This winter and spring Siberian Tiger Project staff continue to monitor radio-collared tigers in Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve, which allows us to obtain important information about how tigers live. For the past 6 years we have been tracking two eight-year-old tigresses, “Vera” and “Galya,” who live in the southeastern portion of the reserve. Vera and Galya are neighbors: their home ranges are right next to each other. But each tigress knows the other’s territory, and they are respectful of each other, and do not trespass.
Vera has plenty to do these days, as for more most of the last year she has been busy raising her latest litter of cubs. We first located her two young tigers’ tracks in the snow in November. This is their first winter, and despite the difficult conditions (nearly 3 meters of snow has fallen this year), they are doing well thanks to their mother’s care. The family’s tracks in the snow are a record of the games played between Vera and her offspring, and indicate to us that the cubs are full of energy and enthusiasm. From time to time Vera leaves her cubs behind in order to go hunting. While their mother is gone, the cubs are on their own, and this is a small opportunity for them to get to know the world alone, and to begin to get used to their independence. But as soon as their mother returns with good news, her cubs waste no time joining her for a meal. In time Vera will teach them to hunt on their own, and soon after they will be on the path to adulthood, full of their its worries, joys and dangers.
Galya has also recently experienced all the joys of motherhood. In August of 2008 her two-year-old cubs dispersed, leaving their mother’s coastal home range in search of their own territories. And now Galya is preparing for her next litter. Feeling an inner pull, she is tirelessly searching her territory for a male. Siberian Tiger Project field staff have had a very difficult time keeping up with her this winter! Despite the abundant, wet snow, Galya has been covering more than 10 kilometers a day, over steep mountain slopes and passes, sinking deep into the snow cover with every step.
The unusually abundant snow this winter and spring has a silver lining for tigers: it makes it easier for them to hunt. Ungulates are weakened due to difficulty finding food in such conditions, and the deep snow makes it difficult for them to flee from predators – which the latter use skillfully to their advantage. This gives us confidence that our tigresses will make it through the spring in good condition. Luckily for them, they also live in a biosphere reserve, where the natural conditions are at their best.