Doomed deer freed to feed China's elusive tigers

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This picture shows a staff of World Wildlife Fund carrying an injured sika deer which will be served as food for the Amur tigers in Lanjia forest.

CHINA - High in the mountains of northeastern China, conservationists looking to preserve the endangered Amur tiger - the world's largest living feline - are releasing deer into the area for the big cats to kill and eat.

Hundreds of the animals, also known as Siberian tigers and scientifically as Panthera tigris altaica, once roamed the lush pine and oak forests of Manchuria, but only around 20 still survive in the wild.

Historically, China's shamanistic Manchu people both revered and hunted tigers, with the Qing dynasty Kangxi emperor claiming to have killed 135 with bow and musket, according to Peter Dekker, an independent researcher of Qing dynasty weapons.

China was once home to several tiger subspecies, but now their legacy endures more in folklore - "Where there are mountains, there are tigers," goes one old saying - than in the flesh.

Conservationists cite increased human settlement, logging and poaching of both tigers - for use in Chinese medicine - and prey as among reasons for the dramatic population fall.

"The prey numbers are very low in comparison to other countries," said Rohit Singh of global conservation organisation WWF's Tigers Alive Initiative.

WWF has a project to increase deer numbers in the Jilin Wangqing National Nature Reserve in an effort to give the tigers - and even more endangered Amur leopards - a chance to thrive and multiply.

In 2012 a total of 37 deer were released into the area, while last month a similar number were let go to feed the felines.

But the tigers' appetite is huge.

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