- Siberian tiger
Siberian tiger Conservation status Scientific classification Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Order: Carnivora Family: Felidae Subfamily: Pantherinae Genus: Panthera Species: P. tigris Subspecies: P. tigris altaica Trinomial name Panthera tigris altaica
Distribution of the Siberian tiger (in red)
The Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as the Amur tiger, is a tiger subspecies inhabiting mainly the Sikhote Alin mountain region with a small subpopulation in southwest Primorye province in the Russian Far East. In 2005, there were 331–393 adult-subadult Amur tigers in this region, with a breeding adult population of about 250 individuals. The population has been stable for more than a decade due to intensive conservation efforts, but partial surveys conducted after 2005 indicate that the Russian tiger population is declining.
Phylogeographic analysis with extant tiger subspecies suggests that less than 10,000 years ago the ancestor of Amur and Caspian tigers colonized Central Asia via the Silk Road from eastern China then subsequently traversed Siberia eastward to establish the Amur tiger population in the Russian Far East.
- 1 Characteristics
- 2 Distribution and habitat
- 3 Ecology and behavior
- 4 Threats
- 5 Conservation
- 6 Genetic research
- 7 Attacks on humans
- 8 In culture
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The Siberian tiger is reddish-rusty or rusty-yellow in colour, with narrow black transverse stripes. The body length is not less than 150 cm (59 in), condylobasal length of skull is 250 mm (9.8 in), zygomatic width is 180 mm (7.1 in), and length of upper carnassial tooth is over 26 mm (1.0 in) long. It has a supple body standing on rather short legs with a fairly long tail. It is typically 5–10 cm (2.0–3.9 in) taller than the Bengal tiger, which is about 107–110 cm (42–43 in) tall.
Measurements taken by scientists of the Siberian Tiger Project in Sikhote-Alin range from 178 to 208 cm (70 to 82 in) in head and body length measured in straight line, with an average of 195 cm (77 in) for males; and for females ranging from 167 to 182 cm (66 to 72 in) with an average of 174 cm (69 in). The average tail measures 99 cm (39 in) in males and 91 cm (36 in) in females. The longest male “Maurice” measured 309 cm (122 in) in total length (tail of 101 cm (40 in)) and had a chest girth of 127 cm (50 in). The longest female “Maria Ivanna” measured 270 cm (110 in) in total length (tail of 88 cm (35 in)) and had a chest girth of 108 cm (43 in). These measurements show that the present Amur tiger is longer than the Bengal tiger. According to modern research of wild Siberian tigers in Sikhote-Alin, an average adult male of more than 35 months of age weighs 176.4 kg (389 lb), the average asymptotic limit being 222.3 kg (490 lb); an adult tigress weighs 117.9 kg (260 lb). The mean weight of historical Siberian tigers is supposed to be higher: 215.3 kg (475 lb) for male tigers and 137.5 kg (303 lb) for females.
Measurements of more than fifty captured individuals suggest that body size is similar to that of Bengal tigers.
The largest male, with largely assured references, measured 350 cm (140 in) "over curves", equivalent to 330 cm (130 in) between pegs. The tail length in fully grown males is about 1 m (39 in). Weights of up to 318 kg (700 lb) have been recorded and exceptionally large males weighing up to 384 kg (850 lb) are mentioned in the literature but, according to Mazák, none of these cases can be confirmed via reliable sources.
A further unconfirmed report tells of a male tiger shot in the Sikhote-Alin Mountains in 1950 weighing 384 kg (850 lb) with an estimated length of 3.48 m (11.4 ft). In some cases, Siberian tigers in captivity reached a body weight of up to 465 kg (1,030 lb), such as the tiger "Jaipur".
The skull of the Siberian tiger is distinguished by its larger overall size, as well as the development of its sagittal crest, whose height and strength exceeds that of other tigers and the lion. The skull prominences, especially sagittal crest and crista occipitalis are very high and strong in old males, and often much more massive than usually observed in the biggest skulls of Indian tigers. The size variation in skulls of Siberian tigers ranges from 331 to 383 mm (13.0 to 15.1 in) in 9 individuals measured. A female skull is always smaller and never so heavily-built and robust as that of a male. The height of the sagittal crest in its middle-part reaches as much as 27 mm (1.1 in), and in its posterior part up to 46 mm (1.8 in).
Female skulls range from 279.7 to 310.2 mm (11.01 to 12.21 in). The skull length of the males from Turkestan had a maximum length of 297.0 to 365.8 mm (11.69 to 14.40 in), while that of females measured 195.7 to 255.5 mm (7.70 to 10.06 in). In January 1954, a tiger killed on the Sumbar in Kopet-Dag had a skull greatest length of 385 mm (15.2 in), which is considerably more than the known maximum for this population and slightly exceeds that of most Far Eastern tigers. However, it's condylobasal length was of only 305 mm (12.0 in), smaller than those of the Amur tigers, with a maximum recorded condylobasal length of 342 mm (13.5 in). The biggest skull of a Siberian tiger from Manchuria measured 406 mm (16.0 in) in length, which is about 20–30 mm (0.79–1.2 in) more than the maximum skull lengths achieved by tigers from the Amur region and northern India.
Fur and coat
The ground colour of Siberian tigers' pelage is often very pale, especially in winter coat. However, variations within populations may be considerable. Individual variation is also found in form, length, and partly in colour, of the dark stripes, which have been described as being dark brown rather than black. The fur of the Siberian tiger is moderately thick, coarse and sparse compared to that of other felids living in the former Soviet Union. Compared to the now-extinct westernmost populations, the Far Eastern Siberian tiger's summer and winter coats contrast sharply with other subspecies. Generally, the coat of western populations was brighter and more uniform than that of the Far Eastern populations. The summer coat is coarse, while the winter coat is denser, longer, softer, and silkier. The winter fur often appears quite shaggy on the trunk, and is markedly longer on the head, almost covering the ears. The whiskers and hair on the back of the head and the top of the neck are also greatly elongated. The background color of the winter coat is generally less bright and rusty compared to that of the summer coat. Due to the winter fur's greater length, the stripes appear broader with less defined outlines. The summer fur on the back is 15–17 mm (0.59–0.67 in) long, 30–50 mm (1.2–2.0 in) along the top of the neck, 25–35 mm (0.98–1.4 in) on the abdomen, and 14–16 mm (0.55–0.63 in) on the tail. The winter fur on the back is 40–50 mm (1.6–2.0 in), 70–110 mm (2.8–4.3 in) on the top of the neck, 70–95 mm (2.8–3.7 in) on the throat, 60–100 mm (2.4–3.9 in) on the chest and 65–105 mm (2.6–4.1 in) on the abdomen. The whiskers are 90–115 mm (3.5–4.5 in).
Distribution and habitat
The geographical range of Amur tigers in the Russian Far East stretches south to north for almost 1,000 km (620 mi) throughout the length of Primorsky Krai and into southern Khabarovsk Krai east and south of the Amur River. They also occur within the Eastern Manchurian mountain system, which crosses into Russia from China at several places in southwest Primorye. In both regions, peaks are generally 500 to 800 m (1,600 to 2,600 ft) above sea level, with only a few reaching 1,000 m (3,300 ft) or more. This region represents a merger zone of two bioregions: the East Asian coniferous-decidous complex and the northern boreal complex, resulting in a mosaic of forest types that vary with elevation, topography and past history. Key habitats for the Amur tiger are Korean pine broadleaf forests with a complex composition and structure. The ungulate complex is represented by red deer, wild boar, sika deer, roe deer, Manchurian moose, musk deer and ghoral.
The number of Amur tigers in China is estimated at 18–22, and it is not known if any still survive in North Korea. In 2005, there were 331–393 Amur tigers in the Russian Far East, comprising a breeding adult population of about 250, fewer than 100 likely to be sub-adults, more than 20 likely to be less than 3 years of age. More than 90% of the population occurs in the Sikhote Alin mountain region.
Ecology and behavior
Siberian tigers are known to travel up to 1,000 km (620 mi), a distance that marks the exchange limit over ecologically unbroken country.
In 1992 and 1993, the maximum total population density of the Sikhote-Alin tiger population was estimated at 0.62 individuals in 100 km2 (39 sq mi). The maximum adult population estimated in 1993 reached 0.3 individuals in 100 km2 (39 sq mi), with a sex ration of averaging 2.4 females per male. These values were dramatically lower than what had been reported for other subspecies at the time.
Between January 1992 and November 1994, 11 tigers were captured, fitted with radio-collars and monitored for more than 15 months in the eastern slopes of the Sikhote-Alin mountain range. Results of this study indicate that their distribution is closely associated with distribution of red deer. Distribution of wild pigs was not as strong a predictor of tiger distribution. Although they prey on both Siberian roe deer and sika deer, overlap of these ungulates with tigers was low. Distribution of moose was poorly associated with tiger distribution. The distribution of preferred habitat of key prey species was an accurate predictor of tiger distribution.
In 2004, dramatic changes in land tenure, density, and reproductive output in the core area of the Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik Siberian Tiger Project were detected, suggesting that when tigers are well protected from human-induced mortality for long periods, female adult density may increase dramatically. When survivorship of adult females was high, the mothers divided their territories with their daughters once the daughters reached maturity. By 2007, density of tigers was estimated at 0.8±0.4 individuals in 100 km2 (39 sq mi) in the southern part of Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik, and 0.6±0.3 individuals in 100 km2 (39 sq mi) in the central part of the protected area.
Interspecific predatory relationships
Tigers may prey on both brown and black bears when ungulate populations decrease. From 1944 to 1950, only 17 instances of tiger attacking bears were recorded in the Russian Far East. They most typically attack brown bears during hibernaculum in the winter. Brown bears are attacked by tigers more often than black bears, due to their habit of living in more open areas and their inability to climb trees. When hunting bears, tigers will position themselves from the leeward side of a rock or fallen tree, waiting for the bear to pass by. When the bear passes, the tiger will spring from an overhead position and grab the bear from under the chin with one fore paw and the throat with the other. The immobilized bear is then killed with a bite to the spinal column. After killing a bear, the tiger will concentrate its feeding on the bear's fat deposits, such as the back, hams and groin. Tiger attacks on bears tend to occur when ungulate populations decrease. While tigers can successfully hunt bears, there are also records of brown bears killing tigers, either in disputes over prey or in self defense, and in at least one instance, of a bear consuming a tiger.
Asian black bears and Ussuri brown bears constitute 5-8% of the Siberian tiger's diet. Brown bears are estimated to constitute 1-1.5% of of their diet. Certain tigers have been reported to imitate the calls of Asian black bears to attract them.
Despite the threat of predation, some brown bears actually benefit from the tiger's presence by appropriating tiger kills that the bears may not be able to successfully hunt themselves, as bears often dominate these disputes over kills.
There have been observations of bears that changed their path after coming across tiger trails, as well as of bears following tiger tracks with no signs of fear and sleeping in the same den. Russian researchers have identified specific "satellite bears" who regularly follow tigers over extensive periods of time, sequentially usurping kills by tracking the tigers in the spring snow.
Tigers depress wolves numbers, either to the point of localized extinction or to such low numbers as to make them a functionally insignificant component of the ecosystem. Wolves appear capable of escaping competitive exclusion from tigers only when human pressure decreases tiger numbers. In areas where wolves and tigers share ranges, the two species typically display a great deal of dietary overlap, resulting in intense competition. Wolf and tiger interactions are well documented in Sikhote-Alin, where until the beginning of the 20th century, very few wolves were sighted. Wolf numbers may have increased in the region after tigers were largely eliminated during the Russian colonization in the late 19th century and early 20th century. This is corroborated by native inhabitants of the region claiming that they had no memory of wolves inhabiting Sikhote-Alin until the 1930s, when tiger numbers decreased. Today, wolves are considered scarce in tiger habitat, being found in scattered pockets, and usually seen travelling as loners or in small groups. First hand accounts on interactions between the two species indicate that tigers occasionally chase wolves from their kills, while wolves will scavenge from tiger kills. Tigers are not known to prey on wolves, though there are four records of tigers killing wolves without consuming them.
This competitive exclusion of wolves by tigers has been used by Russian conservationists to convince hunters in the Far East to tolerate the big cats, as they limit ungulate populations less than wolves, and are effective in controlling wolf numbers.
Siberian tigers reach sexual maturity at four years of age. They mate at any time of the year. A female signals her receptiveness by leaving urine deposits and scratch marks on trees. She will spend 5 or 6 days with the male, during which she is receptive for three days. Gestation lasts from 3 to 3½ months. Litter size is normally two or four cubs but there can be as many as six. The cubs are born blind in a sheltered den and are left alone when the female leaves to hunt for food. Cubs are divided equally between genders at birth. However, by adulthood there are usually two to four females for every male. The female cubs remain with their mothers longer, and later they establish territories close to their original ranges. Males, on the other hand, travel unaccompanied and range farther earlier in their lives, making them more vulnerable to poachers and other tigers.
A broad genetic sampling of 95 wild Russian tigers found markedly low genetic diversity, with the effective population size extraordinarily low in comparison to the census population size, with the population behaving as if it were just 27–35 individuals. Further exacerbating the problem is that more than 90% of the population occurs in the Sikhote Alin mountain region, and there is little movement of tigers across the development corridor, which separates this sub-population from the much smaller sub-population found in southwest Primorye province.
The winter of 2006-2007 was marked by heavy poaching. Poaching of tigers and their wild prey species is considered to be driving the decline, although heavy snows in the winter of 2009 could have biased the data.
Threats in the past
In the early years of the Russian Civil War, both Red and White armies based in Vladivostok nearly wiped out the local Siberian tigers. In 1935, when the Manchurian Chinese were driven back across the Amur and the Ussuri, the tigers had already withdrawn from their northern and western range. The few that remained in the East Manchurian mountains were cut off from the main population by the building of railroads. Within a few years, the last viable Siberian tiger population in Russia was confined to Ussuriland. Legal tiger hunting within the Soviet Union would continue until 1947 when it was officially prohibited. In the mid 1980s, it was estimated that the Siberian tiger population consisted of approximately 250 animals. In 1987, law and order almost entirely broke down due to the impending dissolution of the Soviet Union. Subsequent illegal deforestation and bribery of park rangers made the poaching of Siberian tigers easier, once again putting the subspecies at risk from extinction.
Tigers are included on CITES Appendix I, banning international trade. All tiger range states and countries with consumer markets have banned domestic trade as well. At the 14th Conference of the Parties to CITES in 2007, stronger enforcement measures were called for, as well as an end to tiger farming.
In 1992, the Siberian Tiger Project was founded, with the aim of providing a comprehensive picture of the ecology of the Amur tiger and the role of tigers in the Russian Far East through scientific studies. By capturing and outfitting tigers with radio collars, their social structure, land use patterns, food habits, reproduction, mortality patterns and their relation with other inhabitants of the ecosystem, including humans is studied. These data compilations will hopefully contribute toward minimizing poaching threats due to traditional hunting. The Siberian Tiger Project has been productive in increasing local capacity to address human-tiger conflict with a Tiger Response Team, part of the Russian government’s Inspection Tiger, which responds to all tiger-human conflicts; by continuing to enhance the large database on tiger ecology and conservation with the goal of creating a comprehensive Siberian tiger conservation plan; and training the next generation of Russian conservation biologists.
In 2010, Russia exchanged 2 captive Amur tigers for Persian Leopards with the Iran Government, as conservation groups of both countries have agreed on restocking these animals back into the wild within the next 5 years. Some experts, however, doubt the plan as they feel that this is a political publicity exercise. On December 30, 2010, one of the tigers exchanged died in Eram Zoo in Teheran.
Stimulated by recent findings that the Amur tiger is the closest relative of the Caspian tiger, discussions started if the Amur tiger could be an appropriate subspecies for reintroduction into a save place in Central Asia. The Amu-Darya Delta was suggested as a potential site for such a project. A feasibility study was initiated to investigate if the area is suitable and if such an initiative would receive support from relevant decision makers. A viable tiger population of about 100 animals would require at least 5,000 ha (19 sq mi) of large tracts of contiguous habitat with rich prey populations. Such habitat is not available at this stage and can not be provided in the short term. The proposed region is therefore unsuitable for the reintroduction, at least at this stage of developments.
The large, distinctive and powerful cats are popular zoo exhibits. The Siberian tiger is bred under the auspices of the Species Survival Plan (SSP), in a project based on 83 tigers captured in the wild. According to most experts, this population is large enough to stay stable and genetically healthy. Today, approximately 160 Siberian tigers participate in the SSP, which makes it the most extensively bred tiger subspecies within the program. Developed in 1982, the Species Survival Plan for the Siberian tiger is the longest running program for a tiger subspecies. It has been very fortunate and productive, and the breeding program for the Siberian tiger has actually been used as a good example when new programs have been designed to save other animal species from extinction.
In recent years, captive breeding of tigers in China has accelerated to the point where the captive population of several tiger subspecies exceeds 4,000 animals. Three thousand specimens are reportedly held by 10–20 “significant” facilities, with the remainder scattered among some 200 facilities. This makes China home to the second largest captive tiger population in the world, after the USA, which in 2005 had an estimated 4,692 captive tigers. In a census conducted by the US based Feline Conservation Federation, 2,884 tigers were documented as residing in 468 American facilities.
In 1986, the Chinese government established the world's largest Siberian tiger breeding base "Heilongjiang Northeast Tiger Forest Park (黑龙江东北虎林园)" and was meant to build a Siberian tiger gene pool to ensure the genetic diversity of Siberian tigers. Liu Dan, Chief Engineer of the Heilongjiang Northeast Tiger Forest Park, introduced a measure such that the Park and its existing tiger population would be further divided into two parts, one as the protective species for genetic management and the other as the ornamental species. It was discovered that when the Heilongjiang Northeast Tiger Forest Park was founded it had only 8 tigers, but according to the current breeding rate of tigers at the park, the worldwide number of Siberian tigers will break through 1,000 in late 2010.
Several reports have been published since the 1990s on the genetic makeup of the Siberian tiger and its relationship to other subspecies. One of the most important outcomes has been the discovery of low genetic variability in the wild population, especially when it comes to maternal or mitochondrial DNA lineages. It seems that a single mtDNA haplotype almost completely dominates the maternal lineages of wild Siberian tigers. On the other hand, captive tigers appear to show higher mtDNA diversity. This may suggest that the subspecies has experienced a very recent genetic bottleneck caused by human pressure, with the founders of the captive population being captured when genetic variability was higher in the wild.
At the turn of the century, researchers from the University of Oxford, the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem collected tissue samples from 23 Caspian tiger specimens kept in museums across Eurasia. They sequenced at least one segment of five mitochondrial genes, and observed a low amount of variability of the mitochondrial DNA in P. t. virgata as compared to other tiger subspecies. They re-assessed the phylogenetic relationships of tiger subspecies and observed a remarkable similarity between Caspian and Amur tiger indicating that the Amur tiger population is the genetically closest living relative of the extinct Caspian tiger, and strongly implying a very recent common ancestry for the two groups. Phylogeographic analysis suggested that less than 10,000 years ago the ancestor of Caspian and Amur tigers colonized Central Asia via the Silk Road from eastern China, then traversed Siberia eastward to establish the Amur tiger in the Russian Far East. The actions of industrial-age humans may have been the critical factor in the reciprocal isolation of Caspian and Amur tigers from what was likely a single contiguous population.
Samples of 95 individuals were collected throughout their native range to investigate questions relative to population genetic structure and demographic history. Additionally, targeted individuals from the North American ex situ population were sampled to assess the genetic representation found in captivity. Population genetic and Bayesian structure analyses clearly identified two populations separated by a development corridor in Russia. Despite their well-documented 20th century decline, the researchers failed to find evidence of a recent population bottleneck, although genetic signatures of a historical contraction were detected. This disparity in signal may be due to several reasons, including historical paucity in population genetic variation associated with postglacial colonization and potential gene flow from a now extirpated Chinese population. The extent and distribution of genetic variation in captive and wild populations were similar, yet gene variants persisted ex situ that were lost in situ. Overall, their results indicate the need to secure ecological connectivity between the two Russian populations to minimize loss of genetic diversity and overall susceptibility to stochastic events, and support a previous study suggesting that the captive population may be a reservoir of gene variants lost in situ.
Managers will be able to selectively breed to help preserve the unique and rare gene variants. This variation may be used to re-infuse the wild population sometime in the future if reintroduction strategies are deemed warranted.
Attacks on humans
Unlike the Bengal tiger, the Siberian tiger very rarely becomes a man-eater. Several cases of attacks on humans were recorded in the 19th century, occurring usually in central Asia excluding Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and the Far East. Siberian tigers were historically rarely considered dangerous unless provoked, though in the lower reaches of Syr-Darya, a tiger reportedly killed a woman collecting firewood and an unarmed military officer in the June period whilst passing through reed thickets. Attacks on shepherds were recorded in the lower reaches of Ili. In the Far East, during the middle and third quarter of the 19th century, attacks on man were recorded. In 1867 on the Tsymukha River, tigers killed 21 men and injured 6 others. In China's Jilin Province, tigers reportedly attacked woodsmen and coachmen, and occasionally entering cabins and dragging out both adults and children.
According to the Japanese Police Bureau in Korea, a tiger killed only one human, whereas leopards killed three, wild boars four and wolves 48 in 1928. Only six cases were recorded in 20th century Russia of unprovoked attacks leading to man-eating behaviour. Provoked attacks are however more common, usually the result of botched attempts at capturing them.
In December 1997, an injured Amur tiger attacked, killed and consumed two people. Both attacks occurred in the Bikin River valley. The anti-poaching task force Inspection Tiger investigated both deaths, tracked down and killed the tiger.
In January 2002, a man was attacked by a Siberian tiger on a remote mountain road near Hunchun in Jilin Province, China, near the borders of Russia and North Korea. He suffered compound fractures but managed to survive. When he sought medical attention, his story raised suspicions as Siberian tigers seldom attack humans. An investigation of the attack scene revealed that raw venison carried by the man was left untouched by the tiger. Officials suspected the man to be a poacher who provoked the attack. The following morning, tiger sightings were reported by locals along the same road, and a local TV station did an on-site coverage. The group found tiger tracks and blood spoor in the snow at the attack scene and followed them for approximately 2,500 meters, hoping to catch a glimpse of the animal. Soon, the tiger was seen ambling slowly ahead of them. As the team tried to get closer for a better camera view, the tiger suddenly turned and charged, causing the four to flee in panic. About an hour after that encounter, the tiger attacked and killed a 26-year-old woman on the same road. Authorities retrieved the body with the help of a bulldozer. By then, the tiger was found lying 20 meters away, weak and barely alive. It was successfully tranquilized and taken for examination, which revealed that the tiger was anemic and gravely injured by a poacher’s snare around its neck, with the steel wire cutting deeply down to the vertebrae, severing both trachea and esophagus. Despite extensive surgery by a team of veterinarians, the tiger died of wound infection. Subsequent investigation of the first attack revealed that the first victim was a poacher who set multiple snares that caught both the tiger and a deer. The man was later charged for poaching and harming endangered species. He served two years in prison. After being released from prison, he worked in clearing the forest of old snares.
In an incident at the San Francisco Zoo in December 2007, a Siberian tiger escaped and killed a visitor, and injured two others. The animal was shot by the police. The zoo was widely criticized for maintaining only a 12.5 ft (3.8 m) fence around the tiger enclosure, while the international standard is 16 ft (4.9 m). The zoo subsequently erected a taller barrier topped by an electric fence. One of the victims admitted to taunting the animal.
In January 2011, a Siberian tiger attacked and killed a tour bus driver at a breeding park in the northern province of Heilongjiang, China. Park officials reported that the bus driver broke safety guidelines by leaving the vehicle to check on the condition of the bus.
The Tungusic people considered the Siberian tiger a near-deity and often referred to it as "Grandfather" or "Old man". The Udege and Nanai called it "Amba". The Manchu considered the Siberian tiger as Hu Lin, the king. The most elite unit of the Chinese Imperial Army in Manchu Qing Dynasty is called Hu Shen Ying, literally The Tiger God Battalion.
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- 21st Century Tiger
- Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) - Conservation of Amur tigers and leopards in the wild
- World Wide Fund for Nature: Amur tiger
- animals.nationalgeographic.com: Siberian Tiger Profile
- Wildlife Conservation Society's Siberian Tiger Project
- Amur.org.uk: Preserving leopards and tigers in the wild
- USDA Information Resources on Tigers, Panthera tigris
- flickr.com: Captive Amur Tiger images at Highland Wildlife Park, Scotland
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
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