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EVADING EXTINCTION: A 21ST CENTURY SURVEY OF THE LEGAL CHALLENGES TO WILD SIBERIAN TIGER CONSERVATION

JULIE SANTAGELO


1 Journal of Animal Law 109 (2005)
Publish Date:
2005
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
Printable Version

EVADING EXTINCTION: A 21ST CENTURY SURVEY OF THE LEGAL CHALLENGES TO WILD SIBERIAN TIGER CONSERVATION

Summary from the article:

The Siberian tiger (Felidae Panthera tigris altaica), more appropriately known as the Amur tiger, is the largest subspecies of tiger. The tiger is the largest feline species on earth). The largest full-grown wild male Amur tiger weighed in at 660 pounds. Sadly, there are currently more Amur tigers in captivity than in the wild.

While its original range extended throughout the Russian Far East, northeastern China, and the entire Korean peninsula, it is believed that the only remaining genetically viable population lives in the taiga forests of the Primorski and southern Khabarovski Krais--a region in the Far East of the Russian Federation along the Amur River basin in the Sikhote-Alin mountains. The heart of the Amur tigerís habitat lays in the legally protected Sikhote-Alin Preserve, a national park approximately the size of Yosemite. The Amur tiger--like all feline species, a dedicated carnivore--must maintain an average intake of ten pounds of meat per day and preys primarily on elk, sika deer, small roe deer, and wild boar. Because the Sikhote-Alin wilderness is characterized by thin topsoil and long winters, prey species must range widely for sustenance, requiring their redators to also range widely. As a result, Amur tigers patrol individual territories averaging 175 square miles.

The Amur tiger, like all tigers, is threatened by its high black market value as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. In fact, the illegal wildlife generates up to ten billion United States dollars per year, trailing only the illegal narcotics and arms trade in annual revenue. The 1989 opening of the Russian-Chinese border exacerbated this illegal trade within the Russian Federation.

The Amur tiger also suffers from a reduction of its prey base due to subsistence poaching of ungulate species and rampant logging. This reduction in wild prey has resulted in increased tiger-human conflicts such as livestock depredation, further reducing the localsí incentive to protect tigers.

There are a number of reasons why the wild Amur tiger is an important candidate for targeted conservation efforts (not to mention an excellent case exemplar of the legal architecture of international wildlife conservation law):

First, the Amur tiger, as a species at the pinnacle of the food chain in its habitat, is what environmentalists refer to as a flagship species or indicator species--the health of which serves as an important indicator of the health of the entire ecosystem in which it lives. Because the Amur tiger lives in one of earthís last remaining critical carbon sinks, the health of its habitat has global ramifications.

Second, the Amur tiger is one of only two wild tiger populations that scientists believe may be sufficiently robust for the purposes of long-term genetic survival. A genetically viable wild tiger population will ideally contain at least 500 individuals. In 2001, the population of wild Amur tigers was estimated at 450. Because of the current paucity of viable wild tiger populations, optimizing the conservation potential of the Amur tiger in its home range is vital for the survival of wild tigers in general.

Third, compared to much of Asia (tigers being an exclusively Asian species), the Russian Sikhote-Alin wilderness is more sparsely populated by both humans and tigers--reducing the relative rate of habitat encroachment and making tigers more difficult for poachers to find.

(pdf file - 123.02 KB)

 

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