In the winter of 2012 a female Amur tiger cub was found orphaned in Far East Russia. When found and rescued by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) she was exhausted and suffered frostbite on the tip of her tail. So at the rehabilitation facility in Alekseyevka village, near Vladivostok, about 7 centimetres of her tail had to be amputated.
She was named Zolushka, which means Cinderella in English. At the rehabilitation centre she was taught essential survival skills, of which two are most important: hunting prey and avoiding human beings. Therefore human contact was reduced to the absolute minimum. She made good progress and a group of world’s experts on Amur tigers decided that she could be released in the beginning of May 2013. So, after having Cinderella more than twelve months at the rehabilitation centre and doing great, preparations were made for her release on May 9th. She was tranquilised by using dart guns, which wasn’t an easy job because as soon as she smelled humans she hid herself in the large enclosure — as she was taught to do so. After she was immobilised, she was measured and examined, including blood samples. To be able to track her in the near future she was fitted with a satellite collar.
Cinderella’s new home was to be Bastak Nature Reserve, which is about 1000 kilometres from Vladivostok, near Birobidzhan. The transport was done by car, because using a helicopter proved to be impossibly expensive. After an exhaustive ride they had to switch trucks to reach the release site. The crate with the tigress was uploaded on a tank-like off-road vehicle to be able to travel across the reserve terrain.
Bastak Nature Reserve was chosen for Cinderella to be released, because tigers used to live in the area. Although people killed them all, and there were no tiger sightings there for many years, one male tiger was seen regularly in the area since 2006. So introducing an Amur tigress in the neighbourhood could lead to offspring in the near future, hopefully.
When the crate was offloaded and the door lifted Cinderella took her time, but finally she leaped out of the crate and disappeared in the forest towards freedom.
The received satellite data showed the tigress movements across the reserve territory, and ascertained that she was alive. Her movements in the wild have been monitored for over two months now. At first, she mainly stayed within the area of the release, but gradually she increased her territory. Now, two months after release, she has roamed the entire Bastak Nature Reserve. Based on the satellite coordinates, they know that she approaches rivers and appears to be succesful in killing prey, because approximately once every 7 – 10 days she remains in one spot for quite a long time. At these spots remains of killings have been found, including bones and leftover hides of wild boars and badgers.
Other organisations involved in Zolushka’s rescue and release back to the wild, besides the IFAW, are: Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Phoenix Fund, Inspection Tiger, and Wildlife Conservation Society.