for National Geographic News
Siberian tiger populations are holding steady, according to a comprehensive survey conducted last winter in the snowy woods of the Russian Far East.
Conservationists, who had feared far worse results, celebrated the newsbut cautioned that continued efforts are needed to protect the big cats.
Approximately 334 to 417 adult tigers remain in the vast forests of Siberia, along with 97 to 112 cubs, according to data from the most extensive Siberian tiger survey ever conducted.
The last similar count, taken in 1996, reported some 330 to 371 adult tigers and 85 to 105 cubs.
"To be honest, even I wasn't expecting the news to be good, but it turns out to be better than we thought," said Dale Miquelle, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Russia program and coordinator of the project.
The tiger count was a true "beat the bushes" effort involving nearly a thousand fieldworkers. The team used vehicles, skis, snowmobiles, and other means of conveyance to canvass the entire range of remote, frosty Siberian forests where tigers may be living. The reclusive cats are seldom seen but leave their mark by footprints in the snow and other physical evidence.
The encouraging news is especially welcome because tiger numbers elsewhere in Asia have declined dramatically. In India, once considered the greatest stronghold for tigers, recent reports show the big cats disappearing altogether from some core reserve areas.
Habitat, Economic Boons
Siberian Tigers (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as Amur tigers, have several advantages over their relatives elsewhere in Asia.
Regional logging is extensive and growing, but thus far it has been carried out in a manner that preserves tiger habitat. Selective cutting is the norm, rather than clear-cutting. The procedure leaves behind substantial forest habitat when loggers are finished in an area.
"In some cases it may be even be beneficial," Miquelle said from Vladivostok, Russia. "It may create more browse for the ungulates [such as deer and wild pigs] which are the tigers' preferred prey. What's good for them is good for tigers."
Though tiger-friendly, current logging processes are a function of economics rather than conservation efforts.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES