Thursday February 27, 2020


October 10, 2014

On October 8, a tiger released into the wild by Russian President Vladimir Putin in May wandered across the border into China. The tiger, Kuzya, is one of three rare Siberian tigers set free in Siberia by Putin in an effort to boost the wild Siberian tiger population. Russian officials have been tracking the tiger’s movements over the past several months via an electronic tag. When they noticed the animal’s move into northeastern China, they contacted forestry officials in the region to let them know.

Fewer than 500 Siberian tigers exist in the wild today, with an estimated 450 in Russian Siberia and 20 or so in China’s Northeastern Heilongjiang Province. Kuzya likely traveled across Siberia and into China in search of more plentiful food sources, less competition, and perhaps a mate. He seems to have swum 700 meters across the Amur River, a startling feat for an animal that typically detests water. It has sparked speculation that poachers could have caught Kuzya and thrown the collar away, although officials report the tracker would have indicated if the tiger had died.

Currently, the tracker indicates Kuzya is in the Taipingguo nature reserve. Taipingguo’s director has assured Russian officials that all accommodations will be made to ensure the area remains hospitable for the tiger. If necessary, the reserve will release cattle into the area, as food for Kuzya, and locals, including farmers in the region, have been made aware of her presence. The reserve plans to set up video cameras in the area to monitor the tiger and his whereabouts.

The event sparked a series of amusing article titles about the tiger having “defected” to China or “escaped” Russia. However, the Chinese officials’ concern over this tiger is more than simply a humorous story. It reminds us just how much official and public attitudes towards wildlife and conservation have evolved in recent years, and especially since Mao’s era, when tigers were hunted down as threats to productivity.

There are challenges to conservation, however, particularly where the tiger is concerned. Traditional Chinese medicine using Tiger bones as an ingredient in various cures. Although the Chinese government has made the use of tiger parts for medicine illegal, there is still a lucrative market for this type of product. While most of these tiger parts enter the black market through zoos and animal reservations, cases of poaching do occasionally surface.

Another concern is that Kuzya might find trouble in Heilongjiang because it is much more populated than Russia’s Siberia. The presence of many farmers in the area worries Russian officials, who have voiced concern over the possibility of a farmer injuring or killing Kuzya in defense of their cattle. Capturing nets and barbed wire fences also pose a difficulty for the tiger, but reservation officials are working to ensure that such obstacles are removed from his path.

Despite these challenges, the public and local officials are doing everything they reasonably can to ensure the tiger is comfortable in his new environment. All of this is just part of China’s effort in recent years to renew its natural habitats and wildlife. Though Kuzya marks the first time a Siberian tiger has been recorded in Luobei county, signs of the endangered animal species in other parts of Heilongjiang bring hope to conservationists. In September, farmers in the Linkou Forest Zone in east Heilongjiang reported their cattle had been maimed or gone missing. Officials later confirmed this was the work of a Siberian tiger, the first known instance of tiger activity in the area since its creation in 1963. The government banned commercial logging in sections of the region earlier this year and has been working to replant areas of the forest that have been depleted. As the forests begin to grow again, officials hope the tigers and other wildlife will return as well.

For further information, consult the following sources:

BBC – “Tiger released into wild by Vladimir Putin crosses into China”

Christian Science Monitor – “Siberian tigers ‘starved to death’ in Chinese Zoo”

India Today – “Russian President Putin’s tiger cub defects to China”

LA Times – “Siberian tigers making a comeback in China”

National Geographic News Watch – “Tigers in Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Universal Apothecary”

Southern China Morning Post – “Chinese man caught with dead Siberian tiger in car”

The Moscow Times – “Nature, Not Hunger, Drove Putin’s Amur Tiger to Ditch Russia for China”

The New York Times – “Tiger Farms in China Feed Thirst for Parts”

The Wall Street Journal – “Endangered Tiger Released by Putin Escapes to China”

Times of India – “China steps up protection of tigers”

World Wildlife Foundation – “Amur Tiger”

Xinhua – “China keeps an eye on tiger freed by Russian President”

Xinhua – “Second tiger freed by Russian President near Sino-Russian border” (中国新闻网) “黑龙江小兴安岭土区发现疑似普京放生老虎踪迹”

Xinhua (新华)  – “普京放生老虎越境流到中国保护区 中方你全力保护“

Compiled and edited by Molly Bradtke