Tails From The Zoo

Extinction by the Numbers January 5, 2010

Filed under: Biodiversity,Extinction,Uncategorized — Scott Gray @ 4:09 pm
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Here’s are a few numbers that most people don’t know, but need to:

● Up to 30,000 species (including plants, animals, fungi) per year are going extinct: three per hour.
● Fifty percent of all primates and 100 percent of all great apes are threatened with extinction.
● Three of the world’s nine tiger subspecies became extinct in the past 60 years; the remaining six are all endangered.
● Humans have already driven 20 percent of all birds extinct.
● Twelve percent of mammals, 12 percent of birds, 31 percent of reptiles, 30 percent of amphibians, and 37 percent of fish are threatened with extinction.

Learn more about the extinction crisis from www.biologicaldiversity.com


Amur Tigers – CJOB Zoo Knew December 4, 2009

Amur tigers were discussed on “Zoo Knew”, Sunday November 29, 2009 on the CJOB 68 Weekend Wakeup Show with Chris Reid and Scott Gray.

Amur (Siberian) Tigers

Tigers at the Assiniboine Park Zoo:

  • Kendra – 10 years old. Arrived in 2007 from St Louis zoo via Memphis Zoo.
  • Baikal – 13 years old. Arrived in March 2009 from Toronto Zoo via the Cherrybrook zoo.

Tiger Subspecies and Population Estimates (from the IUCN Red list):

Living subspecies:

Amur tiger = ~500 (with a biologically effective breeding population of ~35)

Sumatran tiger = 400

Northern Indochinese tiger = 1000

Indian (Bengal) tiger = 1850 – 2460

Malayan tiger = 400 – 500

South China tiger = 30 (functionally extinct)

Extinct subspecies:

Caspian tiger – Extinct in 1970

Javan tiger – Extinct in 1976

Balinese tiger – Extinct in 1930


Timeline Highlights:

1900: Estimated population of 100,000, which included 40,000 in India

1906: Last known tiger shot in Pakistan

1922: Last known tiger shot in Georgia

1930’s: Bali(nese) tiger becomes extinct

1940’s: Amur tiger (in Russia) fell below 30 animals

1950’s: Tigers disappear from South Korea

1959: Chinese government declares the South China tiger a pest and encourages its persecution

1970: Last known tiger killed in Turkey

1970’s: The Caspian tiger goes extinct

1976’s: Javan tiger goes extinct

1996: Amur tiger listed critically endangered


Tiger Ecology:

Amur Tiger Distribution: Russian far east and Northern China

Habitat: Boreal forest

Life span: 10 -15 years in the wild, up to 20 years in zoos

Speed: 65km over short distances (house cat = 50km/ cheetah = 100km)


  • Their main diet includes deer and wild pigs. Will also take birds and carrion.
  • Requires 150kg of meat a month
  • Kill with a bite to the back of the head or neck

Size and Weight:

  • 95 to 300kg (250 to 650lbs). The Amur is the largest subspecies
  • Average 2.2 lbs at birth
  • Males can reach 3 metres in length (that’s as long as a station wagon)
  • Stand 3 ft at the shoulder

Sexual maturity: 4-5 years for males and 3-4 years for females


    Fast Facts about tigers:

    • Amur tigers have the palest colour and the fewest stripes
    • Can eat 30 to 40lbs of meat in one sitting
    • Must catch prey at least once a week to survive
    • 5% to 10% success rate in hunts
    • Were once known as Siberian tigers, but have been reclassified as Amur tigers because they are only found there.
    • Good swimmers, often found near streams and lakes
    • No two tigers have the same stripe patterns and each side of the tiger is different.
    • They are stalk and ambush predators
    • Require lots of cover and lots of space to roam and hunt
    • There are 36 species of wild living cats (22 of which are listed as vulnerable or endangered)

    Compiled by Scott Gray, Education Director, Zoological Society of Manitoba

    References: IUCN Redlist, Arkive, San Diego Zoo, National Zoo, APZ Reference books


      Amur Tigers on the Brink July 5, 2009

      The following text was taken from http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8128000/8128738.stm. All rights are reserved by the author.
      The Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is also commonly known as the Siberian tiger.

      Amur tigers on ‘genetic brink’

      Matt Walker, Editor, Earth News

      A wild Amur tiger is a rare sight. The world’s largest cat, the Amur tiger, is down to an effective wild population of fewer than 35 individuals, new research has found.

      Although up to 500 of the big cats actually survive in the wild, the effective population is a measure of their genetic diversity. That in turn is a good predictor of the Amur tiger’s chances of survival.

      The results come from the most complete genetic survey yet of wild Amur tigers, the rarest subspecies of tiger. At the start of the 20th Century, nine subspecies of tiger existed, with a total world population of more than 100,000 individuals.

      Human impacts have since caused the extinction of three subspecies, the Javan tiger, Bali tiger and Caspian tiger, and world tiger numbers could now have fallen to fewer than 3000.

      The Amur tiger, or Siberian tiger as it is also known, is the largest subspecies which once lived across a large portion of northern China, the Korean peninsula, and the southernmost regions of far east Russia. The Amur tiger most likely derived from the Caspian tiger, recent research has shown.

      What is remarkable about the Amur tiger is how much lower the effective population size is than the census size. During the early 20th century, the Amur tiger too was almost driven to extinction, as expanding human settlements, habitat loss and poaching wiped out this biggest of cats from over 90% of its range.

      By the 1940s just 20 to 30 individuals survived in the wild. Since then, a ban on hunting and a remarkable conservation effort have slowly helped the Amur tiger recover. Today, up to 500 are thought to survive in the wild, while 421 cats are kept in captivity.

      However, the genetic health of the tiger hasn’t improved, according to a new analysis published in Molecular Ecology.

      Michael Russello and Philippe Henry of the University of British Columbia, in Kelowna, Canada led a team drawn from universities in Canada, Japan and the US in a bid to analyse the genetic profiles of the remaining wild Amur tigers.

      They sampled nuclear DNA found within the scat samples of an estimated 95 individuals found throughout the Amur tiger’s range, likely constituting up to 20% of the remaining population.

      The study sampled the amount of variation within the DNA from more tigers, across a broader geographic, than any previous research.

      “Although the census population size of Amur tigers is closer to 500 individuals, the population is behaving as if it were the size of 27 to 35 individuals,” says Russello.

      That’s the lowest genetic diversity ever recorded for a population of wild tigers.

      The effective population of any group of animals will be lower than the number that actually exist, due to factors such as non-breeding individuals or a skewed sex ratio.

      “However, what is remarkable about the Amur tiger is how much lower the effective population size is than the census size,” says Russello.

      Population split

      Another important finding to emerge from the study is that the remaining Amur tigers are segregated into two populations that rarely intermingle.

      The majority of Amur tigers live among the slopes of the Russian Sikhote-Alin Mountains, with 20 or fewer living separately in Southwest Primorye in Russia.

      The two groups are separated by a corridor of development between Vladivostok and Ussurisk, and the genetic analysis showed that perhaps just three tigers had managed to cross the divide, reducing the effective size of the wild population further.

      “There is little sharing of genes across the development corridor, suggesting that these two populations are fairly discrete,” says Russello.

      “In actuality, it seems that Amur tigers are residing in two, fairly independent populations on either side of the development corridor between Vladivostok and Ussurisk, further lowering the effective size for each from 26 to 28 for Sikhote-Alin and 2.8 to 11 for Southwest Primorye.”

      That means more work needs to be done to open up this barrier segregating the tigers.

      If that doesn’t happen, then it’s likely that the Southwest Primorye population will continue to dwindle. That could also kill off the prospect of reintroducing Amur tigers to China, as those in Southwest Primorye are living closest to their former Chinese range.

      The news is not all bad for the Amur tiger, however. Russello and Henry’s team also analysed the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA of 20 captive Amur tigers, to see if they retained any unique genetic features since lost by the wild tigers.

      “There are gene variants found in captivity that no longer persist in the wild,” says Russello, which suggests that the captive program has done a good job of preserving the genetic diversity of the subspecies.

      “Now that it is known which individuals possess which gene variants, managers will be able to selectively breed to help preserve the unique and rare gene variants,” says Russello.

      “The implication is that this variation may be used to re-infuse the wild population sometime in the future if reintroduction strategies are deemed warranted.”


      Baikal Arrives June 8, 2009

      A new male Siberian tiger, named Baikal, arrived at the Assiniboine Park Zoo this past weekend to replace our current male, named Fedor. Fedor was originally brought in from the Calgary Zoo to mate with Kendra, here on long-term loan from the St. Louis Zoo.  Unfortunately, Fedor never took a liking to Kendra and they never mated. Fedor is being shipped out to a new zoo this week.

      It is hoped that Baikal, who it at the top of the Species Survival Program’s studbook, will enjoy her company more. But don’t expect a quick romance; the introductory period will require a number of months before they are placed together. Keep an eye out for more news (and pictures) of Baikal’s arrival on this blog and out website, zoosociety.com.


      On a side note, the Assiniboine Park Zoo participates in over 60 international breeding programs for species at risk.


      New Stud in Town June 1, 2009

      The following is reprinted from the the telegraphjournal.com, originally posted on March 31, 2009: http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com/city/article/683705.  All rights reserved by author, Hilary Paige Smith and the Telegraph-Journal.

      SAINT JOHN – Every young man needs to move out of his parents’ house, sow some wild oats and meet a wild woman.

      Click to Enlarge
      KâtÈ LeBlanc/Telegraph-Journal
      Baikal, the Siberian tiger at the Cherry Brook Zoo, leaves next week for Winnipeg, where he will meet a female tiger and mate. Baikal the tiger is no different. Baikal is a 12-year-old Siberian tiger who has lived at the Cherry Brook Zoo for 10 years in an enclosure with his 20-year-old mother, Pam. This is his last weekend at the zoo because he is being sent to the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg to breed with one of their female tigers.

      Lynda Collrin, the director of zoo development at the Cherry Brook Zoo, said Baikal is at the “top of the studbook,” meaning he is at the prime time for breeding. “He’s at the peak. They’ve tried to breed the pair that they have in Winnipeg with no success. Apparently (that) male has no interest in breeding whatsoever. Whereas we have a top of the studbook, top of the SSP line animal that is very keen to mate. It’s a perfect match,” Collrin said.

      She jokingly compared the matchmaking to eHarmony.com, a popular dating website. SSP in an acronym for species survival plan, a population management and conservation program for the preservation of endangered species. This includes transferring animals between zoos so they can breed future generations of animals and take their species off the endangered list.

      It is estimated by the World Wildlife Foundation that only 4,000 tigers are left in the world today, with the population constantly jeopardized by the illegal wildlife trade. They are hunted for their coats, as well as for traditional Chinese medicine.

      “We work with highly endangered animals that we work to protect from extinction and I really urge people to come out and see Baikal,” Collrin said.

      Baikal and the female tiger were expected to meet last year but could not due to the complicated process required to transfer the animals and place them in zoos. He will be shipped in a special crate made for tigers by transport truck to Winnipeg next week, where he will be introduced to his future mate.

      He will be leaving the Cherry Brook Zoo permanently and a new female tiger is eventually expected to be brought in as a companion for Pam. Collrin said Baikal will be greatly missed by zoo personnel and they are concerned his journey will be stressful for him.

      “I guess we have to look at what is not best for us, but best for him and best for the species and yes, the zoo staff is having a hard time seeing him go,” she said. “At the same time, I think when we hear that a litter has been born, we will feel so good about the decisions.”