Monday, September 10, 2012

Ghosts of the Snow

The wind is chilly and light, the ground thickly blanketed with white snow. Tiny flakes fall from the sky, perfect. The air is frigidly cold, and the tree branches are covered with icicles. In the distance, a shape moves silently and swiftly through the snow, nearly hidden from view. Its eyes are a golden with a fleck of dark in the middle, paws thickly padded and long tail curved at the end.
In this post we travel to the harsh woodland forests of Siberia and Northern Russia to see the endangered Siberian Tiger, one of the most elusive animals on Earth. These big cats are often called, "Ghosts of the snow," because they are very rarely glimpsed by humans and blend into their surroundings exceedingly well. 
Siberian Tigers are listed as critically endangered, with only a few hundred still living in the wild. These powerful predators are formidable hunters, reaching speeds of up to fifty miles per hour. Humans top off at five.
Siberian Tigers will travel many miles to hunt prey. Their diet consists mainly of Siberian Elk, Siberian Deer, wild boar, game birds, and other small mammals. They are very patient and will crouch in the grass waiting for prey. When it comes, they'll creep up close, spring quickly onto their prey's back and sink their teeth into the back of its neck in a lethal bite.
Once the prey is dead, the tiger will hide it in a secluded area where it won't likely be taken from other predators. The tiger will stay close to its kill and feed on it over the next few days, guarding it from other predators like other tigers, Amur Leopards, or Arctic Wolves.
    Siberian Tigers are solitary and live alone most of the year, only putting up with each other during mating season in late winter. Male tigers might fight each other for a mate, and sometimes the battles can lead to injury or even death.
  Siberian Tigers often have very large territories and will viciously fight off other tigers or leopards if they intrude on its turf.

A female Siberian Tiger resting in a national park (above).
More facts about the Siberian Tiger

* Siberian Tigers are the largest cats in the world.

* Siberian Tigers can weigh up to 300 pounds.

* Siberian Tigers live in Birch wood forests and vast woodlands.

* These big cats, although mostly found in Siberia and Northern Russia, do exist in China and North Korea.

When most people think of Siberian tigers, or any tigers really, they think of them as killers - ferocious beasts. But tigers are not nearly as dangerous as most people think. In fact they are so elusive that the chance of even seeing one in the wild is extremely low. These magnificent predators prefer not to be seen by humans, as many confrontations with poachers have left them fearing us. Attacks are very rare and commonly only occur if a person intrudes on the tiger's territory or if a tigress is protecting her cubs.
  I watched a couple documentaries about these big cats and it strengthened my admiration and love for these gorgeous predators. What these animals go through is rarely realized by many people. When raising a family, all the work falls onto the tigress. It is she who has to feed her cubs, and she who must protect them from harm. Tigers who turn into man eaters are usually sick, old, injured or too young to hunt for themselves, so they turn to humans for food. Tigers that have been in a fight with another tiger and are wounded will sometimes attack people because they cannot hunt normally and are starving. Orphans will sometimes do this too, as their mother cannot give them food and therefore they turn to the easiest prey they can find: us. Tigers are not nearly as opportunistic as lions, which is mainly why they do not prefer to attack humans - they generally only do this if it is the only option left.
  Sometimes mothers themselves will kill humans to feed their cubs, but this does not technically make them man eaters. They are simply trying to feed their family, and do not deserve to be killed. If this happens, their babies will soon perish without her to feed them.
 Poachers have killed dozens and dozens of tigers for their body parts and fur, which are all worth a fair amount of money. I watched a documentary that showed this, and I was so furious by the end of it that I could hardly think straight. These amazing cats deserve to live, to prosper, rather than being hunted by selfish people who don't care about them. They are now protected by government, but poachers are still killing them, even today, and making a profit.
Tigers cannot die out. They are too beautiful, too amazing, too magnificent. If you can help in any way, please contribute in the efforts to save this dying species.


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