An update on the tigers of the Russian Far East

A year on from our incredible adventure in the Russian Far East, and since the repeat of Operation Snow Tiger is being shown today, I thought it would be fitting to bring you an update on our cubs.

Sadly, Businka, the female sibling and first cub to be rescued and brought to the Rehabilitation Centre in Prymorski Krai, and the very first wild Amur tiger I set my eyes on, passed away on May 8th of this year. The vets there say the tigress had been sluggish and dehydrated for some time and the post-mortem showed that she suffered from hemorrhagic pneumonia. They believe it’s likely she was infected with Feline calicivirus disease – one of the most common causes of upper respiratory infection in cats, with pneumonia developing as a complication of the disease. Since it is a contagious disease her two brothers, Boris and Kuzya, were vaccinated in order to prevent infection. They are both doing very well, and have steadily gained weight. Since our three orphans were brought to the Centre, three other cubs, Ustin, Ilona and Svatlaya, have joined them, all of them also orphaned, victims of the incessant poaching activity in the area.

But there is hope for the Amur tiger. Zolushka, the tigress I mentioned in my previous blog, who was at the Centre when our cubs arrived, was released in the Spring of this year in the Bastak Reserve up north. Information from her collar has shown that she hunts well, avoiding all human activity while making good use of the available habitat. She is behaving like a normal wild tiger, which is great news since so far there has been little to no success with the release of rehabilitated tigers, anywhere in the world. So far there are no signs that she may be carrying cubs, but last year a photo of a male tiger was taken on a camera trap in the same area as where she was released, so there is real hope that she will get the chance to mate and reproduce.

Video of Zolushka’s release:

Since Zolushka’s release, Boris and Kuzya were moved into her larger enclosure and like her, avoid humans whenever they approach the fence to leave food. Since June, the cubs also began their “hunt training” with rabbits and can now successfully prey on live boar and deer, all in preparation for their scheduled release later next year. Without their mother to teach them how to hunt, this is the only way they’ll have a fighting chance to survive when released. The other three cubs remain in the smaller enclosure and are next in line to begin their training. As much as this situation is a sad and challenging one, scientists at the Rehab Centre are learning how to improve the rehabilitation process with every cub they take in.

But with 5 growing tigers at the Centre, it’s not easy to take care of them and feed them. Experts estimate the budget for the cubs’ rehabilitation prior to amounts to $30,000 per tiger per year. Not only that, but the GPS capability on Zolushka’s collar has now stopped working and more funding is needed to supply camera traps and fuel to continue with monitoring her activities. With so few resources at their disposal, every penny is vital to maximise the chances of these precious tigers surviving. But as you all know from watching the programme, the Russian scientists are the most passionate, resilient and hard working people I have ever met, and it does give me hope that thanks to them, we will not lose the Amur tiger in our lifetime. If you want to help them in their fight, please donate to The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance.

Big thanks to Victor, who remains an inspiration, and to Vika from the Phoenix Fund for keeping me up to date over the past year with our cubs’ progress.