BEIJING - China will train 620 endangered Siberian tigers to survive in the wild as part of a controversial effort to return them to the country's shrinking northeast forests, state media reported on Monday.
The captive-bred tigers would be taken from enclosures in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang province, to a 15-hectare (37-acre) fenced patch of forest near the mountainous border with North Korea, Liu Dan, an official with the Siberian Tiger Artificial Propagation Base, told Xinhua news agency.
Liu said trial release of 12 tigers four years ago was promising -- though ten of those tigers were now back in captivity.
But other experts said the plan was doomed unless the forests of northeast China were better protected from logging and human encroachment.
"Increased human activities, such as highway construction, have turned tiger habitats into isolated islands," Sun Haiyi, deputy chief of the Heilongjiang Provincial Institute Wildlife, told Xinhua, adding that such isolation led to dangerous in-breeding.
"I think right now it would be more meaningful to spend money on cultivating an environment where Siberian tigers can flourish."
Tigers needed dense vegetation rich in prey, such as deer and wild boar, Sun said.
The world's tigers are at a record low, numbering an estimated 5,000-7,000, down from more than 100,000 in the 19th century.
The Siberian tiger, native to northern China, southern Russia and parts of North Korea, is on the brink of extinction in the wild, decimated by hunting and loss of habitat, and scientists believe only a few hundred now live outside captivity.