Ilona in transport cage
ready for the long trip
On May 19th, the next step in returning tigers to the Pri-Amur Region of Russia began. Specialists from Wildlife Conservation Society, Special Tiger Inspection and Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution were able to dart the teenage tigress Ilona in her expansive enclosure at the Inspection Tiger’s Rehabilitation Center in Alekseevka, Primorskii Krai. Within an hour, after blood samples and measurements were taken, and a radiocollar was put on, she was placed in her transport cage in preparation for the long trip west.
Early the nextmorning, two brothers – Kuzya and Boris – of similar age but unrelated to Ilona, were also darted, with each placed in their private shipping crate.
Shortly after, the caravan headed for the highway, where they will make about 1300 km trip to Amur Oblast and Zhelundinskii Wildlife Refuge, their new intended home.
Tigers disappeared from Amur Oblast nearly 50 years ago, but recent assessments indicate that prey numbers are sufficient and the habitat good enough to support tigers. When three separate litters of tigers were orphaned in the 2012-2013 winter, likely due to poaching of their mothers, all survivors eventually made their way to Alekseevka, where they were kept away from human contact and provided the opportunity to learn to hunt. Staff of the Severtsov Institute, who led the effort to create the Alekseevka Center with Inspection Tiger, recognized that these tiger cubs represented an opportunity to recolonize lost Amur tiger habitat in the Russian Far East, and led the process of gaining political support for the program.
The first phase of this experiment came in May 2013 with the release of Zolushka, an orphaned female from Southwest Primorye, who was released in Bastak Zapovednik (see earlier articles). Zolushka has flourished in her new environment, and is already consorting with a male tiger that apparently dispersed from Khabarovskii Krai. Now, the goal is to extend the recolonization process with the release of Ilona, Kuzya, and Boris into Amurskaya Oblast.
Map of Zhelundinskiy Wildlife Refuge in Amurskaya Oblast, Russian Far East