April 16, 2007—After decades of chilling population declines, the Siberian tiger may be treading toward a slightly sunnier future.
Hunted down to 40 animals, the Siberian tiger barely survived the 1940s. Since then it has slowly clawed its way back, with help from a Russian hunting ban and the efforts of conservation groups. In 2005 the Wildlife Conservation Society estimated the subspecies at 431 to 529 animals worldwide.
But the world's largest wild cat—such as this mother and cubs photographed in Russia in the mid-1990s—has now grown in number to about 600, the highest such count in over a hundred years, according to a new Russian census heralded by the international conservation organization WWF.
Bigger gains are unlikely, according to Alexei Vaisman of WWF-Russia, speaking to the Reuters news service. The current Siberian forest habitat simply can't support many more tigers, given each animal's need for a roughly 100-mile-wide (260-kilometer-wide) swath of territory and plentiful boar and deer to feed on.
That far-ranging lifestyle is looking more and more difficult, as logging companies increase their footprints in far eastern Russia, and as poachers continue to kill Siberian, or Amur, tigers for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
"There is still demand from China for the bones of the Amur tiger," Vaisman told Reuters. "An Amur skeleton from Russia will sell for around [U.S.] $5,000 in China."
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