May 31, 2013

Dr. Tara Harris, Director of Conservation and Tiger Species Survival Plan Coordinator, is visiting the Amur tiger and leopard conservation projects the Minnesota Zoo supports in the Russian Far East. 


I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about our first stop on Day 5 of my trip to the Russian Far East. The Primorye Safari Park on the road between Lazovsky Nature Reserve and Vladivostok didn’t look like much from my view inside the van and conjured thoughts of strange roadside attractions. But I heard they had studbook-registered Amur tigers born at a zoo elsewhere in Russia, so I was interested to see how the tigers were faring.

We got a guided tour and some friendly tour guests – a couple piglets (hybrids between wild boar and domestic pigs) and two goats.  We didn’t have much time, so we stuck to a tiger theme – tiger prey species and the tigers themselves.

Poaching of tiger prey – wild boar and deer species – is a problem for both Amur tigers and leopards.  These big cats have huge home ranges in Russia compared to their counterparts in tropical areas because prey densities are naturally lower in the northern latitudes.  So further reductions of prey, as a result of poaching, mean that even fewer tigers and leopards can survive in a particular area of forest.  Because of the poaching, boar and deer are particularly skittish, so it can be hard to get a good look at them.  The safari park offered me the opportunity to get a close-up view of these animals of concern, including wild boar, sika deer, red deer, and roe deer – some of which had been rescued animals.

Next were the Amur tigers – two young siblings.  My skepticism turned to relief when I saw their exhibit.  It was more spacious and natural than many of the tiger exhibits I’ve seen elsewhere and it had a den and a pool.  And thankfully, there was no human contact with the tigers.  It was mid-day, so the two big cats were doing what cats everywhere do well – lounging.  But I managed to get in a few good photos – mostly of the tigers yawning!

The Amur tigers at the safari park are not slated to be released to the wild, but there are others that are.  Next on our route was a tiger rehabilitation center.  It currently houses three cubs from two litters that were orphaned presumably when their mothers were poached.  They will eventually learn to hunt and then if the rehabilitation is successful, they will be released to the wild around the time that they would have naturally dispersed from their mother.  One female from the rehabilitation center was released on May 9th wearing a GPS collar, and researchers have already documented her killing a badger.

A record nine Amur tiger cubs, representing four litters, have been rescued from the wild during the past fifteen months.  Poaching is likely the root of this problem, so my visit to the rehabilitation center highlighted the need to increase anti-poaching patrol effort and effectiveness.  The Minnesota Zoo and the Tiger Conservation Campaign are supporting these very efforts.  You can learn more and contribute to this worthy cause at here.