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The population of the Amur tiger in Russia has increased to as many as 540 individuals over the last ten years, according to figures released by the Russian government today.
According to the interim census results, there are now between 480 and 540 Amur tigers across their existing range, with around 100 of these known to be cubs.
Russia’s Far East is home to 95% of the global population of Amur tigers, and the last census showed there were between 423 to 502 individuals.
Organized by the Russian government with the support of the Amur Tiger Center and WWF, the current census covered over 150,000 square kilometers of the endangered animal’s habitats. Over 2000 specialists were involved in the field research, while the use of technology such as GPS, satellite navigators and camera traps aided the count.
Amur tigers were once found throughout the Russian Far East, northern China, and the Korean peninsula. By the 1940s, hunting had driven the Amur tiger to the brink of extinction, with no more than 40 individuals remaining in the wild. Russia became the first country in the world to grant the tiger full protection and the population has steadily increased to as many as 540 individuals.
Amur Tigers, also known as Siberian Tigers, are the largest cat species in the world. Males can measure up to 10 feet in length and weigh anywhere from 396 - 660 pounds.
Pugmarks, the official name for tiger paw prints, are an important tool used during a tiger census. Males, females and cubs can be distinguished from their tracks.
Presence of tiger prey species, such as wild boar, are also recorded during the census. Low prey densities mean that Amur tigers have to search over large areas to find enough food - an adult male can have a home range of over 1000 km²
"The key is strong political support. Where we have it, in countries like Russia and India, we are seeing tremendous results. However, in South East Asia, where political support is weaker, we are facing a crisis. These countries stand to lose their tigers if urgent action isn't taken immediately."Mike Baltzer, Leader of WWF Tigers Alive Initiative
Recent anti-poaching efforts have been integral to the rise in tiger numbers, with tougher punishments and the introduction of criminal charges for the illegal hunting, storage and trafficking of endangered animals and their parts.
WWF is urging every tiger country to conduct a census as this is a critical component of efforts to double global tiger numbers by 2022, a goal known as Tx2.
Comprehensive surveys are urgently needed across South East Asian tiger countries. Experts from Malaysia suggested earlier this year that tiger numbers there may have fallen to just 250-340; down from the previous estimate of 500. It is critical that a survey is carried out as well as in Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
“Russia's success is due to the commitment of the country's political leadership and the tireless dedication of rangers and conservationists in very difficult conditions.”Igor Chestin, Head of WWF-Russia
In January, India released its latest tiger census results showing an increase to 2,226 from 1,706 in 2010. Census results are expected from Bangladesh and Bhutan later this year. China is planning to count its tigers this summer and zero poaching champion Nepal carried out its last census in 2013.
Poaching is the greatest threat to Amur wild tigers today with tiger parts still in high demand throughout Asia.
In the 1940s, the population of Amur tigers fell to just 40 animals but the population was brought back from the brink through conservation efforts and a ban on tiger hunting.
The final results of the Amur tiger census in Russia will be released in October 2015.