A tiger - everybody has ever heard about this giant striped cat. The imagination drives you back to the jungle of India or the cedar taiga of Coastal regions of the Far East. His natural habitat is very large - from the south of East Siberia to the islands of Malay archipelago. Tigers from different regions differ from one another by pattern of strips, and this serves as the basis for dividing of the species in to subspecies - Bengal (on the left photo), Chinese, Sumatran, Amur, Javanese, Balinese and Turan.
Yet very few wild tigers have remained. This stimulated people to apply protective measures and list these animals in to the (IUCN) Red Book despite the fact that till recent days the tiger had the reputation of the man's implacable enemy and has been actively eliminated.
At the West edges of the tiger's habitat, in the earth isolated by mountains and deserts lived a unique tiger. Some zoologists called him "the Turan tiger" (Turana is an ancient name of the lowlands of Central Asia). Others called him "the caspian tiger". He occupied both the regions of Central Asia, Eastern and Southern coasts of Caspian Region, Transcaucasia and places near Iran.
The homeland of these cats were the reeds along the rivers of Central Asia - Amu-Dar'ya, Syr-Dar'ya, Vahshu, Piandzhu, Atreku, Tedzhenu and Murgabu rivers.
These tigers spreaded their habitat form the North regions to the Balkhash Lake in Kazakhstan.
They lived in the tugai-type and foothill forests, as well as in the humid subtropical jungles of South Azerbaijan and Northern provinces of Iran and Afghanistan.
These tigers set up their dens in the most impassable bush that should have met several requirements. First of all, there should be water nearby, because tigers liked to drink frequently and plentifully. Winters with abundant snowing were very hard to the Turan tiger, so they made dens in the places proof from snow.
In Central Asia this tiger was called a "dzholbars". The word "Dzhol" means "way" in Kzakh language. "Bars" is a "vagabond". So the nickname is better to translate as "wandering leopard".
From time to time a tiger longed to change the place he lived in to other places and began to stroll, bewildering and frightening people, suddenly coming in to places people had never seen him before. One is to know some facts when Turan tigers went hundred miles away from their homeland and it was no trouble for him to pass 55 miles within a day. Thus in 1922 one such a wonderer overcame more than 250 miles and reached the suburbs of the capital of Georgia. There a human hand stopped his course of life.
Though animal photographers had became very skillful in tracing and shooting the rarest, the most reticent and very dangerous animals, none of them was lucky to take a photo of a Turan tiger, none of them was able and actually nobody seems to do this some day...
It is supposed that these animals have disappeared forever. But if this is so, they've disappeared not so long ago because his image is still fresh in a human's memory. Resting on the few descriptions, he was more than two meters long, tigresses were smaller. He weighed almost two hundred kilograms.
Turan tiger was colored bright-red. Stripes narrower, thicker and longer than in other tigers. Some individuals had brown stripes. His fur was thicker and softer in winter, especially on the withers and on the belly, and his whiskers got a luxuriant look so that he seemed to be more fluffy than his more shorthaired congeners.
Everybody who saw a Turan tiger in the wild say that he was a real combination of might and smoothness. His six-meters long leaps were full of slowness. His grace was somewhat heavy, but that grace was just a visible part of the maximally concentrated force within. Protective coloration helped him conceal among the yellow reeds.
In the heart of subtropical forest in the the specks of light and shadow the coloring allowed him to sneak up very close to his prey to make an accurate and swift burst. A prey animal could hardly stand this ball of energy weighing a couple of hundred kilograms directed straight at it. The black and yellow stripes merged so that the tiger looked gray.
Here is one story from the past. Once a camel fell behind his caravan and got into a salt marsh. Cameleers tried their best but failed to help him. They settled nearby for the night hoping to take the camel out in the morning. But at night a tiger do that himself and dragged him one hundred and fifty steps off.
Roes and wild boars in Transcaucasia, djeirans (Gasella subgutturosa), saigas and kulans near the lakes of Central Asia and Bukhara, deers of Khangula were the tiger's prey. A hungry tiger was not fastidious to take a snack of a jackal or a reed cat. He usually kept off carrion preferring to eat rodents, birds, tortoises, frogs and even insects! Sometimes, as though getting in to habits of small cats he became a fisherman during the time of high water, snatching out spawning carps on the shoals. At times ate fruits of oleaster and sea-buckthorn.
Sergey Ulianovich Stroganov, the doctor of Biology Sciences was one of the few zoologists who studied biology of Turan tiger in Russia. He managed to investigate the den of tiger. To reach it he had to pass over 125 miles crawling on his knees along the predator's path - a tunnel among the wild growth. The tiger always arranged his den in the shadow of trees and covered it with flatten grass. An area of approximately forty square meters footworn and covered with bones of caught animals was nearby. A strong and stinking smell was all around.
S.U. Stroganov completed his observations with the following characteristic: "The Turan tiger is brave, reticent and very sensitive. One may live years in the place where the tigers live and never have the chance to see them". However, the reticence of the Turan tiger did not impede people to get to know him very long ago. European and Russian people learned about him much earlier than about the Indian toger and the other congeners.
Ancient Romans knew about the Turan tiger. The animals caught in Persia and Armenia were taken to Rome, where the elite used them for the bloody fights with the slaved gladiators. But the first tiger that arrived to Rome caused such a fear that nobody dared to fight with him in the open, and the beast was killed in his cage. In the ancient Russia they only heard about such a fierce beast as tiger who lived somewhere in the South.
Step by step as the Russians widened their contacts with the neighbors, tigers were brought from Persia (today's Iran) and Central Asia in to the tsar's and prince's zoos. The merchant Feodor Kotov, who traveled much and saw the Turan tiger in the shah zoo at the Kazvine town made the description of the beast at the twentieths of the 17 century. At that time the beast was called "babr" - the word borrowed from the language of the southern neighbors - Turki people. The bookish "tigris" appeared much later.
The voice of the tiger, roaring nearby makes people benumb. Zoologist K. A. Satunin, the specialist of the Caucasus fauna, transliterated this roar as a "low, guttural "a-o-ung". Not without reason the Eastern peoples always considered the tiger as a super-creature. His ability to mask, to disappear and reappear unexpectedly created his glory of the werewolf. The tiger has become the hero of myths, legendsand fairy tales.
Hunting both the tiger and his preys - wild boars and other hoofed animals as well as elimination of tugai and foothill forests, plowing of virgin soils for cotton fields and fires in the reeds caused a drastic decrease of Turan tigers quantity.
In his struggle for survival the Turan tiger had a tiny ally among other animals. That was a malaria mosquito. For long time malaria was a scourge in the regions of Transcaucasia, Central Asia and Iran, where the last tigers huddled. When the nidi were destroyed in our country and abroad, people began to fearlessly master the tiger's homeland. Today people finally realized that the remained beasts can't threaten man and his cattle. Formally Turan tiger is everywhere guarded. On the territories of Russian Federation it is strictly prohibited to shoot Turan tiger. Those who infringe have to pay a large fine. In Iran a reservation with an area of 100,000 hectares to protect this animal was created, though most likely these measures are behindhand.
But even if it would be possible to find the last Turan tigers, it would be difficult to preserve them in nature. The individual range, if something like a natural aviary, of the tiger is not that small. It should be not less than forty square kilometers, but to let him feel freely a thousand of square kilometres of the riverside brushwood, rich in wild hoofed animals is needed. The tendency of the "dzholbars" to wandering complicates the situation. It would be possible, to preserve the tiger by delivering the last individuals into zoological holdings, where they could breed... But, alas, now it seems that there are no Turan tigers even in captivity. Once in a Moscow zoo lived a tame tigress Theresa presented in 1926 to the Soviet ambassador to Iran. She died when she was eighteen years old. But generally tigers live to fifty.
Despite an ambivalent attitude of man towards this animal the today's question stands unambiguously: to guard! The tiger in its own way guards wild nature, keeping healthy the hoofstock populations. His presence in the land develops in animals special caution, and contributes to their viability. And some more: it is for a long time known that the tiger persistently pursues wolves. Besides, the latter affect wild fauna much more.
It's a pity to part with the hope of seeing this animal, alive. Is it really necessary for our descendants to be acquainted with the Turan tiger only by the discolored stuffed animals, with glass eyes and caption "destroyed in the 20th century"?
by A. Chegodaev, Translated by Tatiana Karpova (Moscow)
(MSU, Biology faculture, Dep. zoology and ecology).