Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Plans for Tigers to once again inhabit Central Asia.

The Caspian tiger, Panthera tirgris virgata  which at 140 kilograms were among the largest cats to have ever lived.roamed Central Asia, from the Caspian Sea to north-west China, before reclamation of lands in the 19th century and hunting led to a significant decrease in availability of prey - wild boar and deer - that the tigers fed on.  It's not clear exactly when the Caspian tiger died out. Some reports suggest it was last seen in the 1960 in the Caspian literal of NW Iran, while others date its extinction to the 1970s the last reported sighting being in Kegeli in Karakalpakstan.

Ever since Caspian tigers disappeared, biologists and conservationists have tried to come up with a strategy to bring tigers back to Central Asia.  A recent study published in the Journal Biological Conservation has suggested that the Tiger could be effectively resurrected by reintroducing the genetically similar subspecies the Amu tigers from the Russian far east back into Central Asia. Between 2010 and 2012, scientists conducted a series of tests showing that the Caspian and Amur tigers were almost identical in their genetic structure.

Studies on the Siberian (Amur) variant found in found in the Sikhote Alin mountain region of the Primorye Province in the Russian Far East revealed that the two subspecies have diverged from a common ancestor relatively recently. Genetic mapping showing that the common ancestor of both subspecies colonised Central Asia via the same path as the Silk Road from eastern China about 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age. Some stayed in Central Asia and became the Caspian tiger, whereas the rest of the population moved up to the Russian Far East and evolved into the Siberian tiger. They found that despite some very small physiological differences, the Caspian and Siberian tigers are essentially the same on a genetic level. Thus, the extant population in Russia is thought to be a perfect way to “breed back” the Caspian tiger to Central Asia by introducing Amur tigers into suitable habitats.

The likely first location identified as a habitable area on the south bank of Balkhash lake and the Ili river estuary in Kazakhstan. The reintroduction project has already had approval from regional wildlife authorities and national government agencies. As a part of the project, it is planned to create a national park, revive riparian woodlands, and increase the diversity of flora and fauna in general. In particular the types of mammalian prey that the tigers normally hunt, such as deer and wild pigs. In addition they will need to carefully monitor and conserve the water supply. These measures are predicted to take at least 15 years. The project then plans to introduce into the park up to 100 tigers, they expect that the population to grow and stabilise at around 200 tigers by mid century.


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