March 18, 2015
- as seen by -Dale Miquelle
We are taught at an early age that wild cats are solitary, the only exception being family groups of lions, referred to as prides. Even the earliest research on tigers by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s George Schaller in the 1960s revealed that, at times, male Bengal tigers occasionally join up with females and their cubs. But the evidence was scant for the Amur tiger, despite the fact that scientists have tracked such groupings of these tigers for thousands of kilometers during the long Russian winters, when the snow offers a unique window into the animals’ behavior.
In November 2014, WCS Russia teamed up with a number of collaborators to set a series of camera traps across two adjacent protected areas in Russia—Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve and Udegeiskaya Legenda National Park—in order to better document the number of Amur tigers in this important area for tiger conservation.
Just getting to some of these locations is an expedition in itself, requiring long days on snowshoes hauling heavy bags bulging with camera traps and hoping to make it back to a warm cabin before dark. And, in winter, it’s always hard to know where exactly to place the camera trap: too low and the motion sensor might be buried by the next snow; too high and some tigers might fall below the frame.
In the end, we managed to set up camera traps at 77 locations across both parks, which yielded images of 24 tigers. The jewel in this crown of tiger data was a breath-stopping, quick succession of five photos taken on a gray morning (and stitched together here) showing a large male tiger cutting a trail through the snow, followed by his mate and their three young cubs.
We finally have photographic proof of familial behavior. It’s hard not to imagine a touch of family pride in the male “leader of the pack.”