The release is part of a tiger recovery trial project run by WWF, the Jilin Provincial Forestry Department and the Wangqing Forestry Bureau and represents a crucial first step in providing the living conditions Amur tigers need to thrive in the reserve’s rugged Changbaishan area.
“There is very little prey for the 20 Amur tigers now living in Changbaishan, and this limits their numbers in China. Increasing the breeding population of the prey will help attract more Amur Tigers in the long run,” said Fan Zhiyong, Director of WWF China’s species programme.
One tiger needs to eat the equivalent of a medium size deer every week to survive and without adequate food, the tiger population rapidly declines. Many of Asia’s forests are already considered ‘empty’, with many trees but few animals.
Fifty years of decline
Over the past fifty years, the population of wild Amur tigers in Northeast China has declined from an estimated 200 to 20 today, due to massive pressure from deforestation, economic development, and poaching.
There are an estimated 450 Amur tigers now living in the Russian Far East, but recent sightings show that the population is slowly moving across the Chinese border and into the country’s Wandashan and Changbaishan mountains, part of the Wangqing Nature Reserve.
However, a recent WWF-backed survey shows that the lack of prey is a major hurdle in supporting the settlement of tigers in Northeast China. The same survey shows that the number of ungulate animals in the Changbaishan area - especially favored prey such as red deer and sika deer - is too low to support the recovery of the Amur tiger population.
“Density of red deer and wild boar, for example, is only 0.3 per square kilometer, less than half the number in neighboring Russia. The low prey density in China means it would be extremely difficult for the area’s forests to support the recovery of the tiger population,” said Dr. Zhu Jiang, Head of WWF China’s Northeast Office.
“Part of the solution is to increase the stock of available prey. We’re also working on habitat restoration, and stepping up monitoring to stop poaching,” noted Dr. Zhu. “This initial trial will help create the conditions needed to support the survival of at least one female tiger within the Wangqing Nature Reserve.”