Year of the (Amur) Tiger

According to the Chinese calendar, a few days ago the world transited from the Year of the Ox to the Year of the Tiger. At Yorkshire Wildlife Park (YWP), however, it’s always the year of the tiger. Or, to be more precise, the year of the Amur Tiger, three of which currently call the Park home.

The Amur Tiger, also known as the Siberian Tiger, is one of six tiger sub-species, and is the largest big cat in the world. Adult males may weigh up to an impressive 200kg (440lb). These are majestic, iconic animals, and YWP visitors can often be seen gazing in awe at Vladimir, Sayan and Tschuna as they prowl around their ample enclosure.

Our consciences may be troubled at seeing such magnificent beasts living behind a fence, but the sad truth is that those tigers are lucky to be alive at all. In the 1940s the Amur Tiger was teetering on the edge of extinction. Fewer than 50 individuals remained in the wild at that time, after decades of political instability that had seen Russia bloodily reborn as part of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union had a wretched reputation in the latter half of the 20th century. Those of us who lived through the Cold War, wondering anxiously when the Kremlin’s missiles might come a-calling, don’t have particularly fond memories of the Soviets. On the face of it, theirs was not a regime that would be expected to place much emphasis on wildlife conservation.

But when it came to saving the Amur Tiger, the Soviet Union certainly stepped up to the plate. In 1947 they gave full protection to the tigers living within their borders, the first country in the world ever to do so. Killing tigers was outlawed and hunting of their main prey species, boar and deer, was restricted.

Government intervention came just in time and numbers have recovered, albeit very slowly. By 2005, the population of wild Amur Tigers had reached 330, and according to a recent report in the Moscow Times is now estimated at over 600.

So successful has the recovery been in Russia that a few Amur Tigers have now crossed the border into north-east China. The Chinese government is encouraging the process through the creation of two new nature reserves, one of which (the Tiger and Leopard National Park, or TLNP) is 50% larger than the USA’s wonderful Yellowstone National Park.

Meanwhile zoos throughout Europe, including Yorkshire Wildlife Park, are participating in a European Breeding Programme which acts as an insurance policy potentially supporting numbers and genetic diversity in the wild population.

In 2015 one of YWP’s females (Tschuna) gave birth to three cubs called Harley, Hector and Hope. The youngsters are now grown up, and have been dispersed to zoos in other parts of the world as part of the ongoing species breeding programme. This all happened some time before I retired from work and so, sadly, Mrs P and I never got see them. But we’re regular visitors to Yorkshire Wildlife Park these days, and are hoping for another similarly “happy event” very soon.

One day, maybe, such captive breeding programmes will be unnecessary, and the encouraging news emerging from Russia and China offers some cause for optimism on this count. In the meantime, however, it’s good to know that places like Yorkshire Wildlife Park are doing their bit to protect the future of this magnificent species of big cat.

You can enjoy some film of YWP’s tigers by clicking on the link below to my short video on YouTube.

14 comments

  1. Laurie Graves · February 2

    Thanks for the history. I knew nothing about Amur tigers, and it is nice to know the Soviet Union did the decent thing. Beautiful animals, but I sure wouldn’t want to meet one in the wild. Really enjoyed the video!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · February 2

      Thank you, Laurie. The Bengal tiger is much better known (see the Jungle Book and Life of Pi, for example) but the Amur sub-species is equally magnificent. What a glorious animal!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Laurie Graves · February 2

        Oh, yes!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ann Mackay · February 3

        They are absolutely magnificent! It’s great to know that they are being protected and making a recovery. It’s good that the captive breeding program is helping them too – although, like you, I’d be happiest if the captive breeding was no longer necessary. Great photos! ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · February 4

        Thanks, Ann. They are beautiful creatures, exuding power and dignity. Truly wonderful.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. nationalparkswitht · February 2

    Great tiger photos.๐Ÿ’–๐Ÿ’–

    Liked by 2 people

  3. alison41 · February 2

    Finally a good news post on the ecology front: thank you! I’ve never seen any tigers on the paw, Africa obviously not being their habitat, and zoos few and far between. So I enjoyed your pics. Magnificent creatures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · February 2

      Hi Alison. I must confess I was pleasantly surprised when my research for this post turned up the facts about the Amur Tiger’s recovery – not what I’d expected at all. As you say they are magnificent creatures, and the world is a better place for having them around.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. tanjabrittonwriter · February 2

    It’s nice to know that the Amur Tiger has wild places where it can live. I also have mixed emotions about zoos and wildlife parks, but many species would no longer exist were it not for captive breeding programs.
    You might recall that our local Cheyenne Mountain Zoo also has one male Amur Tiger. Tragically, during a breeding attempt, a female passed away after an artificial insemination. I hope you and I both will see a litter of healthy tiger cubs at our respective sites.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · February 2

      Yes, I recall your post about that … a very sad loss. If they do have cubs again at Yorkshire Wildlife Park we’ll definitely be spending a LOT of time there ๐Ÿ™‚.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Juneโ€™s Travels · February 3

    Amur tigers are very beautiful. I really like to go to see them in a Wildlife Sanctuary sometime later. I heard their numbers have been increased a little bit. The mountain climbers in north east of China have seen a couple of tigers. Occasionally the tigers went to the villages in China from Russia for food. Truly hope the endangered tigers populations and our society can do more to save them from extinction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · February 3

      Yes, they are truly wonderful. I hope you get to see them one day soon, you’re sure to be impressed!

      Liked by 1 person

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