On the heels (paws) of Cinderella the tiger and her rumored cubs

A track from Zolushka in tire treads in the mud.

Igor Beliatsky reports on his trip to the Far East to record evidence of Zolushka and determine whether she has given birth to cubs.—MV

When I went to Bastak, several kilometres from Birobidzhan, the capital city of the Jewish autonomous republic in the Russian Far East in the middle of April, I was on a mission.

That mission: to find evidence that the Amur tigress Zolushka (Cinderella) we had rehabilitated and released in 2013 and her presumed husband Zavetny (“Cherished One”) have mated and welcomed into the world a litter of the first-ever cubs to a rehabilitated orphaned Amur tiger.

I was off to install more camera traps and to pick up data from those installed earlier to observe the animals with nature reserve workers Ivan Polkovnikov and Taras Ozimok. (IFAW is also going to donate an ATV in cooperation with the Asian Tigers company from Singapore to better patrol the nature reserve territory. The reserve’s director Alexander Kalinin says the donation will be critically important for successful monitoring, especially in winter.)

We have much evidence that Zolushka has successfully adapted to live in the wild taiga and that she met Zavetny  during the breeding period last November. The two have been identified by their paw prints in some places, seemingly running in circles, playing games and perhaps laying with each other.

The trip to the reserve is not a long one. It took one hour to reach the house in which we would stay the first night. But it took about two hours the next day to reach the main territory where most of the photo traps were installed.

We installed 6 camera traps and picked up SD cards from another 6 traps. We delivered and poured out salt from a dozen of 20 kg sacks to attract (actually to supply hooved animals such as deer and wild boar. We’ve seen that bears come there to such salt licks to prey. In fact, that day, we saw brown bear footprints following those of a deer. Ivan said that Zavetny and Zolushka also appeared there one or two times a month.

We are optimistic we will spot her even if she doesn’t have to roam about much as a mother to cubs. Since there is enough prey in the nature reserve, a well-protected area, Zolushka wouldn’t have to spend much time away from any cubs to feed them and herself.

By installing new camera traps in the presumed wandering routes of the two tigers, we hope to see them in the coming months.

We saw a lot of fresh foot prints of bears, Far East red deer and wild boar, and some older footprints of tigers and perhaps a lynx. I took some pictures of the so-called “marking tree” where animals – beasts and their prey – leave their scent or visual evidence of their paws (scratches, broken branches, etc.)

Two days later Ivan discovered and photographed Zolushka’s footprints on the road meaning the tigress must be near.

Tracks of Zolushka imprinted in the mud can be quite big.

But as of this writing, no documented sightings of her…

Or any cubs.

--MV

Learn more about IFAW efforts to protect tigers on our campaign page.

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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Gail A'Brunzo, Manager, Wildlife Rescue
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy