Siberian Tiger Endangered as Forest Fires Rage
The Scotsman, January 25, 2002

By Nick Drainey
A census of the dwindling number of Siberian tigers has been started by scientists trying to save the animal from extinction. Biologist Dmitry Pikunov, of the Pacific Ocean Geography Institute, said deep snow in which the beasts left clear prints meant the count could be carried out. There is no exact figure for the number of Siberian tigers, one of the world’s most endangered species. They still roam wild in the far-eastern forest wilderness and are much sought after by poachers. Wildlife experts place the figure at between 300 and 400 – fewer than the number of tigers in captivity, estimated at around 490. Poaching, loss of habitat and a lack of government funds to protect Siberia’s wildlife have caused a sharp fall in the numbers of both tigers and leopards.
Though the number of tigers remained stable during the Soviet era, the opening of Russia’s borders with the fall of communism brought increased poaching, mainly from Asian countries where tiger body parts are used in traditional medicine.
Forest fires across Russia’s far east last year threatened the habitat of the endangered animal. Blazes covered an area of 600sq km south of the Khabarovsk region and in northern and central parts of the Primorsky region. Tigers forced by the fires to move to more densely populated areas came under greater risk from poachers. The outbreaks also threaten the survival of such animals as musk deer, brown bear and Siberian spruce grouse.
The fires were believed to have been caused by unusually dry weather and the carelessness of people visiting the area to fish, hunt and pick mushrooms. 
In 1998, more than six million acres of forests in Russia’s far east were destroyed in fires which UNESCO described as a catastrophe on a global scale. Two further serious fires occurred the following year. Nine fire brigades were set up with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) support two years ago, specifically to protect the tigers. The oe1 million move followed the disbanding of the Russian Federal Forest Service and a lack of funding for firefighting.
Other measures to protect the Siberian, or Amur, tigers, have included anti-poaching patrols, monitoring of commercial logging and the promotion of sustainable forest management. Last winter, the tigers were threatened by exceptionally low temperatures that reduced stocks of reindeer and wild boar, a staple of their diet. The usually shy animals, which require 20kg of meat a day, were forced to resort to roaming villages and attacking livestock and pets.


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