The largest release of endangered Amur tigers ever makes history in Russia
Three orphaned Amur tigers, two males and one female were successfully released to the wild in the Russian Far East. This, the largest release of rehabilitated Amur tigers ever, was made possible by the joint efforts of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – www.ifaw.org), Special Inspection Tiger, A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Underlining the importance of the event, Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin attended the release. President Putin is known for his personal investment in the Russian State-supported Amur tiger rehabilitation project.
Two tigers released were brothers Borya and Kuzia. The cubs were found, together with a third female cub which later died presumably from a calicivirus infection, near Andreevka, Primorsky Krai in November 2012. The rescued tigers were moved to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Alekseevka in the same region. Their estimated age was four months and their weight only 35 pounds. Another female tigress released with the brothers has the name of Ilona. Presumably, the tiger cubs were orphaned after poachers killed their mothers.
“There are an estimated 360 tigers surviving in the wilds of Russia today, a noticeable decline compared to the more than 400 at the start of the century. Poaching and shrinking of tiger habitat due to unprecedented logging and wildfires, as well as the decline of the ungulate population - the tigers' prey base – are still the main threats for the tiger population. Female tigers are dying with increased frequency because of all of these reasons. When orphaned, hungry and exhausted tiger cubs then wander into villages in search of food,” explains Maria Vorontsova, IFAW Russia Director. “If we want to save this species from extinction, every single life needs to be considered precious. These three tigers were released in the area where tigers have not been sighted for years and are thought to have become extinct. Our previous experience shows that now they have real chances to survive in the wild,” said Vorontsova.
Two additional tigers, the female Svetlaya and the male Ustin, are scheduled to be released in early June.
A tigress, named later Svetlana, was caught on January 9, 2013, near the village of Svetlogorye in Primorye and delivered to the Utes Rehab Center. The tiger cub was frost-bitten and severely emaciated weighing only 29 kg at close to seven months of age.
The five rehabilitated tigers had to be removed from the wild and placed in the facility for endangered species built by the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution together with Inspection Tiger near the village of Alexeyevka in Primorsky Krai.
These two organizations, financially supported by IFAW and the Phoenix Fund, operate a special Amur tiger rehabilitation program, which has already celebrated success.
A year ago, a rehabilitated tigress named Zolushka was successfully released. Recent data and images gathered from camera-traps set in the forest, show that she has successfully adapted to life back in the wild.
"The tigers were prepared to go back to the wild; they are in good physical shape, successfully stalking and hunting their natural prey and avoid human beings," explains Dr. Viatcheslav Rozhnov, Deputy-Director of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution.
During the rehabilitation process, all contact with humans was eliminated. Monitoring the tigers was done through remotely-operated video cameras.
On May 20th, the tigers were immobilized, weighed, measured, and fitted with satellite collars. They were placed inside custom-built transport crates and moved 1,700km by road to their final release site in a remote protected area in the Russian Amur region. An IFAW veterinarian consultant followed the entire journey to monitor the health of the tigers. Satellite-tracking data will help rangers monitor the tigers’ movements.
About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.