diversity as possible, so the practice of breeding for white tigers is highly frowned upon.

Amur tigers are native to the forests of the Russian Far East and northeast China. An estimated 360 wild Amur tigers remain in the wild. They are found primarily in two populations in the Russian Far East and at least one or more populations on the Russia-China border and into northeastern China.

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Tigers have very large territories of up to 50 square miles due to scarcity of prey. They are generally solitary. The tiger is not the efficient hunter that most people believe them to be, and often go several days without eating. When they do feed they can eat nearly 100 pounds of food in one sitting. They eat mostly large mammals, especially wild boar and deer, but when food is scarce they may turn to smaller prey such as rabbits or to carrion.

Tigers can leap 19 feet across, 30 feet down, and can jump over barriers that are 6 feet high. In short bursts tigers can run up to 40 miles per hour. When they walk, tigers often place their hind feet in the tracks of their forefeet. And unlike most other cat species, tigers like water and are excellent swimmers. Adult tigers, however, are not very good climbers.

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In the mid-1900s it is estimated that there were only about 25–30 Amur tigers left in the wild. After the Soviet Union outlawed tiger hunting and actively enforced it, the population grew to about 250. When the Soviet Union dissolved, both tigers and their habitat lost ground. Then zoos and other conservation organizations stepped up to support policing, and tiger numbers again climbed.

The primary problem faced today by tigers across Asia is the loss of habitat and associated loss of prey. In the past 20 years 60% of tiger habitat has been lost and tiger numbers reduced by 50%. Habitat destruction has resulted in islands of tiger habitat surrounded by developed areas. This isolates small tiger populations from each other. Most of these tiger populations contain fewer than 50 tigers and are too small for long-term survival in the face of threats such as disease, forest fires, and inbreeding.

Poaching for body parts used in traditional medicinal products also threatens tiger populations. This also is related to habitat loss as roads provide access for poaching tigers. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) makes international trade in tiger parts illegal, but substantial cross-border smuggling of tiger parts still occurs.

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