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Births bring Siberian tiger number to 700

By Li Fangchao (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-08-08 05:56

HARBIN: With the arrival of more than 80 cubs this year, the number of Siberian tigers at the Siberian Tiger Park in the capital of Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province now exceeds 700.

About 50 of the park’s 200 females of fertile age have given birth to more than 80 cubs, and another 20 to 30 cubs are expected to be delivered in the second half of this year, Liu Dan, chief engineer of the park, said yesterday.

Founded in 1986, the park evolved from having just eight tigers to become the world’s largest base exclusively for artificially raised Siberian tigers.

Liu says the rapid increase of the number of tigers is due to the enhanced fertility rate, which is now more than 90 per cent, as well as better breeding techniques and good disease control and prevention methods.

“To start with we hardly knew how to feed a tiger, but we gradually got to know their living habits and worked out a clear feeding system for tigers of all ages,” he said.

Good nutrition and natural diets are also necessary, he said.

“An adult tiger eats 8 to 10 kilograms of beef each day,” he said, “And for pregnant ones, special treats like eggs and vitamins are also needed to increase their calcium.”

The 144-hectare park has become too small for the growing ambush, and management are trying to cope with mounting debts.

However, Liu said that the number of tigers is still not enough to meet the park’s goal of 1,000 by 2010.

“According to the national standard, a species with less than 1,000 is considered on the verge of extinction,” he said.

In order to avoid inbreeding, the park is determining the pedigree of the tigers through DNA testing.

“Our ultimate goal is to return them to the wild again, but there are no ideal habitats for them now,” he said, “And first of all, we should raise their number to a certain extent while ensuring their quality.”

The Siberian tiger is listed as one of the most endangered animals in the world, with just 500 in the wild worldwide, 20 of which are thought to be in China.

Its main habitats are in the northeastern part of the country and the Siberian area of Russia.

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2006-08/08/content_659274.htm