A wild Siberian tiger was photographed in the northeast last week for the first time, an indication that the increasingly rare beasts are tentatively returning to areas they once roamed years ago.
The image of the elegant animal, also known as an Amur tiger, was captured on film in the Hunchun Nature reserve in Jilin Province by an automatic "camera trap," the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society said yesterday.
It said the photograph provided "strong evidence that tigers are crossing from the Russian Far East region to repopulate previous tiger strongholds."
The dramatic photograph, taken at night, shows a lithe adult tiger, its eyes aglow and its orange fur offset by black stripes. It is gnawing at the innards of a mule it had apparently killed.
Staff members at the Hunchun reserve, which the society helped establish in 2001, set up the camera trap after a local farmer reported that a predator had killed a mule. Retrieving the film the following day, they discovered the image of the tiger.
The wild Siberian tiger, largely indigenous to the Russian Far East, northeastern China and the Korean Peninsula, is listed as one of the world's most endangered wildlife species. No more than 400 are believed alive.
Fewer than 20 are believed to be in China - mainly in the mountains of Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces. The government's Forestry Administration placed all breeds of tigers under "key state protection" in 2001.
The hunchun reserve sits on the western edge of the Russia-China border. The Wildlife Conservation Society says it offers a "corridor of habitat" so tigers from Russia can repopulate areas of China.
It appears to be working: Siberian tracks have appeared in the area frequently since the beginning of the year.
The conservation society says it is confident that, as long as the enforcement of hunting laws keeps apace, Siberian tigers will keep returning to China. Endi Zang of a research society based in China, said the photograph represents "a bright beginning for Amur tiger conservation in the future."
In November, Siberian tigers killed and ate a worker in another wildlife park in Jilin that had released its tigers from their cages to spend the winter outdoors.
The worker had ignored standard safety precautions, officials said.
(Xinhua News Agency February 8, 2003)