A life of freedom for our six Russian tigers
When my work day starts, the first thing that I do is check where our released tiger cubs are. They are of course not tiger cubs any more, but independent adult tigers, however, I continue to think of them as babies, as a mother who thinks that her child is always a child.
As long as there are many tigers whom we helped to survive, let's talk about them one by one.
I will start with Sparta, it is a female tiger, who was rescued by IFAW in 2007. Altogether there were four tiger cubs. We did not have the large rehabilitation center available then, therefore it was not possible to reintroduce those tigers into the wild and they all had to go to different zoos.
Recently we received new information about Sparta: she is healthy and again gave birth to a litter cubs. She lives in a Swedish zoo called Norden Ark.
Let's now go back to our tigers who were a bit luckier and were able to go back into the wild.
The first of these tigers is Zolushka, who is now independently roaming the taiga for over a year.
At the beginning we were also tracking her movement with satellite collar. But one day it stopped transmitting the signal, which really concerned everyone who was involved in Zolushka's rescue. But in projects like this one, there are also backup elements.
By the time the collar stopped transmitting signal, Zolushka already established her territory, and it was highly likely she was not far from that area. Therefore with IFAW support, experts of Ecology and Evolution Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Special Inspectorate “Tiger” and Wildlife Conservation Society went to look for her tracks, and also continued trying to determine her location through the collar satellite tag.
It is important to note, that such a tracking requires high professionalism, good physical and field training.
Other widely used modern ways to study animals are trail cameras. These are cameras which are placed in locations where animals could pass. The camera is triggered by movement and takes pictures of everything within its range.
Such trail cameras with IFAW support were placed within the territory of Bastak Nature Reserve, where Zolushka was released.
These two methods, tracking and trail cameras, provided us with large amount of data confirming that Zolushka successfully found a niche in her “new home”.
She learned to interact with other animals – bears, deer, wolves and lynxes. It is considered that wolves do not inhabit places where tigers live. But there already were wolves in the Bastak Reserve. It is interesting to see how the situation changes: if the wolves remain there, if they leave the area or their population will decrease considerably.
Zolushka is hunting successfully: in the first days after her release she was hunting badgers, then she started to hunt larger animals – boars and deer. Experts found many of Zolushka's hunting and resting locations.
Every Zolushka (Russian for Cinderella) must have a prince: our prince is called Zavetny. It is a strong adult male, who is very interested in Zolushka. Winter tracking showed, that Zavetny followed Zolushka's tracks more than once, and trail cameras placed him in locations which Zolushka visited before.
Earlier the male tiger only stopped by the Bastak territory, now he spends more time there. During the summer Zolushka must get stronger and we are hoping, that the second winter will be as successful for her as the first one. Everyone is waiting for even happier news with bated breath: what if after meeting the male tiger...?
But let us not rush things: Zolushka is quite young, let us wait...
When Zolushka was leaving the rehabilitation center, several other tiger cubs have already been there for several months: Ilona, Svetlaya, Ustin, Borya and Kuzya.
As well as for Zolushka, release of these tiger cubs is just the beginning.
Now we have to make sure that they are able to provide food for themselves and also avoid humans. All tigers were tagged with satellite collars and we are receiving data about their movement. As soon as the tigers moved away enough for the experts to follow their tracks without troubling the tigers, they started tracking. As satellite data allows only for guesses about successful hunts of our tigers, it has to be checked.
A team of staff members of Special Inspectorate “Tiger”, Russian Academy of Sciences and Wildlife Conservation Society implement post-monitoring of the five tigers.
Ilona was the most successful tiger in the first days of her new life. Remains of her meals of wild boar piglets and even an adult roe were found on her path.
No one could think that would happen, as Ilona was the tiger who did not want to leave the transportation cage!
Ilona and Borya remain not far from each other, they are systematically getting familiar with a territory of 40 by 40 km.
We were not able to find remains of Borya's prey, but his feces contained fur and bones of a boar.
Kuzya, while at the rehabilitation center, behaved as a more cautious tiger, but after the release he moved alone to explore further territories and within the first two months he moved over 200 km. At the beginning Kuzya made us all worried, as his movement could not signify successful hunts. But then remains of a very large boar were found.
This was the first large prey of Kuzya!
Ustin and Svetlaya, who were released within the territory of the Jewish Autonomous Region, at the beginning moved alongside, but then they moved somewhat away from each other. Ustin started to move far from the release location, while Svetlaya was gradually enlarging her territory, making larger and larger rounds.
None of these five tigers so far have come out to humans.
All project participants really hope, that these five tigers will have the same experience as Zolushka: successfully spending the winter and making their home in the taiga.
For more information about IFAW efforts to help save the last of the world's tigers, visit our campaign page.