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ON THE EDGE OF EXTINCTION - A - THE TIGER (Panthera tigris)

Netherlands peter Offline
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( This post was last modified: 06-05-2018, 07:19 AM by peter )

PANTHERA TIGRIS ALTAICA - 6 - HISTORY OF THE RUSSIAN FAR EAST AND MANCHURIA

6a - Introduction

A post on the history of the Russian Far East and the northern part of Manchuria in a thread dedicated to tigers?

Yes. The reason is simple. Today, humans, directly or indirectly, strongly affect those who make their home in the natural world. If we want to know a bit more about the future of wild tigers, we have no option but to discuss politics every now and then.

No agree? In southeastern Asia, conservation has zero priority. The result is that wild country is rapidly disappearing everywhere. Wild tigers are all but gone in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodja. Myanmar still has tigers, but the reports are not good. Indonesia compares in that conservation is at the bottom of the list as well. Want to see destruction at work? Visit Sumatra.  

In India, Nepal and Bhutan, however, conservation has meaning. The result is about 3 000 wild tigers. In Thailand and Malaysia, conservation also isn't a paper tiger. The result is 500-600 wild tigers. In the Russian Far East, tigers will have 200 000 square km. at their disposal soon. Today, there are about 550 wild Amur tigers in Russia. If we include North-Korea and China, there could be about 600.

China, definitely improving in the conservation department, is a bit silent on the Chinese tiger though. In 2011, there were 5-10 tigers in the western part of central China. One also wonders about the situation in the extreme southwestern part of the country. The recent report on a remote and largely isolated population of tigers in northeastern India suggests that they could be present in the extreme southwest of China. These tigers don't seem to belong to P.t. tigris or P. t. amoyensis.   

6b - Numbers and future

In the last 150 years, tigers lost about 95% of their territory. Many think there were about 100 000 just before the human population exploded. My guess is there were less, but densities could have been higher than today because the ecosystem was healthier back then. 

Two decades ago, there were about 3 500 wild tigers left, meaby a bit more. Today, there could be about 5 000 - 6 000. The target set in St. Petersburg a few years ago will prove to be a bridge too far, but tigers do seem to have a future just south of the Himalayas, Nagarahole, Thailand, southern Malaysia, northeastern China and, in particular, the Russian Far East.

Central and southwestern China (some wild tigers left, but very low numbers and no airplay), Kazakhstan (reintroduction of tigers considered, but not in the immediate future) and Indonesia (overpopulation, total destruction and no conservation policy whatsoever) were not included. Sumatra is a free for all at the moment. It could be that some of the very wealthy (I was thinking of the project of Tommy in particular) will create a few private sanctuaries, but the reports are not good.

I don't think tiger numbers will double in the next decade, but 7 000 - 8 000 wild tigers in ten years from now seems a realistic target. In all regions that have tigers, conservation is crucial. As conservation and politics are closely related, a discussion about politics can't be avoided.

India tops the list. Although poverty is a very real problem for a large part of the population, conservation has priority. Remarkable. The problem is that the political situation in India is quite complex. We need an insider able to get to a decent summary. I was thinking of Sanjay of Rishi, but anyone interested in politics, conservation and tigers is invited to give it a try. Same for Nepal and Bhutan.   

As China was already discussed in the series on the Chinese tiger (this thread), the time has arrived to have a closer look at the situation in the Russian Federation.

6c - History of the Russian Far East 

After going over what I have on Russia, I decided for the internet. Before I did a search, I had to limit the scope. I decided for the period after 1850. The reason is that tigers, distribution- and numberwise, most probably reached their top in the period 1650-1850. When significant parts of Asia had been occupied by European countries and fire-arms had become available, the situation changed. Wild country was cultivated and hunting was introduced. Although there were a few rules, wild animals were quickly decimated in many regions.

Tigers in particular suffered, as they, for different reasons, topped the list of the new rulers and the new hunters. The result was that tigers disappeared everywhere. Well before World War Two started, tigers had been exterminated in Korea and decimated in Indonesia (Bali and Java), southeastern Asia (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) and quite many parts of what was then British India. After the war, in the period 1950-1975, tigers were hunted down in central Asia and in most parts of China. 

And what about northern China and Russia? I can also keep it short and tell you right now that tigers in that part of Asia, in spite of their limited numbers, survived the massacre. 

There were different reasons. One is that northeastern Asia was thinly populated. It still is. Two is long winters and a limited number of tigers. Three is politics. What is now the Russian Far East, was part of China. In 1858 (Treaty of Aigun), Russia, expanding east, got a significant portion of northern China and in 1860 (Treaty of Peking) the region that now has most Amur tigers (Primorye) was added:


*This image is copyright of its original author
 

The aim of the new rulers was to populate and cultivate the new territory, but not in the way it was done by most western nations in Africa and Asia. When the new settlers made a mess of it, the Russian elites decided for a different approach. Conservation always was on their mind and it most probably made the difference for Amur tigers.  

I knew a bit about the history of the Russian Far East, but not enough. For this reason, I decided to search for studies and books in which this region featured. It took me some time, but the result was overwhelming. Everything you want to read is there.

Although every study is interesting, one of them stands out.

It covers everything of importance and, in spite of the title, links the history of the Russian Far East with today (the writer visited Linda Kerley). The dissertation 'TAMING TIGER COUNTRY: COLONIZATION AND ENVIRONMENT IN THE RUSSIAN FAR EAST, 1860-1940', written by Mark Sokolsky (Ohio State University) and published in 2016 is a true treasure and will be discussed in the next posts:


*This image is copyright of its original author
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United States tigerluver Offline
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(06-21-2018, 06:13 AM)peter Wrote:
(06-20-2018, 07:09 AM)tigerluver Wrote:
*This image is copyright of its original author


@peter , @GrizzlyClaws , are there any more detailed measurements on this skull? Also which book/article is this from? The citation seems to be "Loukashkin, A. S. (1938). The manchurian tiger. China J., Shanghai, 28, 127-133." but the trails runs dry beyond that.

The photograph is from V. Mazak's 'Der Tiger' (1983). Here's the story.

According to V. Mazak, the photograph (65 x 90 mm.), most probably, was made by a European living in the northern part of China in the thirties of the last century. Mazak got it from J. Bartusek from the former Czechoslovakian Orient Institute. When he visited China in the sixties of the last century, he received it from an official source. 

The measurements of the skull from Chanwangshai (northeastern China) were written on the back of the photograph. 

In order to prevent misinterpretations and confusion, I decided to scan the pages 193-195 from Mazak's book (in German). The story on the photograph starts halfway page 193: 


*This image is copyright of its original author
 

*This image is copyright of its original author


*This image is copyright of its original author


Mazak thought that the measurements were genuine, " ... da man Schadel dieser Abmessungen bei außergewohnlich großen Tieren erwarten kann ... " (pp. 194). 

Wild Amur tigers of exceptional size have been discussed before. One of these was the tiger shot in 1943 by Sin-En-Tschzin. The debate about this tiger was about its weight, not the skull. The skull, however, was exceptional: 


*This image is copyright of its original author


Although wild Amur tigers of exceptional size have not been seen by biologists in the period 1992-2018, some large captive male Amur tigers have been measured. One of these, the famous Duisburg zoo tiger, was 320 cm. in total length in a straight line. Almost as long as the large male of the Prague Zoo measured by V. Mazak, but more robust. In this department, he compared to the giant shot in 1943. The length of his head was 50 cm.:


*This image is copyright of its original author


This tiger no doubt had a very large skull, but my guess is the skull was never measured. This means that those interested had to continue swimming in circles.

Than this photograph was published in a paper:


*This image is copyright of its original author


It is about the 125 mm. scale just below the skull, as it enables a quite accurate estimate. My attempts resulted in at greatest total length of at least 420 mm. and a rostrum width of about 122 mm. Unheard of, but possible when the owner is exceptional in size. And there's no question he was:  


*This image is copyright of its original author


If we add the skull of an old Amur tiger from a Japanese zoo described in a paper discussed in the thread 'On the Edge of Extinction - A - The tiger (Panthera tigris)', the conclusion is that the table of V. Mazak often used in books has to be updated. I'm not too sure about the average length of captive and wild male Amur tigers, but it's clear that the greatest total skull length of large individuals ranges between 360-406 mm., apparently even up to 420-430 mm.

The head and body length of the Koln Zoo tiger (see the last photograph), by the way, was 240 cm. (...). The tigress, still alive as far as I know, also is a large animal.

As requested, here is a copy of @peter's excellent post regarding the largest of Amur tiger skulls. Just click on the quote to expand it.
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United States tigerluver Offline
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Copying @peter's post about the weights of young tigers of today and yesterday. Just click the quote to expand it.

(Yesterday, 08:16 AM)peter Wrote: YOUNG TIGERS IN INDIA AND RUSSIA

The Russian Far East

In southeastern Russia, young tigers disperse at 18-24 months of age. I've yet to see a reliable report about a 3-4 year old male reaching 400 pounds (181,44 kg.). In the RFE, tigers need more time to get to their potential, so it seems. Not a few young males never get to adulthood. Even when they reach maturity, trouble always is close. Only few males exceed 450 pounds (204,12 kg.), whereas adult male brown bears with a similar head and body length average 550-600 pounds. 

Sizewise, Amur tigers compare to Indian tigers in most departments, but they lack in weight. And individual variation. The reasons are not known. It's not related to the number of tigers, as large individuals have been shot in the period in which the number of tigers was well below that of today. Long winters of course have an effect, but the Russian Far East always had long and severe winters. That leaves human pressure and destruction. 

In Manchuria, the natural world was all but destroyed in the last century. The mighty forests were decimated and the inhabitants were hunted to extinction. In Russia, the situation was a bit better, but Arseniev and his guide Dersu had zero confidence a century ago. Destruction was everywhere. 

Amur tigers, largely as a result of the efforts of Kaplanov, survived, but they faced empty forests, long distances, deep snow and a lot of competition for a long time, They still do. Primorye has 60 000 - 100 000 hunters with a license and thousands of bears, but the destruction has slowed. The Russians are working on it, that is. Same for the Chinese. If all goes well, Amur tigers will have 200 000 square km. at their disposal in a few years from now. If we add the declining human population in Primorye, more pressure on poachers, more adequate legislation, well-equipped and well-trained rangers and genuine interest from Moscow, chances are the situation could change in the next decades.

If the ecosystem is healthy, apex predators will respond sooner or later. In tigers, size seems to be related to the size of the reserves, the size of the competitors they face and the size of the animals they hunt. Large mammals need time to reproduce and to repopulate suited regions. When the situation in the RFE improves, tigers will profit more than their competitors (bears). The reason is that they depend on protein. Protein is the quickest way to size. 

Competition of large bears and wild boars was, and always will be, part of life in the RFE. Amur tigers didn't, like in India, gain in robustness, but combined length, strength, athleticism and aggression. Robustness has an advantage when large herbivores are on the menu, but not when a big cat hunts similar-sized and agile animals like wild boars and bears. In India, tigers face other tigers. In the RFE, they face other tigers and bears. If a big cat develops features typical for robust omnivores like bears in order to get on equal terms, it has to sacrfice it essence ('tigerishness'). Life likes experiments, chance and individual variation, but crossing limits defining species is not included.

There's, however, nothing wrong with a few adaptions like extra-large canines, an extra-wide rostrum, big fore-arms, a long and flexible spine and an attitude and that's what we see in wild male Amur tigers that made the cut. Individual variation could result in a few extra-large tigers in some time from now, but my guess is that the basic model is not very different from what is seen today.

Apparently, the road to that model is long and rocky. It starts at an early age, never stops and has an effect, even in captive tigers. Captive Amur tigers are different from captive tigers of other subspecies. Not as clever, not as willing to communicate, tougher and more 'serious' in all departments, a few trainers told me. And they don't like bears.

What I saw is difficult to describe. I'm not surprised that some captive Amur tigers seem out of this world. The energy I sense needs a way out. Some of these giants seem like old battleships. Very powerful, but a bit outdated. Wild Amur tigers also seem to have this energy, but use it in another way. It imploded and surfaces when the need is there. Wild Amur tigers, although, apart from a few freaks, smaller than their captive relatives, they seem more battleworthy.

Amur tigers compare to captive lions in that they too seem to live in a different dimension. The difference is that lions direct their energy at each other, whereas Amur tigers do not. Lions are 'ingoing', whereas Amur tigers are 'outgoing'. In spite of that, they too do not interact. Most male lions are not interested in humans. If they show interest, better beware. Amur tigers don't care about humans (different from 'not interested'), but also show no antipathy. If they, however, get a chance to get close, you're gone. Male lions maul, but Amur tigers will kill you immediately.             

Although more Indian tigers perish in conflicts with other tigers, Amur tigers could face more problems. They live with other tigers, bears, wild boars and humans and know that every mistake can be the last. They have more room to avoid problems, but they have to learn about conflict, interaction and when to strike. More than their captive relatives, wild male Amur tigers interact with those who share their territory. All wild male big cats walk the edge most of the time, but Amur tigers could top the list in this department. Psychological warfare is their thing. Those who knew about tigers avoided them when possible. Even in the century of destruction, Amur tigers were seldom hunted. Too dangerous. 

Indian tigers need to grow fast and get big to survive encounters with other tigers in densely populated reserves, but Amur tigers need to learn about war and peace and everything in-between. Apart from that, they need to learn about long winters and survival. Wild male Amur tigers that made it to adulthood are loaded with knowledge. True survivors, Vaillant wrote.    
     
India

In most parts of India, young tigers disperse when they reach 24-30 months. Males ranging between 2-3 years of age often exceed 350 pounds (158,76 kg.), with some well over that mark and even up to 497 pounds (225 kg.). The difference between India and Russia is a result of conditions and competition. Young tigers in Russia have more room at their disposal, but they have to learn to cope with long winters, a lack of large prey animals and competition from older tigers and bears.

MB2

Tiger MB2 was 297 cm. in total length measured 'over curves' and 195 kg. (430 pounds) at about 30 months of age. In spite of his impressive size, he was no match for his father. If he would have entered the territory of an adult male in another part of town, it could have been curtains. Umarpani told him to move on, but seems to be prepared to tolerate him for now. 

In northeastern India, a century ago, the difference between a measurement taken 'over curves' and a measurement taken 'between pegs' for males was about 13,5 cm. This means that the total length of MB2 measured in a straight line is about 283-284 cm. (just over 9.3). Umarpani, in his prime, is a bit longer and significantly denser and heavier.

The average size of male tigers in Central India

In Dunbar Brander's day, adult males in central India averaged 9.3 and 420 pounds. The longest he shot was 10.3 in total length in a straight line, whereas the heaviest was 9.11. That male had a head and body length of 221 cm. (7.3) in a straight line, which still is the record for India. 

It's likely that male tigers with a territory in central parts of India are a bit longer and heavier than a century ago, but not by much. The reason is that quite a few males will never be able to establish a territory. Some of them perish while trying, whereas others avoid problems. A population has males with a territory, males unable to compete, young adults, fugitives, disabled tigers and old tigers.

Tigers with a ranch might average 9.8 in total length in a straight line and 550 pounds in their prime, but others never reach 9 feet and 400 pounds. If the average would be higher than a century ago, the most likely reason is a lack of room, more confrontations, more casualties and less smallish tigers. The reserves are well-stocked, but the number of buffer zones and corridors is too limited to provide room for tigers unable to compete. Buffer zones also often are used by farmers, which often results in conflicts.    

MB2

MB2, when he survives, will add a few more inches and quite a few pounds in the next years, but his main concern is finding a place to call home and avoiding confrontations with older and larger tigers. When he succeeds, chances are he could compare to his father in most respects. Umarpani is a large tiger, but he wasn't taller, longer or heavier than the two males he beat. Coincidence might have been a factor, but chances are he was more competative than the others.    

Excellent work, PC. Many thanks on behalf of all.
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Copying @peter's post regarding the size of Indian tigers.
(Yesterday, 06:49 AM)peter Wrote: SIZE OF INDIAN TIGERS 

A century ago

A century ago, the region just south of the Himalayas produced the longest tigers (total length measured 'over curves'). Chitwan tigers topped the list. Assam tigers shot in the same period, although shorter, were heavier than those shot in northern India, but the Maharajah of Cooch Behar weighed nearly all of his tigers, whereas Sir John Hewett didn't. 

The tigers he wasn't able to weigh were significantly longer than those he weighed. Back then, there was a strong relation between total length and weight in Indian tigers in that long tigers were relatively heavier than shorter tigers. The difference was about 6-7 pounds per inch.   

If he had been able to weigh all tigers he shot, Hewett's average for northern India would have well exceeded that of Assam. Although the average for Assam males was 461 pounds, 450-455 would have been closer to the mark. The reason was a number of 'gorged' tigers. Based on what I had, I got to 475-490 for northern India and a bit more for Nepal.

Today

Many years later, 7 males captured in Chitwan averaged 520 pounds. Although the average was adjusted later, I decided for 520 in order to be able to compare tigers shot a century ago with those captured in the seventies and eighties of the last century.

The comparison I did says there's not much to choose between back then and today for (total) length, but tigers weighed in the last decades were heavier than a century ago. Based on what I have, I'd say that the difference is 20-40 pounds at the level of averages, maybe even a bit more in regions with large tigers.

To be more concrete. The averages today (males of 6 years and older), depending on region (not including the Naga Hills and the Sunderbans) and the local conditions, could range between 420-520 pounds. As exceptional individuals can exceed the 'normal' maximum by 25-35%, males well exceeding 600 pounds can be expected in northern India and Nepal every now and then. The heaviest shot in unmolested Nepal (705 pounds) was 10.9 'over curves' in total length. My guess is that tigers of that size are still around. The problem is the scales used by biologists. That and a lack of experience in darting exceptional individuals.   

Exceptional individuals  

Tigers in northeastern India might top the table for skulls. A century ago, skulls of large males ranged between 360-400 mm. (greatest total length). Not one of these even approached 10 feet in total length measured 'between pegs', meaning they were not of exceptional size. The photographs and videos I saw suggest they (males and females) still have more rounded and larger skulls than elsewhere. Different breed, so it seems.

Exceptional individuals are most often seen in large ecosystems. The larger the system, the better the chance to see an exceptional tiger. Seen in this light, the region just south of the Himalayas (from Rajaji to Kazirangha) and southwestern India (Western Ghats) still top the list. Central India has a chance when reserves are connected. Tigers need a lot of space. 

Based on what I know, I'd say that northern India is the region to visit if you're interested in large tigers. The Rajaji tiger is the largest I saw, but the reserves just east of Rajaji (up to and including Dudhwa) also have large tigers. Same for Chitwan, of course. Tigers in northeastern India often appear to be more massive, but they could be shorter and not as tall. The big skull can result in a somewhat distorted view as well.  

Arunachal Pradesh

I'm very interested in the situation close to the China border (Arunachal Pradesh). Authorities said that two captive, but wild-caught, tigers (male and female) were quite different from your typical Indian tiger: different coat (less stripes), more aggressive and larger all the way.  

I read quite a few books written by people in the know who spent their days in northeastern India. Not a few of them said that male tigers in that part of India were following elephants. They often found remains of youngsters killed and eaten by tigers. Could that culture have resulted in specialisation?

There are reliable reports about lions hunting elephants in some regions of southern Africa and tigers hunting rhinos (including adult females) in northeastern India. Time to read a bit more about the fauna in that part of India, I think. Which large mammals are seen in elevated regions in northeastern India?
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