Just when news is breaking that Chinese poachers are wiping out 10-16% of the critically endangered Siberian tiger population each year, Vladmir Putin’s tiger went missing. Russians had grown to love (or at least geographically track) this female tiger through Putin’s tiger website. But her collar hadn’t pinged in three months, exciting worries of poachers, who are wiping out tigers worldwide. The Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is in special trouble from poachers who use tiger parts for traditional medicine.
But, Putin’s spokesman announced, the only thing that died were the batteries in her collar. She’s fine and so is a cub she had recently.
Which of Putin’s tigers is this? It’s hard to keep track since Putin has a special relationship with (at least) two tigers. This is the 5-year-old female one he shot with a tranquilizer dart last summer while touring the Usuri Reserve. The other one was a two-month old tiger he got as birthday present.
The first incident with this tiger — it apparently escaped from trap just as Putin approached, was hit by another dart, but not felled till Putin shot her again — prompted speculation that it was a dramatic stunt to show off Putin’s toughness. But no one questions his fondness for tigers, which he sees as a symbol of Russia. While this tiger slept he talked gently with her, shook her paw and then said good-bye by kissing her on the forehead.
It’s certainly good news for the tigers to have Putin as a friend. The Russian Academy of Sciences (near Vladivostock) is tracking the Siberian or Amur tiger, the world’s largest subspecies of tiger. Once considered a big environmental success story because the population recovered to about 500 from only 50. But now scientists fear the number has dropped down to 300 because of Chinese poachers, who leave explosives smeared with fat for the rare cats to swallow. (As usual, no one is sure about the numbers.)
Putin is going to host a worldwide tiger summit in Vladivostock next year as part of a $1 billion drive with the World Wildlife Foundation to double the world’s tiger population to 6,500 by 2022. The tigers (and even more endangered Amur leopards) live in a tiny area near the Sea of Japan.
Wanna visit? Russian travel agencies do offer a few options–but not the type of ecotourism Americans may be used to with spas and massages. If you don’t get a tip from a park ranger on where a tiger is, this tour guide warns you may have to wait for days in an isolated “hide-out tent” for the tiger to show. Well, at least there’s room for ecotourism to grow to support the Amur Tiger.
The jaguar photo was contributed by the Russian Academy of Sciences’ permanent exhibition
View AnimalTourism.com Big Cats in a larger map