A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[CAT] “Scientists want to give the world a second chance at Caspian tigers”

Popular Science‘s Sarah Fecht was one of many people last month noting a proposal to restore tigers to Central Asia by importing Siberian tigers to suitable habitats in Kazakhstan. I have to admit this particular rewilding plan appeals to me: Siberian tigers are so close by, after all.

Caspian tigers once roamed all over Central Asia, ranging from modern day Turkey to northwestern China. The huge cats stalked through tall reeds and shrubbery, hunting boar and deer. But in the first half of the 1900s, hunting and poisoning decimated the subspecies, and the Soviet Union’s agriculture projects drained the tiger’s swampy terrain to grow cotton and other crops. Disappearing habitats and food sources had wiped the Caspian tiger off the map by the 1950s.

But Central Asia may yet get its tigers back. Scientists at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) want to reintroduce tigers to a remote area of Kazakhstan.

It’s too late to save the Caspian tiger (unless we de-extinct them using genetic engineering), but the Siberian tiger, a close relative, might be able to fill the ecological hole it left behind.

“We think it’s a good idea to restore this legendary animal to the habitats where it lived only 50 or 60 years ago,” says Mikhail Paltsyn, a doctoral candidate at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Paltsyn is a member of the WWF and IUCN, and he was recently commissioned to study the restoration program.

Two factors bolster the case for the tiger’s reintroduction. First, the collapse of the Soviet Union saw some of its agricultural programs abandoned, and natural habitats restored. Second, in 2009, scientists discovered that the Siberian tiger is a close relative of the extinct Caspian. A good portion of the Caspian tiger’s DNA lives on in the Siberian subspecies, which might make it a suitable replacement for the extinct cat.

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Written by Randy McDonald

February 4, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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