Amur Tiger at the Zurich zoo, photo: Tambako the Jaguar via flickr
A few months ago I included the Amur Tiger (also know as the Siberian Tiger) in a slideshow of animals which very well could go extinct in the coming decades. It was for good reason, as a new piece from the BBC shows. This largest of all the tigers has an effective wild population of just 35 individuals:Though there are about 500 Amur Tigers left in the wild (with nearly as many in captivity around the world), the genetic diversity of the remaining animals is such that in terms of the species' long-term viability there really are far fewer: Hence, the effective population being merely 27-35.
Lowest Genetic Diversity of Any Tiger Population
By sampling DNA from the cat's droppings, the team determined that the genetic diversity among Amur Tigers is the lowest ever recorded for a wild population of tigers.
Not only that, but the tigers are segregated geographically into two groups which rarely intermingle.
The only bright spot in the research seems to be that 1) there is the possibility of reintroducing captive tigers back into the wild, and 2) the researchers found that in the captive population there are unique genetic features no longer found in the wild.
Conservation Has Already Once Brought Amur Tigers Back From the Brink
Even though the genetic diversity of wild Amur Tigers is astonishingly, and perhaps critically, low, even the population levels we now see is conservation success story. Due to habitat loss and poaching, by the 1940s somewhere between 20 and 30 individuals were left in the wild. Since then, conservation efforts and a ban on hunting them has increased the population.
Since the start of the 20th century, when world tiger populations were thought to be above 100,000, three tiger sub-species have gone extinct: The Caspian Tiger (which was so closely related to the Amur Tiger than some scientists believe them to be one and the same), the Bali Tiger, and the Javan Tiger.
More: BBC News - Amur tigers on 'genetic brink'
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