Newborn Amur tigers at Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie are vital to conservation effort – Scotsman comment

Several thousand miles away, in the far east of Russia, lies the Amur river valley.

Three Amur tiger cubs explore their outside enclosure for the first time at Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

From such a distance, it is best known for one reason: the endangered Amur tigers named after the region who are clinging on in several isolated populations.

In the 1930s, their numbers fell as low as 20 to 30 animals, but in 2010 it was estimated that there were some 360 animals.

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One potentially serious problem is the lack of genetic diversity. A study in 2009 suggested that, in terms of DNA, the population was “behaving as if it were just 27 to 35 individuals”, according to an assessment for the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Given this situation, every individual is precious and every newborn Amur tiger is a chance to increase the size of the gene pool.

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Which is a roundabout way of explaining why the birth of three Amur tigers at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's Highland Wildlife Park at Kingussie really is worth celebrating.

In times gone by, zoos were not much more than freakshows with little concern for the welfare of the creatures on display. And while zoos still have their critics, they have changed dramatically as society in general has learned to be more caring about our fellow animals.

The RZSS and other responsible organisations are, without doubt, serious and important parts of attempts to save other species from extinction, a fate that too many have already suffered and frighteningly large numbers now face because of our actions.

So, however far removed from their ‘natural’ habitat they are, these tiger cubs matter. And so does the Highland Wildlife Park.

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