It has been nine months since the tigress named Zolushka (Cinderella), saved from starvation in the Russian taiga, was returned to the wild by the Wildlife Conservation Society Russia and Russian partners. Now, halfway through her first harsh, Russian winter, Zolushka appears to be not only surviving, but actively courted by the single male tiger roaming her territory.
According to the GPS device attached to the tigress’s collar, there to monitor her movements, Zolushka got through her first summer after release quite well, making her first kill of wild prey only days after her release. Examination of sites visited by Zolushka allowed WCS staff to determine that Zolushka managed to kill prey at a sufficient rate to ensure her survival. After extensive excursions across a large tract of wilderness, Zolushka appears to be settling down to a home range within the Bastak Nature Reserve in the Jewish Autonomous Region – a place tigers have been absent from for nearly forty years. When the GPS device stopped functioning in August, researchers were forced to rely on traditional snow tracking of individuals during the winter months. Initial efforts this winter have turned up good news: the tracks of a male tiger, who apparently dispersed to the region prior to the arrival of Zolushka, were found following those of Zolushka this January. With luck this male will catch up with Zolushka, hopefully resulting in a litter of cubs that will represent the beginning of a recovery of tigers in this remote region.
Zolushka is one of 400 Amur, or Siberian tigers left in the wild. Found in the taiga of Southwest Primorskii Krai and brought into captivity by hunters in February 2012 when less than 6 months old, Zolushka was suffering from starvation and frostbite. A cooperative effort of the Federal agency Inspection Tiger, the regional Wildlife Hunting Department of Primorskii Krai, Severtsov Institute in Moscow, and the Primorskii Agricultural Academy, along with NGOs Phoenix, IFAW and WCS provided adequate food and veterinarian expertise to ensure her survival. Zolushka spent most of her time at the Inspection Tiger Alekseevka Rehabilitation Center, where, kept in isolation from humans to retain her instinctive fear of people, live wild prey was released into her enclosure to provide opportunities for her to learn how to hunt.
Specialists from Severtsov Institute, Inspection Tiger and WCS released Zolushka into her new home at an age when young tigresses normally disperse from their mother, and also at a time of year (spring) when she could find plenty of small, easy-to-catch prey to ease her way back into life in the wild.
Rescuing one tiger and ensuring her survival is one of many achievements by the Wildlife Conservation Society Russia, which led the Siberian Tiger Project, the longest running radio-telemetry-based tiger research and conservation project in the world.