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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
New threat to Siberian tiger
The Siberian tiger is threatened by extreme cold spell
Siberian tiger is one of world's most endangered species
The world's biggest cat, the rare Siberian tiger, is facing a new threat.

Despite recent conservation efforts, there are believed to be no more than about 400 tigers living in the wild in Russia's Far Eastern region, and the fate of the "king of the taiga" is causing the authorities in Khabarovsk Territory serious concern.

Siberian tigers are usually extremely shy. Even staff of the anti-poaching unit in Khabarovsk Territory can only boast of one or two encounters with the animals they guard, Russian NTV television said in a special report on the endangered species.

Anti-poaching unit staff in Khabarovsk Territory
Patrols check all cars in a bid to thwart poachers

But unusually low temperatures in the tiger's natural habitat in eastern Siberia and northeastern China this winter have led to a reduction in stocks of reindeer and wild boar, a staple of its diet.

This has driven the tigers ever closer to populated areas, where they are at risk from poachers.

Dogs and cattle

"Through hunger, this usually very cautious cat, which requires at least 20 kg of meat a day, has started to come out of the taiga and closer to populated areas to hunt dogs and cattle, and the brigades of poachers, who fire at whatever they see, wait for the tiger," the TV said.

Only one poacher has received a prison sentence for hunting the tiger


"These are professional poachers. They - how should I say - they use equipment that we don't have at our disposal - helicopters, snow buggies," the head of the Khabarovsk Territory anti-poaching detachment lamented.

"They get them everywhere and they take everything they come across."

Prized skins

Tiger poaching is a lucrative business.

Tiger skins can be worth tens of thousands of dollars, while the animal's internal organs and bones are prized ingredients in oriental medicine.

The tigers are an endangered species
The tigers are increasingly at risk from poachers

The patrols close roads and paths at night and check all cars in a bid to thwart the poachers.

They also check lorries carrying wood as unauthorized logging poses another threat to the tiger's existence.

"China imports mainly oak. This means there are fewer acorns, which the wild boar feed on. The fewer wild boar, the fewer tigers," the TV said.

Lax laws

But the restrictions are poorly enforced.

"We detained two lorries carrying wood. It was clear that something was wrong, but the police let them go on their way," a patrol member complained.

Specialists are calling for the laws against hunting the Siberian tiger to be tightened up.

While in China destroying or trading in tigers may incur the death penalty, in Russia poachers are generally fined.

"Only once in the past ten years has there been a case of a prison sentence for hunting the tiger," the TV said.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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