Tiger numbers in Russia are stable, according to the results of the latest full range survey and winter effort to count the animals. While stressing that results are preliminary, tiger conservationists around the world say the news is welcome relief, as tiger numbers have decreased in other parts of Asia.

After massive winter endeavours to determine distribution and abundance of tigers in the Russian Far East, the last stronghold of the Amur � or Siberian � tigers, researchers report that between 334-417 adult tigers remain in the region, along with 97-112 cubs.

To determine numbers of tigers in this remote, densely forested land, researchers sent out nearly one thousand fieldworkers to canvass the entire region where tigers are believed to live. Some of them spent months in the field and covered over 21,000 km of transects by foot, ski, snowmobile, and car. Though wary of people, and seldom seen, tigers nonetheless leave evidence of their presence with their massive footprints in the snow. A total of 4,100 tracks were recorded, most representing multiple tracks of a single individual. Researchers mapped out the location of all these tracks, and then estimated a minimum number of tigers, based on their size and distribution.

"This tiger survey represents a milestone in cooperative, international conservation efforts, with full political support from both regional and national governmental bodies of the Russian Federation, as well as financial and technical support from the international conservation community," said Dale Miquelle, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Russia Programme, and overall coordinator for the project.

The project was funded not only by Russia's Ministry of Natural Resources, but by a host of international organizations, led by Save-the-Tiger Fund, the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund (both from the US), Britain's 21st Century Tiger, and WWF.

The last winter survey, conducted in 1996, reported 330-371 adult tigers, with 85-105 cubs. "The difference in results between 1996 and this survey is not due to a change in numbers, but simply reflects the additional effort we made to survey the entirety of tiger range," said Dimitri Pikunov, coordinator of the survey in Primorye, and a well-known tiger specialist. "Coordinators agree that this survey represents the most extensive effort to date to count tigers in Russia."

Tiger conservationists around the world were buoyed by these results, especially since India, once considered the greatest stronghold for tigers, is now under pressure after recent reports of tigers disappearing from some of their core tiger reserves.

"These results are a tribute to the hard work and dedication of conservation organizations and government officials here in Russia," said Yuri Darman, Director of the WWF Russian Far East Office. "Despite massive poaching pressures in the 1990s, we have been able to turn back the tide, and retain our tiger population."

"Russia is a bright spot in the conservation of tigers in Asia, and is proof of our belief that a few dedicated individuals, with sufficient motivation and adequate support, can make a difference in the world," said John Seidensticker, of the Save-the-Tiger Fund, a partnership between Exxon Mobil, U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.

Coordinators of the survey effort gathered in Vladivostok today to present their results, but emphasized that numbers are still preliminary. Still to come will be an assessment of the prey species tigers are dependent on, and a more rigorous analysis of tiger distribution and abundance.

"Over the next few months, we will be completing the geographic database to ensure these data are preserved, and then we will begin a more intensive analysis of the data," added Miquelle. "Results may change slightly, but we think it's safe to say that the population appears stable."