Break out the Cigars! Cinderella has babies!
WCS and partners report from Bastak Reserve, a 162 square mile (420 km2) protected area in the Pri-Amur region of the Russian Far East, a tiger cub who lost her mother and nearly died, has became a “Cinderella” and is now a mother.
The reserve was devoid of tigers for nearly 40 years until Cinderella was released there two years ago and has now attracted a mate from another region.
Anxious waiting by biologists in the area was rewarded on December 9, 2015, when Ivan Podkolnokov, the reserve inspector responsible for monitoring Zolushka – Russian for Cinderella – returned from the field with historic photos: Zolushka standing under a huge Korean pine tree, with two small cubs huddled underneath her.
“This is a great day for Bastak Reserve” said Aleksandr Yuryevich Kalinin, Director of the protected area. “This demonstrates that there is still suitable habitat for tigers in the Pri-Amur region of the Russian Far East, and there is a place for tigers here. Our thanks go out to Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, WCS, IFAW, the Phoenix Fund, and Special Inspection Tiger and working collaboratively with us to make this happen.”
Said WCS Russia Director Dale Miquelle: “This is a watershed event not just for Zolushka, but for the entire population of Amur tigers. These births mark the return of tigers to habitat that had been lost, and the beginnings of a recovery and expansion of the last remaining Amur tiger population into habitat lost years ago.”
Said Cristián Samper, WCS President and CEO. “The story of this Cinderella is no fairy tale,” “The discovery of Zolushka’s cubs is real proof that conservation on the ground, conducted by groups working in partnership, can and does work. Zolushka and her cubs are proof that tiger habitat lost long ago is coming back in the Russian Far East.”
In February 2012, hunters in the southwestern portion of Primorskii Krai, one of the last strongholds of the Amur (or Siberian) tiger, came across a starving, four-month old tiger cub. Brought to the local wildlife manager, she was nursed back to health. After an operation to remove the tip of her tail which was damaged due to severe frostbite, Zolushka was transferred to the Aleksayevka Rehabilitation Center, managed by Inspection Tiger and supported by the Russian Geographical Society.
Kept away from humans (so as not to become acclimated to them) and provided live prey, Zolushka slowly learned how to hunt. In May 2013, when approximately 20 months old (the normal age when young tigers disperse from their mothers), Zolushka was taken to Bastak Reserve and released. On her own, Zolushka quickly figured out how to exploit the abundance of badgers, wild boar, and red deer.
WCS assisted scientists from the Severtsov Institute (Russian Academy of Sciences) with Zolusha’s transfer and release into Bastak—some 700 km away. WCS staff spent considerable time tracking Zolushka as she explored her new home to ensure she was properly acclimating to life back in the wild.
However, there was one problem. Tigers disappeared from the forests of Bastak Reserve forty years ago, making Zolushka a lonely Cinderella. That problem was miraculously solved when a lone wild male arrived, apparently making the 200 km hike west from the northern-most portions of current tiger range in Russia. Tracks of Zolushka and her prince were soon found together, but there was still a long wait as Zolushka still needed to mature and became ready for motherhood.
WCS’s work in rehabilitating, releasing, and monitoring Zolushka was made possible through partnerships with the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and the AZA Tiger Species Survival Plan Tiger Conservation Campaign. Collaborators for this project included the A. N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian Geographical Society, Inspection Tiger, IFAW, and Phoenix Fund.