Two Adult Tigers Tagged in the Ussuri Nature Reserve

Two Adult Tigers Tagged in the Ussuri Nature Reserve

17 June 2010

The most recent phase of the comprehensive field research under the programme to study the Amur tiger in Russia's Far East (the Amur Tiger Programme) took place from April 23 until June 9, 2010. The research first began in 2008 on the territory of the Ussuri Nature Reserve and was managed by the Far Eastern Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences.


This past spring, scientists with the Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the Russian Academy of Sciences set up two working groups: one to conduct research on the territory of the reserve and the other near the border with China. Due to harsh weather conditions (the snowy winter and the long cold spring), the researchers had less time to capture animals. Nevertheless, they managed to capture and tag two male tigers: one, named Professor, weighed 204 kilogrammes and the other, Lyuk, weighed 150 kilogrammes. The researchers were really lucky to accomplish this because one of the smartest tigers avoided all the traps last year and so earned the name Professor.


The operation to capture tigers did not proceed smoothly. Professor was captured in the Komarovsky forest of the Ussuri Reserve on May 2, 2010. The tiger got caught in the loop at about 7a.m., and the scientists arrived 90 minutes later to immobilise the animal from the jeep. They took a shot with the air gun, sending syringes to inject the tiger with an anaesthetic (a mixture of Zoletil and Domitor).


Hit by a syringe, the tiger darted for the jeep intending to attack it and the people inside. As it attempted to leap, the steel anchor rope which was six millimetres in diameter broke and the tiger with a loop still around its front left paw escaped from the trap. A mere three or four metres from the jeep, it turned off the path and, dragging the loop on its paw, ran away from the jeep towards the forest, causing no damage to anybody. It was obviously due to the fact that the falschfeuer was lit in time and the 32-metre distance at which the shot was taken to inject the anaesthetic into the animal.


The shots fired into the air to scare away the tiger came somewhat late - this occurred after the tiger had already started running towards the forest (see video). After waiting 10 minutes, the group of seven set out for the forest, following in the tiger's tracks.


After a 30-minute search, the researchers found the tiger, Professor, fast asleep 270 metres from the road. First, they removed the loop from the tiger's paw and then fastened a GPS-ARGOS collar around its neck, weighed the tiger, took blood, hair, feces and sperm samples for laboratory analyses (Photo 1). Specially installed photo-traps showed that Professor woke up two hours after the immobilisation and roamed in the Komarovka River valley for the next three days (Photo 2); the tiger was later spotted southwest of the reserve.


The results of the genetic studies showed that Professor was the mate of the tigress Serga and the father of three cubs born in 2008. Their first son Boxer was tagged in September last year. The young tiger Lyuk, who was tagged last spring, is presumably their second son. The researchers ended up in this unique situation of being able to keep track of a whole family of tigers.


Observation of the tigers' travels using the satellite-tracked tags attached to the animals show that the home range of male tigers is much larger than it was previously believed. This means that the tigers roam far from guarded territory, exposing themselves to danger; local authorities need to take additional measures to ensure the tigers' safety.


Another important result of the expedition's work is a database that helps identify the tigers by using photographs from the photo-traps of the individual pattern of the tiger's coat.


All in all, five adult male tigers and two female tigers have been tracked on the territory of the Ussuri Reserve. This number includes three tigers (two males and one female) that were not previously identified. Zoologists suggest that these tigers wandered into the reserve last winter or spring. Also, data needed for the photographic identification of the hoofed animals has been collected, enabling researches to gain a better understanding of the tigers' feeding patterns and the availability and distribution of the main prey species.


The expedition will resume its work in September and October 2010.