In these remote forested mountains in extreme southeastern Siberia on the Sea of Japan roam endangered, beautiful Amur or Siberian tigers, less than 500 remaining in the wild. Largest cats on earth—significantly larger than their Asian relatives—they differ from them as well with lighter-colored, thicker coats and furry neck ruffs. These top predators, which inspire awe accorded no other creature, require large hunting ranges—up to 350 or so square miles (1,000 km2) for a big male. Even a reserve the size of Sikhote-Alinsky, 1,811 square miles (4,691 km2), which accommodates eight or so of these great beasts and plays the most significant role of any reserve in protecting this species and their natural habitat, should, its supporters say, be larger (it was six times present size before zapovednik closures and shrinkage by Stalin).
But the habitat is ideal—dense well-watered forest untouched by humans, with ample prey base. Here this is primarily Manchurian red deer, wild boars, or smaller, tusked musk deer, which the tigers track along rivers and through deep valleys, springing into attack when 10–30 feet (3–9 m) away, usually crashing down on a victim’s back and biting the neck, often severing the jugular and crushing the spine. Prey is then dragged to a secluded place where more than 100 pounds (45 kg) may be consumed in one sitting. The tiger may then climb up a steep slope to find shelter among rocky outcrops or boulder-strewn fields and later seek a victim there among Amur ghorals, agile goat-antelopes of higher elevations. They have been known to take on Ussuri (aka Amur or Asiatic) black bears too, which they track to winter dens, dig out, and dispatch a still-sleepy victim.
The remoteness and density that make this good tiger habitat does the same for others: beautiful, savage little Indian martens with bright yellow throats, black caps, and dark bushy tails; frolicsome otters; graceful Himalayan chamois threading their way over rocks and along narrow crevices; ermines and fierce wolverines; and more than 320 bird species, including Chinese white-eyes, brilliant mandarin ducks, brightly-hued eastern broad-billed rollers, common crossbills, northern three-toed woodpeckers, Hodgsons’s hawk-cuckoos, Eurasian and collared scops-owls, and tall, endangered Blakiston’s fish owls.
Rich plant life includes 384 mushroom species, 100 mosses, 214 lichens and altogether more than 1,000 species of higher plants, including yellow lady’s slippers, Chinese magnolias, pink, white, violet, and red lilies, orchids and irises, three kinds of peonies and two of rhododendrons.
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