Russian President Vladimir Putin’s widely publicised wildlife stunts, at least some of them, have been stage-managed.

Mr. Putin made the surprise admission at a meeting with an opposition journalist, Masha Gessen, who was fired after she refused to send a reporter to cover the Russian leader’s latest exploit — taking to the skies in a motorised hang glider to lead a flock of young Siberian white cranes in flight. Ms. Gessen said she did not like it that Mr. Putin’s adventures with wildlife had been staged and she bluntly told him so during their meeting earlier this week.

“You probably know that the tigress you tagged with a GPS collar had been brought from a zoo, and that the polar bear you also put a collar on had been captured beforehand and kept heavily tranquilised for several days till you came,” she said.

After Mr. Putin’s adventure with the tigress, environmentalists said the animal died as a result of a sedative overdose. Mr. Putin did not challenge the journalist’s claims. “Of course, there are excesses. And I am furious about it,” he said, while insisting he was doing it for the love of nature.

“The main goal was to draw attention to a wildlife problem,” Mr. Putin said.

Mr. Putin’s exercise with Siberian white cranes when he flew in a glider to show the birds how to fly south also caused a scandal. A biologist who helped raise the cranes in captivity wrote in her blog that two birds died during preparations for Mr. Putin’s visit. One died during transportation, and one more got caught in the glider motor. The Russian President personally invited the sacked editor of a travel magazine to say he was sorry and to offer to help her get her job back. Ms. Gessen refused the offer and was promptly hired by U.S.-financed Radio Free Europe. Mr. Putin (60) is famous for his hardman outings. He has flown a fighter jet into Chechnya, fired a missile aboard a strategic bomber, descended to the bottom of Lake Baikal in a special deep-sea vessel and hit the fast track in a Formula One car.

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Putin leads young Siberian cranes in flightSeptember 6, 2012

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