By Svetlana Soutyrina
The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Russia Program and the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik (SABZ) have jointly surveyed Amur tigers on SABZ territory using camera traps since 2006. On a recent routine camera trap check, it was discovered that one of the resident females, Varvara, has a new neighbor. This previously-unseen female was first photographed in November 2013. The territory she settled was once occupied by Varvara, as two years ago the tiger population in the reserve crashed and Varvara suddenly had an 800 km2 territory all to herself (which is approximately twice the normal home range size for a female Amur tiger). When Varvara gave birth to cubs (in 2012), her movements became more restricted as it likely proved impossible to patrol such a large territory and care for her young at the same time. Her prolonged absence apparently did not pass without notice, and hence the appearance of this new tigress.
Varvara has acted as one might expect to the presence of a new neighbor. She has begun to actively scentmark the area that is becoming a boundary between the two territories, apparently trying to create a “No trespassing” sign to keep this newcomer away from her cubs and core territory. The new tigress is turning out to be quite the “runway model”— not shy of the camera traps, she lingers around camera traps, seemingly enamored (or at least curious) by the bright lights of the camera’s automatic flash. As a result, we have obtained many images of this striped beauty, including portraits and close-ups.
It is always a cause for celebration when a new tiger appears—especially a female, because it is the number of females, and the rate at which they successfully reproduce, that ultimately determines the trajectory of a tiger population. Her appearance - along with Vavarra’s cubs -gives us hope that the tiger population in Sikhohte-Alin is on the rebound.