Ustin the tiger returned to Russian rehabilitation center

After being released in 2014 Ustin has returned to the rehabilitation center in Primorsky Krai, we are hopeful for his rerelease after his wounds heal.

Even though Ustin, one of five Amur Tigers released in 2014, showed much potential for a successful life in the wild, he has been returned to the familiar environs of the rehabilitation center in Primorsky Krai.

After his release in June into the Zhuravliny Wildlife Sanctuary, less than a month after Russian President Vladimir Putin personally opened the cages to set free three other Amur tigers named Kuzya, Ilona and Borya in the nearby Zheludinsky sanctuary, these three then became known - thanks to the mass media - as "Putin’s tigers". 

Ustin however moved in the direction of Khabarovsk, then crossed the icy Amur River to nearby Bolshoi Ussuriysky Island, where the Russia-China border crosses the whole of the western end of the island.

Unfortunately, the territory he chose to explore does not provide an adequate wild food supply for a cat as large as he, and it is densely populated on the Chinese side, where Ustin decided to settle for a while.

He immediately killed a dog on the island and then ate several goats, belonging to a Chinese farmer. Wild boars were released near Ustin and the animal immediately started to hunt them, but it was not enough food for the wild healthy animal, and he was forced to  kill the domesticated animals.

He eventually left the island and crossed the nearby China border, but he did not succeed in finding a good forest where he could settle.

Then news came that he was back within Russian territory near Khabarovsk, the biggest city at the Russian Far East. Both Ustin and Kuzya had used the same path to return to Russia from China.

Ustin settled next to a village for reasons, which at that time were unclear to us, and started walking dangerously close to homes on sidewalks and paths. Even though he never appeared near local residents during the day time, they became very afraid of him, especially after he killed and ate another dog.

IFAW and our partners on this effort made the decision to capture Ustin.

The Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia issued a permit for capture, experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) traveled to the site. The animal was caught quickly as his daily movements had become well-known.

He was immediately examined. Although Ustin was well-nourished and in a good overall physical shape, he had wounds on all four paws and legs. These wounds were not fresh, and there were bald patches caused by constant licking.

Ustin was likely wounded in the border zone trying to get over barbed wire, as the wounds can be traced starting from his armpits. However, the wounds could also have been caused by sharp ice from the Amur River.

Deep snow in the area and the injuries accounted for Ustin's behavior: He was looking for the easiest prey. There are no wild boars at the area, where Ustin was, and he was not able to hunt the Red deer in deep snow and with scratches legs.

We see similar situations almost every year.

RELATED: Five Amur tigers continue to thrive in wilds of Russia

The return to the enclosure where he had rehabilitated for a little more than a year turned out to be a serious stress for him.

But for most of us it was a relief to know, that his behavior was explained by the minor injuries on his legs and the absence of prey species at the Bolshoy Ussuriisky Island.

In general he is in good health and is scared of people. Ustin will be monitored and depending on how things go, specialists will decide what happens next to this smart, beautiful and strong animal.

Since he continues to be afraid of people and tries to avoid them, we are hopeful that after his wounds heal he could get a second chance.

--MV

For more information on IFAW efforts to protect the last of the world's wild tigers, visit our campaign page.

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