A SURPRISE VISIT
On February 9th 2010, the head of Primorsky Krai’s Hunting Control Department notified us of a tiger sighted on a hunting lease near Alekseevka, a village of the Nadezhdinsky district in Primorski Krai. The animal was behaving oddly - most wild tigers, when confronted with people, will either run away, or if cornered, exhibit aggression. But this animal neither ran away or towards people, as if people long ago failed to interest him. As a WCS employee with extensive capture experience, I was asked to assist by immobilizing and examining this strange tiger.
Around noon, together with representatives from Primorsky Krai’s Hunting Control Department, Special Tiger Inspection and WWF Russia, I arrived at the base of the hunting lease. The previous day, the tiger had killed and eaten two dogs. Now, apparently satiated, he was leisurely strolling around between the houses and cars parked nearby. He seemed com pletely calm, and showed no reaction to people, but appeared very interested in cars. He followed them, smelled them, and rubbed his cheeks on their bumpers. Our goal was to anesthetize him, conduct a basic examination, collect basic blood samples for disease analyses, weigh him, measure him, and transfer him to a facility for subsequent holding and observation.
I got out the syringe with the anesthetic, loaded the gun, and readied for work. Unlike nearly all other tiger immobilizations I have been involved in, when your pulse is running high and your nerves are tingling as you approach one of the largest, most dangerous carnivores in the world, immobilizing this tiger was more like darting the family pussycat. As he walked along a road, following a slowly moving truck, we simply eased up behind him in a second vehicle with a sunroof, from which I made the shot. Unlike most tigers, who normally whirl in anger with impressive growls upon getting darted with a needle, this tiger was amazingly calm: he didn’t charge in our direction, didn’t roar, but merely hopped up twice, like a rabbit. After a few minutes, the tranquilizer took effect, and he slowly fell asleep. We carried him into a small holding area and began the examination. The tiger turned out to be a young male (3-4 years old), in good physical condition, weighing 156 kg, and with an 11 cm front pad width. From this brief examination, we came up with no clues as to why this “king of the forest” was acting like a domestic house cat.
We know from previous cases that tigers with distemper can appear oblivious to their surroundings, and in the earlier stages of the disease, can walk around villages and highways seemingly completely at ease amidst their human surroundings. But unlike most of these cases, this tiger as yet showed no signs of dysfunction of the central nervous system: it was not like he was unaware of his surroundings, but rather that he was completely at ease with them, as if he had been reared in captivity and was completely accustomed to such surroundings.
What caused the atypical behavior of this Siberian tiger? What possible illness might he have? What made him approach people in the first place? Could he have been reared in captivity? All of these questions will have to be answered by specialists looking at the results of his analyses, and over the course of a long-term observation.