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Tiger Spotting in the Snow

Generally, there are two types of Chinese tourists: those that go south to escape, and those that delve deeper into the chilly wilderness and enjoy the treasures to be found within.

Northeast China is the top choice for those brave tourists thanks to its traditional ice and snow festivals, and to see the Northeast China tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger.

These rare animals are most active during the cold season, playing all day long in the snow, but it is not easy to find them in the vast forests of northeastern China.

Living mainly in the forest depths of Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces, these animals are in the highest category of protection in China.

Siberian tigers, the largest of all tigers, live mainly in Siberia and northeastern China. It is believed there are only 300 Siberian tigers left in the wild, less than 20 in China.

Most Siberian tigers in China live in the Xiaoxinganling Mountains, in Heilongjiang Province, and the Changbai Mountain, in Jilin Province. The World Wide Fund for Nature has included Siberian tigers in its list as one of the world's 10 most endangered animals.

In order to exhibit and cultivate the beasts, tiger gardens were established in Harbin and Mudanjiang. Almost 80 per cent of Siberian tigers in China are housed there.

The wild Siberian tigers found the border are called the Amur tiger by the Russians living there.

There are two main destinations to tiger watch in northeastern China.

The easiest to reach is the Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin. Most of these tigers are raised by local staff. It is also the only science and research center of Siberian tigers in China.

The park covers 1.5 million sqm and is open for tourists daily.

The park has long suffered financial problems because of the high daily expenses to maintaining each tiger.

Visitors to the park are encouraged to buy rabbits, goats, pigs, chickens and oxen to feed the hungry tigers. You can also watch them fight as they devour the food. Price ranges from 10 yuan (US$1.2) to 300 yuan (US$36) per animal.

The park also houses dozens of lions. They live peacefully with the tigers in the park.

Among the 100 Siberian tigers, eight are white, with one albino. Two rare white lions can also be found.

It takes about one and half hours to tour the park. Except for the walking area and tiger-watching platform, a bus can take you around the park with ease.

The entrance fee is 50 yuan (US$6) for adults, 25 yuan (US$3) for children between 1 meter to 1.4 meters and free for children under 1 meter high.

Take bus route 85 to get to the park from downtown Harbin.

A much more interesting trip for most visitors is to go to the Siberian Tiger Natural Reserve, in Northeast China's Jilin Province.

The park is located on the northern bank of the Songhua River. It is the largest wild natural reserve in the world dedicated to the Northeast China Tiger. A special coach allows you to meander through groups of tigers and appreciate the adventurous and exciting scenes.

Huangnihe River Nature Reserve, in the Changbai Mountain area of Jilin Province, was established by the provincial government four years ago.

Chinese, Russian and American experts have concluded that fewer than 20 Siberian tigers are living in the wild in northeastern China. Mount Changbai is their most important habitat.

A hunting ban imposed on Changbai Mountain by the Jilin Provincial Government five years ago has increased the number of wild boars and roe deer, prime prey for the tigers.

Mount Changbai is a famous scenic spot that attracts thousands of tourists from around the world each year. The ecosystem is characterized by mixed coniferous and broadleaved trees of Korean Pine, Manchurian Ash, subalpine evergreen and alpine tundra surrounding hot springs, cultivated fields and residential areas.

For safety reasons, personal hikes around the area are not advised.

Snowfalls average 2 feet between December and March, making it easy to get lost in the area.

According to Chinese media reports earlier this year, wild Siberian tigers are frequently found in the mountains.

A worker, missing for more than two weeks, from the Changbai Mountain Siberian Tiger Park was believed to be killed and eaten by Siberian tigers in the park early this year. Pieces of the worker's clothing and body were found. It is believed that he was killed by the tigers before he was eaten.

Many other villagers have told the media that they found unfamiliar animal tracks in the hills before the attack.

To get to the wild Siberian Tiger Reserve Park, first go to Changchun, the provincial capital city of Jilin.

Many tour buses go between Changchun and the destination every day.

(Beijing Weekend November 12, 2004)

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