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The Amur tigers - these big carnivorous mammals of the cat family-have dwelled for ages in the Primorye Region in the country's east. But by the 1930s-1940s their population was reduced to only 20 or 30 and was on the brink of extinction. In view of this situation it was decided to set up several wildlife preserves including the Bolshekhekhtsyrsky State Preserve, which deserves special mention. Established in 1963, it is located some 15 - 20 km to the south of the city of Khabarovsk. Located on the right bank of the Ussuri River, it has an area of close to 45.4 thous. hec.
This territory is divided into three parts: the Bolshoi Khekhtsyr ridge (height of up to 949.3 m) and arms, or branches stretching to the north and to the south (up to 500 m), then piedmonts with monticulate-spurry relief and ravines, and, finally, lowland with several rivers, bugged flood plains and ancient-lakes terraces. The local climate is monsoonic, winters are cold and dry, and summers-warm and with abundant rains. The bulk of the vegetation are broad-leaved cedar or fir forests, or mixed leaf-bearing standing timber as well as meadows of reedgrass and sedge, grooves of white birches and asps with oak-grooves on higher ground and, naturally enough-plenty of honeysuckle, hazelnut, spiraea and brushwood. The local animal kingdom includes Himalayan and brown bears, wild boars, Manchurian deers, and lynxes as well as birds and fish. According to accounts left by travelers and hunters, in the 19th century local tigers enjoyed a settled way of life. But as from 1880 the neighboring areas near Khabarovsk became a site of developing industries and growing population with the construction of roads, growing farming and recreational areas. And the tigers were forced to abandon their traditional grounds. According to Konstantin Tkachenko - a specialist of the Bolshekhekhtsyrsky State Wild-Life Preserve, it was only in 1987 - 1988 that three tigers settled there again. From 1992
observations were started over the adult tigers couple (and later over their progeny). An article on the observations of Dr. Tkachenko has appeared in the RAS magazine PRIRODA (Nature).
According to the author of the article, his best "aid" in the observations were footprints left by the male and female tigers on the show. His footprint was 12 cm long and hers'-9 cm. The female had one finger missing on her right hind paw and she enjoyed walking on the trunks of fallen or horizontally inclined trees.
"Mating games" of the couple in 1993 and 2000 were observed in the second decade of January and in 1995-in the first decade of February- the usual periods for the Amur tigers. According to specialists, pregnancy lasts for about 105 days on the average, which meant that the progeny was to be expected in May-June. But at that time the specialists were unable to trace and observe them. It was only in November-December (once-in the year 2000-a picture was taken by an automatic camera) they saw footprints of the cubs on the snow; the "heels" of their front and rear paws measured 6.5 and 7 cm - which means that they were about six months old.
But in general the female produced two cubs in 1995, one in 1998 and another three in the year 2000 (later on they were frozen to death). To the northern part of the preserve they, together with their mother (the male accompanied them at distance) went only seldom, spending most of the time in the southern area. And that was not accidental because of an abundance of deciduous forests, small rocks with cliffs where animals could hide, and as for the adults tigers - they were lured by an abundance of Manchurian deers and wild boars, Himalayan and brown bears and other predators and even dogs whom the tigers caught near human dwellings. That was especially the case in the winter of 2000 - 2001 where the female was wounded (a year before the male tiger was killed near one of the local villages. The tiger had killed the dog of a local farmer and stayed there for the night. It was shot and killed in the morning and was founded to have practically no teeth left, his age being no less than 10 years). These as well as other similar studies at the Bolshekhekhtsyrsky Wild-Life Preserve go to show that the most difficult times for the Amur tigers are over. But, as Dr. Tkachenko points out, the situation still calls for close attention because of the constant "threat" of numerous towns and villages and a network of roads and highways.
K. Tkachenko, TIGRY NA KHEKHTSYRE (Tigers on Khekhtsyr), PRIRODA, No. 1, 2004
Prepared by Vladimir GOLDMAN
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