Teaching captive Siberian tigers how to go wild
Changchun (China), Sep 24 (Xinhua) An artificial breeding base for Siberian tigers in China has announced plans to train 620 captive-bred animals to live in the wild.
Liu Dan, the engineer-in-chief with the Siberian Tiger Artificial Propagation Base of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, said the plan would be carried out ‘soon’.
Tigers will be shifted south in batches from their enclosures in the suburbs of Harbin City, capital of Heilongjiang and released into a fenced 15-hectare stretch of primitive forest at the foot of Mount Changbai on the border with Korea.
The massive campaign will be of great significance in conserving and improving the genetic stock of Siberian tigers and in gaining experience prior to releasing them into nature for good, said Liu.
Organisers have been encouraged by the success of an experiment in which 12 adult Siberian tigers were released into the Mount Changbai Siberian Tiger Wilderness Training Ground four years ago.
‘All 12 tigers developed their natural capabilities, including the ability to hunt and secure territory,’ said Liu. ‘Ten of the tigers have been brought back to the Siberian Tiger Artificial Propagation Base.’
Staff at the base will continue to teach the 10 returned tigers how to hunt, while other tigers begin training.
However, Sun Haiyi, deputy leader of the Heilongjiang Provincial Institute of Wildlife, is sceptical about Liu’s plan.
Tigers thrive in areas of dense vegetation with numerous sources of water and large populations of ungulate prey, but the reality check was the serious loss of forested land, said Sun.
‘Increased human activities such as highway construction have turned tiger habitats into isolated islands and large tiger groups have split into smaller ones, which results in in-breeding and degrades the species,’ said Sun.
‘Success in releasing the trained tigers into the deep mountains should begin with the protection of the ecological environment and I think right now it would be more meaningful to spend the money on cultivating an environment where Siberian tigers can flourish,’ Sun added.
Wang Shubai, head of the Mount Changbai Siberian Tigers Wilderness Training Ground, said Mount Changbai was close to the natural habitat of tigers with a wealth of vegetation and primitive forest.
Wang recalled that the 12 tigers previously sent for training had refused to drink creek water because it was too cold and had trouble adjusting to stinging insects.
But after four years, the animals all showed improved abilities in living in the wild and had produced 34 cubs. Two adult tigers remained at the ground: one pregnant and the other recovering from a leg injury.
The Siberian tiger is listed as endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species of the World Conservation Union and is also listed on the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix I which prohibits trade in live tigers or tiger parts.
The tigers mainly prowl the cold areas of northeast China and Siberia in Russia.
Their fur is longer and thicker than that of the slightly smaller Bengal tiger. Their long winter coat enlarges their appearance. They have less striping than other tigers and the stripes are more brown than black.
The largest recorded Siberian tiger weighed in at 1,000 pounds. Captive cats normally outgrow their wild cousins, who are lucky to reach 650 to 675 pounds. Their number in the wild is estimated at 400 worldwide, of which 20 or so inhabit the forests of northeast China’s border areas.
Some experts warn the tigers will become completely extinct in China if no effective conservation measures are adopted.
The Siberian Tiger Artificial Propagation Base was founded in 1980s, with 13 million yuan ($1.63 million) from state coffers to rear and breed the animals.