The majestic Caspian tiger that once roamed the expansive corridors of Central Asia was recently driven to extinction — and humans are to blame.
The Caspian tiger was one of the biggest cats to have ever prowled the earth. It is known as a Siberian relative with equal genetic roots in the Bengal family. Panthera tigris virgata inhabited rare waterway corridors throughout Central Asia’s expansive deserts, commonly referred to as tugai.
These tigers fed mainly on wild pigs, deer, and other lesser animals encountered within their limited native habitats. The 19th century brought massive decimation to the Caspian tiger population on account of orders by the Russian government to destroy them and subsequent transformation of their fragile tugai habitat into agricultural land.
By the time the hunting of these tigers was banned, humans had all but driven them to extinction. The remaining wild members of the species were recorded living in Tajikistan in the 1950s on a modest reserve referred to as Tigrovaya Balka, and the last mention of one in captive existence was in the 1980s.
Recent DNA analysis has revealed a stark resemblance between the genes of the Caspian and Amur tiger — so much as to render them within the same species. This astounding new evidence has led scientists to believe that these elusive tigers actually initiated the topographic expanse of the original Silk Road.
More than 10,000 years ago the respective tiger migrated from Eastern China along the yet untrodden path between the mountains and the desert to begin populating Central Asia around the Caspian Sea.
“The tigers paved the way for what was to become the Silk Road between the Himalayan Plateau and the Mongolian Gobi desert,” explained Carlos Driscoll, the World Wide Fund for Nature Chair in Conservation Genetics at the Wildlife Institute of India to National Geographic.
Repopulation of the Amur tiger in Central Asia would equate to the rebirth of the Caspian tiger population, or at least as close as humankind will ever be able to come.