Posts Tagged ‘Siberian tiger’

This is the same story that John Vaillant recounts in The Tiger, but this documentary plays up the role of Trush’s laika a lot more. Warning: lots of gory images in this film, including human remains.

This is my all-time favorite wildlife story. It’s like Jaws met No Country for Old Men, and it’s a true story!

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Vladimir Putin holding a tranquilizer gun.

It looks like Vladimir Putin is running for President of Russia again. Or, to put it another way, Putin will be President of Russia again.

He’s running on the platform of “No hope, and no change.”

But at least he’s an Amur tiger fan:


Why else would he have a tranquilizer gun?

They don’t kill.


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Amur tiger cubs

From the BBC:

Approximately 500 Amur tigers actually survive in the wild, but the effective population is a measure of the genetic diversity of the world’s largest cat.

Very low diversity means any vulnerability to disease or rare genetic disorders is likely to be passed on to the next generation.

So these results paint a grim picture for the tiger’s chance of survival.

The findings are reported in the journal Mammalian Biology.

During the early 20th Century, the Amur tiger was almost driven to extinction, as expanding human settlements, habitat loss and poaching wiped out this biggest of cats from over 90% of its range.

By the 1940s, just 20 to 30 individuals survived in the wild. The new study has identified that this recent “genetic bottleneck” – when the breeding population of tigers was so critically low – has decimated the Amur tiger gene pool.

A more genetically diverse population of animals has a much better chance of survival; it is more likely, for example, to contain the genetic resistance to a variety of diseases and less likely to succumb to rare genetic disorders, which can be “cancelled out” by healthy genes.

Scientists in Russia, Spain and Germany worked together to analyse DNA samples from 15 wild Amur tigers in the Russian Far East.

They took blood samples from the animals and screened them for certain “markers” – points in the DNA code that show that an animal had parents that were genetically very different from each other.

The results revealed evidence of the genetic bottleneck during the tigers’ recent history, when the variety of genes being passed on dramatically reduced.

Genetically speaking, the Amur tiger has not recovered from this.

“Our results are the first to demonstrate a quite recent genetic bottleneck in Siberian tigers, a result that matches the well-documented severe demographic decline of the Siberian tiger population in the 1940s,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

“The worryingly low effective population size challenges the optimism for the recovery of the huge Siberian cat.”

Amur tigers are what we used to call Siberian tigers until we learned a bit about Russian geography and learned from the Russians that these tigers aren’t actually found in Siberia.

They may have existed in Siberia at one time, for it turns out that the extinct Caspian subspecies was actually a western population of Amur tigers. Siberia would lie between the ranges of the population from the Caspian Sea region and the population that currently exists in the Russian Far East. It is likely that some tigers did range into parts of Siberia at one time.

The problem isn’t just the deleterious and lethal recessives that are mentioned in this post. The old bugaboo of inbreeding depression looms high, for most cat species do not have very high inbreeding tolerance.

Tigers are also somewhat susceptible to canine distemper.  And Amur tigers commonly hunt dogs that belong to hunters and trappers operating in the region.  Most dogs in the region have not been vaccinated for distemper, which means very bad things for tigers.

My little hope that one day we might be able to restock the Caspian tiger using reintroduced Amur tigers has been fully destroyed. Every Amur tiger is a precious individual, and we can’t risk any of them, even if it is to revive their former western population.

Unless a crossbreeding program can be implemented, as was done when Texas cougars were introduced to Florida panther range, the future is very bleak for the Amur tiger.

And because all other extant tiger subspecies are both critically endangered and native to more or less tropical or subtropical environment, I don’t know how such a program could be implemented practically.

I guess it’s time to enjoy the world’s largest cat while it still lasts.

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It is often mentioned that the wolves have no natural predators.

This statement is not necessarily true.

Bears of various species will kill wolf pups, and sometimes, they will kill wolves over territorial disputes and access to carcasses.

Cougars and leopards have been known to take the odd wolf.

And wolves themselves do a lot of killing of each other.

But only one predator has been proven to kill wolves in sufficiently enough numbers to actually control wolf populations.

I am not talking about man in this case. However, our species has certainly done a number on wolves.

The predator that really goes after wolves is a big cat. Indeed, it is the biggest cat– the Amur or Siberian tiger.

In the Amur tiger’s main range in the Sikhote-Alin mountains, wolves were virtually unknown until dawn of the twentieth century. By that time, the main wave of Russian colonization had penetrated the mountain range.

As the big cats became rarer, the number of wolves increased.

Now, these cats obviously have a taste for canine food.  They have been known to prey on dholes, which once were common in Amur tiger range. The northern terminus of the dhole’s original range is well within the core of Amur tiger habitat.

But Amur tigers are best known for their attacks on dogs. Although they generally fear people, they have been known to go out of their way to attack dogs.

Canine meat is just too much for them to pass up.

In fact, there are plenty of stories of Amur tigers approaching armed hunters for no other reason other than to take the laika dogs walking at their sides.

It is very rare for an Amur tiger to become a maneater.

But their love of dog meat makes them approach human settlements.

That big cats prey on dogs isn’t such a strange thing.   There are many cougars who would rather hunt dogs than deer, and leopards really like to hunt dogs. In fact, when Europeans brought their large hunting dogs to Africa, the leopards had a field day.  A leopard typically isn’t much larger than a dog, and to a naive European dog, there is very little in its life experience that would have told it to find a cat dangerous.  Indeed, there would have been much in its life experience to find the cat fun to chase.

But the fact that Amur tigers are such a major predator of wolves is quite surprising. Wolves generally don’t experience much predation, unless you count the large numbers of wolves that are killed in intraspecies conflicts as predation.

In this part of the Russian Far East, the top dog’s status is supplanted by a  cat.

Granted, it is a massive cat.

But so long as there are Amur tigers in those forests, the wolves and dogs will have something to worry about.

Of course, those tigers aren’t exactly thriving– as one can easily see with virtually every tiger population.

The wolves and dogs are much more successful as a species.

It’s just in this part of Russia, they have real competition.

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This time in Southern Ontario.

Let’s see:

In 2004, a tiger attacked a 10-year-old little boy.

And the neighbors have tried to get the animals taken from the property.

And yet “No law has been broken.”

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The East Siberian laika is the main hunting dog for many people from Eastern Siberia to the Russian Far East.

The East Siberian laika is the main hunting dog for many people from Eastern Siberia to the Russian Far East.

A recent post on Forteanzoology blog showed some paintings of some dogs baying a tiger. The paintings are from the Edwardian period (1901-1910, the reign of Edward VII). The artist is Helen Fielding, and the setting is a forest near Blackpool in the north of England.

The two dogs baying the tiger look to be of the Nordic type.  To me, these look as out of place as the tiger. Common pets from the reign of Queen Victoria onwards were the Pomeranian and the Wolf Spitz or Keeshond. These  are Nordic breeds, but they have rather profuse hair. They both descend from the multipurpose spitz dogs of Central Europe, dogs I’m sure my ancestors knew well. These dogs often had herding instinct and were close relatives of the reindeer- herding spitzes of Russia, Finland, and Scandinavia.

These dogs have smoother coats than these “farm spitzes.” In fact, they make me think of dogs that were actually used to hunt tigers. Now, don’t assume that I’m talking about the tropical and subtropical races of tiger.  Think Russia.

Remember, there is a Russian subspecies of tiger. Its range now consists of frigid country in the Russian Far East near in the Amur-Ussuri region.  We often call this animal the Siberian tiger. It’s not really accurate, because the Russians themselves don’t call this region “Siberia.” That’s why I prefer to call it the Amur tiger.

However, there is some research that suggests that the extinct Caspian tiger is actually the same as the Amur tiger. However, neither species lived in what modern Russians call Siberia. So I’m going to call it the Amur tiger, because that’s the only place you can find them.

The cats once ranged down into Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula. Today, they live in the wilderness in this remote part of the Russian Far East and adjacent China.

In the old days, the tigers were hunted. Once they were considered a mortal threat to human life and enterprise, and the early Russian settlers killed scores of them. Then the Russians found they could sell their pelts. Later, they were deemed vermin by the Soviet government and killed by foresters. The Soviet government also exported their pelts, and the Chinese also bought their penises for what the Chinese consider a traditional viagra.

Later, the Soviet government decided to take endangerd species seriously, and they banned hunting them. When the Soviet Union collapsed and the economic went south, the people living in that part of the world began poaching them. The tigers are critically endangered.The Chinese use all sorts of tiger parts for their medicine, and because China is nearly devoid of tigers, the black market pays well for tiger parts.

Now, what does this have to do with dogs?

Well, I grew up during glastnost and perestroika, and we got tons of Soviet and Eastern bloc documentaries that were shown on television, usually mixed into English-language documentaries or re-dubbed with English narration. I remember one documentary about the “Siberian tiger.” There was footage of some  foresters hunting a tiger with dogs.

Here it is (at the beginning):

(The subtropical part of this area is on the Sea of Japan, before you ask. Again, I don’t call this area Siberia.)

The dogs hunting the tiger are very similar to the dogs baying the tiger in the painting.

These dogs are Laikas, specifically the one we call the East Siberian Laika, even though they can also be found in the Russian Far East. This breed is a relative of the more common Siberian husky, which is a sled dog. The two breeds come from a common stock. One was bred to hunt game. The other was bred to be a sled dog. The former is more like an Akita, while the other is more like a very independent golden retriever.

These dogs descend from a landrace dog that varies from region to region.  The sled-hauling dogs are different from the hunting dogs. Sled dogs can’t be aggressive with each other. The last thing you want is a dog fight in a sled dog team. The Siberian husky is derived from a particular strain of sled-hauling East Siberian Laika that was found along Anadyr River, which empties into the Bering Sea. During the Alaskan Gold Rush, the dogs were imported from across the Bering Sea, where they proved to be superior sled dogs. In fact, the Anadyr dogs were so fast compared to the North American Arctic sled d0g landrace, that the breed nearly replaced the dogs we call the Qimmiq and the Malamute.

The ones that hunt tigers have to very bold and a little aggressive. The tigers are well-known in this region as dog-killers. They consider dogs to be one of the best prey species they can find. So much do they like dog meat that they approach armed hunters just to prey upon the dogs walking with them. If you are hunting a 600 pound predator considers you to be delicacy, you have to be a little tougher than the average dog.

Now, I don’t know why the artist chose dogs of the laika-type to be the tiger hunters. Perhaps, she had heard of Russian or other northeast Asian people using dogs of this type to bay tigers. Maybe someone had imported a Siberian tiger dog to England, and she was able to purchase it.  I don’t know.

However, I find it very interesting that she chose that particular type of dog to bay the tiger. It has a some basis in reality.

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