The Siberian (or Amur) tiger is the largest tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) in the world. They live in Eastern Russia, and can also be found in parts of China and North Korea. The Amur tiger can grow to all eleven feet long, and weigh up to 660 pounds. Only 400 to 500 tigers remain in the world, though they remain stable but endangered. The far northern climate is harsh, giving these tigers a big advantage over other species, including man.
The northern Siberian forests offers the Amur tigers the lowest human density of any tiger habitat in the world. It also offers the most complete ecosystem for their survival. Besides their immense size, these tigers are well-known for their strength and endurance. Before the twentieth century, there were eight tiger subspecies. Now, only all but five remain. The numbers have been reduced due to poaching since tigers are hunted for both trophies and for their body parts used in traditional Chinese medicine. The five remaining species are endangered and now protected.
The Amur tiger lives alone, and aggressively scent-marks their territory to keep rivals away. They will travel many miles to hunt down their prey on nocturnal hunts. Their prey can include wild boar, pigs, sheep, cattle, elk, domesticated dogs, and even humans under the right conditions. They are well camouflaged with their unique stripes, as no two tigers have the same stripes. An adult tiger can eat as much as sixty pounds of meat in one night.
For the most part, the Amur tiger avoids humans. But on occasion, they can become man-eaters, like the Hall and Oates song. The Amur tiger has the agility of a cat and the mass of a refrigerator. The story of an unusual Amur tiger is featured in a book by John Valliant, who was recently featured on NPR. These majestic tigers can jump 25 feet, vertically, and leap over a basketball hoop.
The Valliant story centers around a Russian hunter, Vladimir Markov, who became a poacher, probably for some wealthy Chinese. Markov shot and wounded an Amur tiger, then stole part of its kill. Remarkably, the injured tiger then began to systematically stalk Markov. The Amur tiger staked out Markov’s cabin in the mountains, and waited for him to come back. When Markov returned, the tiger killed him, and then ate him. The eating was secondary to the revenge motive.
The other primary character in the book is Yuri Trush, the head of Inspection Tiger, a local anti-poaching squad leader. Their goal was to stop black market poaching of the Amur tiger and tiger parts. Most of the time, Trush’s job involved sting operations and catching poachers. But Markov’s death, the second by the wounded tiger, meant Trush had to kill the very tiger he was charged to protect.
Valliant’s book describes the life and death, minute by minute search by Trush of this Amur tiger. The story also provides an in-depth understanding of the relationship of the tiger and man in the Taiga. Markov violated the trust between the two by stealing the tiger’s kill. The tiger sought revenge, and once becoming a killer of humans, became a menace to everyone in the Amur region.
The book by John Valliant is: The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. It is a fascinating read, perhaps unique in story telling. I highly recommend this book, the quintessential relationship between man and beast in the wilds of Russia.
Some more Amur facts, as the female gives birth to litters of two to six, which they raise with no help from the male. Sounds much like some dysfunctional human families. The cubs are not able to hunt on their own until the age of eighteen months. They leave the mother tiger when they reach between two to three years of age. They reach sexual maturity at six years of age. Gestation is only three to three and a half months.
Totally coincidentally, both the Indianapolis Zoo, as well as the St. Louis Zoo have mating species of the Amur tiger. The Amur tiger is prized in China for almost its entire body, including the heart, blood, head, and coat. Russian poachers living in the Taiga are often forced to poach the Amur tiger as a result of their economic and geographic circumstances. It is a story worth reading.