Ancient tigers migrated along the ‘Silk Road’
15 Jan 2009, 0933 hrs IST, PTI
LONDON: DNA from an extinct sub-species of tiger has revealed that the ancestors of modern tigers migrated through the heart of China, along what would later become known as ‘the Silk Road’.
According to a team of scientists from Oxford University and the NCI Laboratory of Genomic Diversity in the USA, the Caspian tiger from Central Asia, which became extinct in 1970, was almost identical to the living Siberian, or Amur, tigers found in the Russian Far East today.
The discovery not only sheds new light on how the animals reached Central Asia and Russia but also opens up the intriguing possibility that conservationists might repopulate tiger-less Central Asia with Siberian tigers from Russia or China.
“What these striking results indicate is that extinct Caspian tigers and modern Siberian tigers are molecular nearest neighbours,” said Carlos Driscoll, a doctoral student studying at Oxford University’s Wildlife Research Conservation Unit (the WildCRU), who led the study.
“In a sense it means that Caspian tigers never became extinct, it’s just that there never was any such thing as a ‘Siberian tiger’. The relationship is so close that the mitochondrial DNA of the two sub-species differs by just a single nucleotide”.
Oxford university sources said that because Caspian tigers were not well studied before they became extinct almost 40 years ago, the team had to retrieve DNA from specimens held in the region’s museums.
“We had to travel through Russia and Central Asia taking tiny bone samples from Caspian tiger specimens in natural history collections,” said co-author Dr Nobby Yamaguchi of Oxford’s WildCRU.