A rare Amur tiger – one of 300 to 400 estimated to remain in the wild - was killed by poachers near Vladivostok, Russia, an animal rescue group said Tuesday.
The Siberian tiger was found by an International Fund for Animal Welfare anti-poaching patrol in Primorye Province, according to an IFAW news release.
The group says the area (which includes parts of China and North Korea) is home to the last of the wild Amur tigers, which was on the brink of extinction in the 1940s with only 40 remaining worldwide before a vigorous conservation effort.
Four suspected poachers caught with the dead, 5-year-old male tiger were arrested by rangers from the Khasan district of the province, IFAW said. One of the hunters had been injured by the big cat and required hospitalization.
If convicted, the hunters face a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $20,000 fine, IFAW said.
"We can't save the tigers unless we combat rampant poaching, which is the single greatest threat to the survival of this species," the group’s director, Masha Vorontsova, said.
Governments of the 13 so-called tiger range countries will meet in St. Petersburg, Russia, next week to come up with a plan to save tigers from extinction. Through the St. Petersburg Tiger Summit, which begins Sunday, the governments hope to double the wild tiger population in the next dozen years.
The blackmarket for tiger products was highlighted last month when 25 suspected traffickers in tiger body parts were arrested in a six-country INTERPOL sting. More than 110 pounds of tiger bone – including the animals’ skulls and skeletons – were confiscated.
Chinese tiger-breeding centers have proposed creating tiger farms to cull the animals' body parts, thereby diminishing demand for the products and lessening the chances they might be hunted in the wild. The idea has met with resistance from environmental groups.