On assignment for WWF in Russia’s Far East


Russia’s Far East is home to 95 percent of the global population of Amur tigers. A census in 2005 showed that there were between 423 to 502 individuals. A decade later, according to an interim survey released by the russian government, the population had increased to 540 individuals. Recent anti-poaching efforts have been integral to the rise in tiger numbers, with tougher punishments and the introduction of criminal charges for the illegal hunting, storage and trafficking of endangered animals and their parts. Poaching is the greatest threat to wild tigers today with tiger parts still in high demand throughout Asia.

In the 1940s, the population of Amur tigers fell to just 40 animals, but the population was brought back from the brink through conservation efforts and a ban on tiger hunting. Interestingly, and worryingly, a broad genetic sampling of 95 wild Russian tigers found markedly low genetic diversity, with the effective population size extraordinarily low in comparison to the census population size; with the population behaving as if it were just 27–35 individuals. This reflects the recent population crash of the 1940s and correlated to low documented cub survivorship to independence in the Russian Far East, and the fact that more than 90% of the population occurs in the Sikhote Alin mountain region, and there is little genetic exchange (movement of Tigers) across the development corridor which separates this sub-population from the much smaller sub population found in southwest Primorye province. This low genetic diversity is becoming an increasing problem across a multitude of species as populations crash, and are then brought back from the brink of extinction.