Powerful and awe-inspiring, the Siberian or Amur tiger is the largest of all cats and these ferocious felines never fail to delight visitors of all ages. However, despite their fearsome reputation, most tigers will avoid humans. Rarely seen in the wild, there are in fact more Siberian tigers in captivity than in their native habitat!
HABITAT: The majority of the world’s Siberian tiger population occurs in a small area of taiga and boreal forests in the Far East corner of southern Russia.. Some also exist in China and North Korea. Living in this cold, harsh climate does bring some advantages as northern forests have a low human population density, the most complete ecosystem, and vast areas of woodland.
CHARACTERISTICS: The Siberian tiger has a distinctive reddish orange coat with a whitish belly. Along the body is a series of stripes that range in colour from black to dark grey, with no two animals having the same pattern. The Siberian tiger has longer and thicker fur than other tiger subspecies, including a thick mane around the neck and extra fur on their paws, which protects them against the cold.
BIOLOGY: Siberian tigers live alone and aggressively scent-mark large territories to keep their rivals away. They are powerful hunters and will travel many miles to find prey – which mostly consists of wild boar, red deer and elk, but they will also hunt smaller prey such as rabbits and salmon. Tigers use their distinctive coats as camouflage and hunt by stealth. Siberian tigers reach sexual maturity at around 3 years old and will mate at any time of the year. Litter size is 2 – 6 cubs (with an average of 3-4) and the gestation period is 90 – 105 days. Cubs will remain with their mothers for 2-3 years, when they disperse to find their own territory.
The life span of a Siberian Tiger is normally 10-15 years in the wild, and can live up to about 20 years in captivity. The oldest Siberian tiger to have lived at the parks was a female called Zeyna who was 18.5 years old when she died.
CONSERVATION STATUS: Bouncing back from the brink of extinction in the 1940’s, when less than 40 wild animals remained, the Siberian tiger’s current wild population is between 400 - 500 individuals, and they are classified as Critically Endangered. Siberian tigers live in forested areas, but only a small percentage of this habitat is under official protection and poaching of Siberian tigers and their prey still remains a problem. Another major threat is habitat loss and a decrease in its prey due to human population pressure. Their remaining habitat is under threat from logging, conversion to agriculture, urban expansion, road construction, mining, fires, and inadequate law enforcement .In addition; there is a demand for tiger parts to use in traditional Chinese medicine.
Russian authorities, in partnership with NGOs, are helping establish an ecological network of protected areas to secure a well-connected habitat, and also conduct anti-poaching patrols in the Russian Far East.
BREEDING AT THE PARKS: There are several hundred animals in zoos around the world. Howletts and Port Lympne have had Siberian tigers since the late1960’s, and have had around 70 successful births since this time. While there is a healthy global captive population, and captive breeding is generally not difficult, the possibility of survival for animals bred in captivity released into the wild is small. Conservation efforts that secure the wild population are therefore still imperative.