Siberian tigers making a comeback

CHINA — In a lifetime of herding, Liu Xiangqing had never seen cows so scared.

Normally, at 6 a.m., they would be gathered together, contentedly chewing and grazing in the dawn light. But this June morning, they were scattered through the pine scrub, pacing with agitation, their ears alert. Liu took a quick head count and realized one was missing, a 2-year-old bull.

By the time the remains were located, the tail and thighs were missing, the entrails spilled in the dirt. There was a gash in the neck; claw marks raked down the torso.

It was a sure sign: The Siberian tiger was back.

“In my whole life, I’d never seen a real tiger, but I knew it couldn’t be anything else,” said the elfin-like Liu, 52, who grew up in this remote Chinese village wedged between the Russian and North Korean borders.

Tiger

File Photo

Once believed nearly extinct in China, the Siberian tiger, the largest member of the cat family, is making a comeback, the result of a decade-long effort to restore its natural habitat by banning logging, hunting and trapping.

Although they weigh as much as 675 pounds, Siberian tigers are elusive creatures that slink into the forest when humans approach. Villagers learn that a tiger has been on the prowl when they spot paw prints (or pug marks, as they are known) the diameter of melons. Or, as is happening more frequently in China, they discover that livestock is missing or mauled.

Four cows were killed in five days in May in another village near the border. One of the largest of Liu’s herd, a 1,300-pound bull, lost his tail to a tiger but stayed alive by fighting back.

In March, a farmer investigating a noise pointed his flashlight into the darkness and saw a tiger with claws dug into a cow. He chased it away by banging a metal bucket and setting off a firecracker.

In China, the number of Siberian tigers living in the wild (far smaller than those in captivity) has been listed in government statistics at between 18 and 22 for some years, said Li Zhixing, who has worked for decades on tiger protection.

For more on this LA Times story, click here.

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