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Tigers Train for the Wild!?
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Plans to train 620 captive-bred Siberian tigers to live in the wild are to be undertaken by an artificial breeding station. 

Liu Dan, the chief of the Siberian Tiger Artificial Propagation Base of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, said the plan would be carried out soon.

Tigers will be trucked south in batches from their enclosures in the suburbs of Harbin City, capital of Heilongjiang and released into a fenced 15-hectare stretch of primitive forest at the foot of Mount Changbai on the border with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The massive campaign is aimed at conserving and improving the genetic stock of Siberian tigers, according to Liu.

Organizers have been encouraged by the success of an experiment in which 12 adult Siberian tigers were released into the Mount Changbai Siberian Tiger Wilderness Training Ground four years ago.

"All 12 tigers developed their natural capabilities including the ability to hunt and secure territory," said Liu. "Ten of the tigers have been brought back to the Siberian Tiger Artificial Propagation Base."

Staff at the base will continue to teach the 10 returned tigers how to hunt while other tigers begin their training.

However, Sun Haiyi, deputy leader of the Heilongjiang Provincial Institute of Wildlife, is skeptical about Liu's plan. Tigers thrived in areas of dense vegetation with numerous sources of water and large populations of ungulate prey such as deer and swine but the loss of forested land had cut into the tiger's habitat, said Sun.

"Increased human activities such as highway construction have turned tiger habitats into isolated islands and large tiger groups have split into smaller ones which results in in-breeding and degrades the species," added Sun.

"Success in releasing the trained tigers into the deep mountains should begin with the protection of the ecological environment and I think right now it would be more meaningful to spend the money on cultivating an environment where Siberian tigers can flourish," Sun observed.

Wang Shubai, head of the Mount Changbai Siberian Tigers Wilderness Training Ground, said Mount Changbai was close to the natural habitat of tigers with a wealth of vegetation and primitive forest.

(Xinhua News Agency September 25, 2006)

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