Orphaned, frost-bitten Amur tiger cub now thriving in Russia’s Far East
A starving, frost-bitten orphan Amur tiger cub, rescued in the Russian Far East in the winter of 2012, has been a success story for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
The female animal, given the name Zolushka, which means Cinderella in Russia, was found alone, her mother had most probably been killed by poachers.
On the verge of starvation, she was brought by hunters to a wildlife inspector of the regional Primorskii Wildlife Department and was treated by vets from the regional Agricultural Academy, who had to amputate a third of her frostbitten tail.
For 15 months, Zolushka lived in a Russian federal tiger rehabilitation centre, designed with technical assistance from WCS’s Bronx Zoo General Curator Dr Pat Thomas.
Dr Thomas made recommendations on facility design to improve safety and reduce the need for direct interactions between tigers and humans.
The key to this rehabilitation was ensuring that the tiger’s natural fear of humans would remain intact and that she learned to hunt live prey before being released by into the wild.
After growing significantly in size and strength, Zolushka began successfully capturing her live prey, including wild boar.
She was then released in the spring of 2013 into Bastak Reserve within the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, a region where tigers vanished some 40 years ago as a result of habitat loss, direct poaching, and loss of prey. Here she could continue learning how to be a tiger.
Scientists followed her movements with GPS and camera trap technology. They found clear evidence of successful predation on wild boar, badgers, and red deer.
“Zolushka appears to be thriving in her new home, and represents the spearhead of a process for re-colonising habitat once roamed over by her ancestors,” says Dr Dale Miquelle, Director of the WCS Russia Program.
“This story is good news for Cinderella but also for tigers overall, as she and her prince appear to be consorting in formerly lost tiger habitat.
“Since her release, an additional five more orphaned cubs have been rescued, rehabilitated and released also into this westernmost range of historical tiger habitat. All but one of the cubs seems to be doing well in their new environment.”
The exact population size of Amur tigers is difficult to estimate, but the official estimates suggest that tiger numbers have dropped to 330-390 individuals (from 430-500 in 2005).
This decline was likely the result of increased poaching of tigers and their prey between 2005-2010, a period when poachers took advantage of wildlife management restructuring and the confusion associated with those changes.
A full-range tiger population survey, conducted every 10 years, is scheduled for February 2015.
The WCS Russia Program plays a critical role in monitoring tigers and their prey species in the Russian Far East and minimising potential conflicts between tigers and human communities. WCS works to save tiger populations and their remaining habitat in nine range countries across Asia.