Thanks to extensive conservation efforts in countries such as Russia and China, population of the previously critically endangered Siberian tigers have slowly recovered. However, continuous deforestation and worsening effects of climate change are threatening the vulnerable species once again.
The Siberian tiger is the biggest and most powerful species of the Felidae family there is today. On average, it is two to four inches taller than a Bengal tiger and has longer and thicker fur, in relation to other subspecies of tigers, for its survival in cold environments.
One of the unique things about the Siberian tiger is that it goes by different names – Amur, Manchurian, Ussurian, Northeast China, and Korean tigers. These names portray its regional habitat, the southeast region of Russia, where the country meets the Chinese and North Korean borders.
In the 1990s, the Siberian tiger nearly faced extinction, and had been categorised as a Critically Endangered animal on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
Fortunately, the species was able to overcome the risk of being extinct by significant influences of conservation campaigns promoted mostly in Russia and China. For instance, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) Russia’s Siberian Tiger Project aims to research and provide the best possible environments for the conservation of Siberian tigers in the Russian Far East by studying their “social structure, land use patterns, food habits, reproduction, mortality, and relationship with other species, including humans”.
As the result of such attempts to revive the population of the species, the IUCN revised the conservation status of the Siberian tiger from Critically Endangered to Endangered in 2007. Recent surveys on the conservation of the Siberian tiger seem to align with the population trend portrayed in the IUCN report. However, a joint research carried out by numerous authentic institutions – including the Northeast Forestry University, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund, and University of California – between 2013 and 2018 identified only 55 individual Siberian tigers in northeast China despite how “Chinese habitats have the potential to support more than 310 Siberian tigers”.
It seems that despite the legal measures and individual campaigns to preserve the population of the Siberian tiger, there still seems to be significant threats to the survival of the species. A study on the historic distribution and recent loss of tigers in China identified “hunting” and “habitat fragmentation and loss” as two major concerns against the conservation of the tigers. Until its mission to protect the tigers, local Chinese governments had apparently given rewards to people who had killed tigers from the 1950s through the 1960s.
You might also like: Southeast Asia Losing Tigers as Deadline Looms to Double Population by 2022
Moreover, the series of deforestation in China in the 1950s with the attempts to develop and modernise China and its industry have significantly reduced the natural habitats of tigers. Although tigers no longer pose a threat to human survival and the Chinese government has announced legal measures to prevent people from killing the tigers, illegal hunting still exists in the country for monetary reasons, as there are great demands for tiger fur and traditional Chinese medicines that require the bones and other body parts of the animal.
Another study, which assessed the impact of climate change on the population viability of the Siberian tiger, explained how human activities and their consequent phenomena could interfere with the conservation of the species. The presence of Korean pine, for example, is one of the key conditions for the survival of the Siberian tiger, as the pine’s resistance to a cold climate makes it a consistent source of protection for wildlife in the region and its nuts are “a key food source for deer and wild boar, the tiger’s primary prey”. However, the increase of the global demand for Korean pine trees has posed a threat to the survival of the Siberian tiger, and the study has conveyed the exigency in reserving the potential habitats by conserving the plant through active measures.
Climate change also seems to be a major concern for the preservation of Korean pine, as “high growing season temperatures in combination with less precipitation” causes its growth decline. There are other conditions that explain the vulnerability of the tree species to climate change, which include its shallow root. Making it more sensitive to drought caused by rising temperature and the negative impacts of increasing drought frequency on the growth of younger trees under high competition.
Aside from its impact on Korean pine, climate change will affect current conservation efforts of tigers. Researchers explained how the “bioclimatic conditions satisfying the survival requirements of tigers would shift differentially in response to the three climate change scenarios” and concluded that “climate change will likely exacerbate the habitat-related problems [such as poaching, habitat degradation, and habitat loss] and thus increase the possibility of extinction”.