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The Race to Save the Amur Tiger [EXCLUSIVE]

Mar 07, 2015 12:19 PM EST

Amur tigers, the world's largest cats, are likely to go extinct in the near future as habitat loss and poaching devastate their populations; but one coalition of conservationists is quite literally in a race to save this endangered species.

The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) has teamed up with creative agency, Hungry Boys, to produce a website that lets you race against an Amur tiger in its natural habitat. If you've run in marathons or simply run for fun or to stay fit, perhaps you'd be interested in facing a worthy opponent.

Also known as Siberian tigers, Amur tigers on average run about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) a day - to put this in perspective, that's roughly the equivalent of running a half-marathon every day for us humans.

So how exactly does the Race A Tiger - WWF "Tiger Challenge" work, and more importantly, how does it help save this imperiled species?

By accessing the Tiger Challenge website and connecting it with your chosen running app - such as Nike+, MapMyRun, Strava and RunKeeper - participants can go head to head with an animal in the wild fitted with a GPS tracker. If you can run further than the tiger on a given day, a weighty challenge, you win the race. However, run a shorter distance and you lose, paying $5 to the charity.

"When we started to analyze the facts around the Amur tiger, we paid particular attention to its ability and how far it runs on a daily basis. As running is becoming trendier each year, it seemed like a perfect marriage between conservation and people's appetite for this form of fitness," Vlad Sitnikov, the creative director at Hungry Boys, told Nature World News (NWN) in an email.

There are only about 450 Amur tigers left in the wild. Due to intensive farming, building and human expansion, tiger habitat is now restricted to two provinces in the Russian Far East and small plots along the border areas of China, and possibly North Korea. Though, recent rare footage suggests that Amur tigers are making a comeback, at least in the heart of China where they haven't been seen for more than 65 years.

Surprisingly, the Amur tiger is a protected species, however, illegal logging and poaching has caused their numbers to dwindle. Tiger farming is a huge issue, with humans (mostly in China) killing them for their skin, bones and teeth.

Even more appalling is that "visual feasts" have became a popular sport of sorts among China's wealthy elite, in which participants watch a live tiger be slaughtered, butchered, and then prepared in a fine meal.

And while poaching indeed plays a huge part in their decline, these animals are passively declining as well, simply disappearing along with their habitats as climate change and deforestation encroach on their hunting grounds.

"The decline in the wild tiger population is a global issue. This is a positive and creative way to raise awareness of their plight. It's a win-win situation. You get to race against this magnificent animal whilst simultaneously generating money to help protect it," Yury Sochnev, Head of Marketing at WWF Russia, said in a statement provided to NWN. "It's time to run for your life."

So dust off your running shoes and help to save the Amur tiger, one step at a time.

Note: Entrants can monitor their performance against the big cat and other contestants by following the hashtag #Run4Tiger on Twitter. They will also appear on the website's ranking page. The campaign launched February 14th, and will continue throughout all of 2015.

To learn more about how the campaign works, watch this video here.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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