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.
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.
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.