For the first time ever a rehabilitated and re-released Amur tigeress has given birth in the wild.
The tigeress, known as Zolushka (Cinderella), was raised in captivity after being found as a four month old cub, apparently orphaned, in Russia. A pair of hunters brought her to a local wildlife officer where it was found she had frostbite in her tail, resulting in her having part of her tail amputated. She was raised in captivity for around 18 months but with as little human contact as possible so that she could be released into Russia’s Bastak Nature Reserve, an area that has been lacking tigers for around 40 years. The release was intended as a bit of a trial, after all, no other tigers were in the area yet. However it seems one male tiger travelled around 200km into the reserve where it must have met Zolushka. A theory that was confirmed by a sighting of a male tiger on a remote camera trap in late March. Amur tigers have vast ranges as a lack of food in the area means they need to travel to hunt. The successful breeding in the wild is seen as a milestone as it is the first time a captive raised Amur tiger has bred in the wild. Zolushka was pictured recently with two healthy cubs.
Amur tigers, also called Siberian tigers, are endangered with only around 540 animals left in the wild due to poaching and, recently, canine distemper virus. The name Siberian tiger is often given to the animals although they are present to the South of Siberia and are not found in Siberia due to the cold. Amur tigers used to be numerous but the fall of the Soviet Union lead to a lack of monitoring which meant the animals were poached. The population has been increasingly steadily thanks to many conservation groups; this reintroduction was led by the Wildlife Conservation Society and its partners. Monitoring Amur tigers is not easy as they have the largest uninterrupted range of any tiger, a range that is actually growing due to habitat restoration. Luckily, the Amur tiger and Amur leopard both receive lots of interest from conservationists which has resulted in dramatically stepped up levels of protection in South Russia and Northern China. There are regular patrols which look for hunters and remove any traps found. This is encouraging when you consider how harsh and isolated the area is and how hard it is to get to for most people. The nature reserve is 162 square miles and is also home to many other species such as bears and lynx which are also benefiting for the increased protection.
Zolushka was given a radio collar upon release which, along with camera traps, is how her progress is monitored. The camera trap footage of the cubs is given in the link below.
There were a further 5 Amur tigers released into the wild last year which was the biggest release project to ever take place. It appears that Russian authorities and conservation groups are quite serious in their aim to increase the Amur tiger population through conservation work. Until recently tiger poaching only carried a $50 dollar fine but with armed rangers and fines of $20,000 (bearing in mind the poor and rural nature of this area) it is clear they have raised the importance of the tiger. It is quite possible that with the release of more tigers last year, and hopefully more in the future, the protection will only increase.
Importantly the release of Zolushka served as a model for future conservation programs to follow and will hopefully lead to more successful reintroduction schemes.
The video of the cubs