Elusive Siberian tigers captured in spectacular photos

A duo of photographers have snapped spectacular photos of Russia's Amur tigers.

Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS
Amur tigers enjoy the water, not a common predilection among cats. These tigers swim and splash in bodies of water, sometimes even crossing the wide Amur River that forms the border between the Russian Far East and northeast China.

Jonathan Slaght is projects manager for WCS's Russia Program. Julie Larsen Maher is staff photographer for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the first woman to hold the position since the society's founding in 1895. In addition to field visits, Maher photographs the animals at WCS's five New York-based wildlife parks: the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, New York Aquarium, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo. The authors contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Siberian tigers buck the trend.

Most people think of tigers as regal beasts creeping through steamy subtropical jungles against the background cacophony of shrieking monkeys and barking deer. But these cats live in the snow-covered lands of the Russian Far East. They are also known as Amur tigers, as there are no tigers in Siberia; Russian tigers live in the Amur River basin, hence Amur tiger, and they hunt deer and boar in oak forests not too different from those in the northeastern United States. And in autumn, these tigers' orange coats blend with the fall colors to render them almost invisible to prying eyes. [Iconic Cats: All 9 Subspecies of Tigers ]

Their camouflage and stealth aren't the only reasons Amur tigers are hard to see: These cats have territories 20 times larger than those of the tigers living in southeast Asia. A single Amur male might have a territory up to 500 square miles (1,295 square kilometers) in size. This is because there are far fewer prey animals in the harsher climate of Russia than in jungles, so tigers have to go much further to find and kill enough prey to survive. So, given their camouflage and their rarity, Amur tigers are almost impossible to see.

The tigers almost went extinct in the wild. Luckily, the concerted efforts of dedicated scientists and far-sighted Soviet officials in the middle of the last century bore fruit, and today Russia is the only tiger-range state to demonstrate a recovery of tiger populations. Hundreds of the cats roam the forests now, where 70 years ago there were only a few dozen.

These images celebrate Amur tigers and their habitat: May these temperate forests of the Russian Far East forever echo with the haunting roars of these incredible animals.

In New York, Amur tigers call the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo home. They live in Tiger Mountain, where they play a vital role as representatives for their wild relatives.

Fall for Tigers 

Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS
With fur the color of a warm fall afternoon, Amur tigers are known for their power and beauty. The black stripes on their coats are unique to each cat.

Tigers of the Temperate Forest

© Jonathan C. Slaght, WCS Russia
Oak, maple and pine trees peer over a cliff to the Sea of Japan at the Lazovskii Nature Reserve in the southern Russian Far East. The Amur tigers here hunt sika deer, wild boar and even basking harbor seals.

A Coat for All Seasons

© Jonathan C. Slaght, WCS Russia
The colors and patterns of Amur tiger coats allow the animals to blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape. The fur of these coats is also longer and denser than the coats of other tiger subspecies, which allows the Amurs to endure harsh Russian winters

A Cat That Likes to Swim

Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS
Amur tigers enjoy the water, not a common predilection among cats. These tigers swim and splash in bodies of water, sometimes even crossing the wide Amur River that forms the border between the Russian Far East and northeast China.

Raspberry Pass

© Jonathan C. Slaght, WCS Russia
A fresh snow blankets Malinovii ("Raspberry") Pass on the edge of the Sikhote-Alin Reserve in Primorye, Russia. This reserve is the largest single protected area of Amur tigers in the world.

Small Cubs, Big Cats

Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS
Amur tiger cubs learn to hunt at about 18 months, and stay with their mothers until reaching age 2 or 3. Amur tigers are among the largest cats in the world. Although cubs are tiny at birth and weigh only a few pounds, adults in the wild weigh between 250 and 500 lbs. (113 to 227 kilograms).

Chain of Command

© Jonathan C. Slaght, WCS Russia
Rippling hills of oak dotted with pine in the Sikhote-Alin Reserve mean one thing: excellent wild-boar habitat. These animals survive the winter owing to the abundance of acorns and pine nuts in these forests, and this in turn ensures Amur tiger survival.

Let It Snow

Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS
Amur tigers paws are large. A male's measures about 5 inches (13 centimeters) across, with extra fur to navigate the snowy slopes of the animal's home.

Follow the Footprints

© Jonathan C. Slaght, WCS Russia
he tracks of a large male Amur tiger appeared overnight along this logging road in the southern Russian Far East. Given the region's deep snows in winter, tigers often use roads as travel corridors, which exposes them to the risk of vehicle strikes or poaching.

Learn more about Amur tigers and other wildlife on the WCS photo blog, Wild View, in the post Looking for the Last of the Wild, and on Jonathan Slaght's tiger blog

Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on FacebookTwitter and Google+. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.

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