Putin’s tiger ‘defects’ to China

An undated photo showing Kuzya being released. File Photo: New York Times  

Virile, canny and possessed with a boundless appetite for red meat, Kuzya, a 23-month-old Siberian tiger, would seem the perfect mascot for President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who had a personal hand in reintroducing Kuzya to the wild in the Russian Far East in May.

It turns out Kuzya, like Mr. Putin, has territorial ambitions, which this week drew him across the frigid Amur River that separates Russia and China. His arrival set off a diplomatic incident of sorts when it became clear that “President Putin’s tiger,” as one Russian newspaper put it, was facing possible peril on the Chinese side of the border.

On Friday, wildlife officials in China’s far northeast were scrambling to ascertain Kuzya’s whereabouts after his Russian minders, tracking him by radio transmitter, expressed concern that he could end up in the hands of poachers — not an unlikely outcome given the steep price a rare Siberian tiger can fetch on the Chinese black market.

Given the increasingly close relations between Moscow and Beijing, it appears Chinese officials are taking no chances with Kuzya’s safety.

On Friday, the Foreign Ministry said prodigious efforts were being made to track and protect the tiger, which swam across the Amur on Tuesday after trekking some 300 miles from the spot where Mr. Putin presided over his release.

The incident produced inevitable snickers, with some people in China warning that Kuzya might be a spy, while some Russians suggested that he was seeking to escape Mr. Putin’s authoritarian grip. “Putin’s Tiger Cub Defects — to China,” read the headline in the British tabloid The Daily Mail.

In China, many microblog users predicted an unhappy ending. “How long before this poor tiger becomes a rug in some rich official’s house?” one observer remarked.

On Friday evening, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported that another one of the tigers Mr. Putin set free in May, a female named Ilona, was reportedly just a few miles from the Chinese-Russian border.

Maria Vorontsova, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Russia, is following the events closely. Ms. Vorontsova was part of the team that rescued Kuzya and four siblings who were orphaned after a poacher killed their mother nearly two years ago.

While some of his siblings stayed in the vicinity, Kuzya was apparently taken with wanderlust and zigzagged his way through the sparsely settled region of Russia along the northeastern border of Heilongjiang. Wildlife rangers who have been tracking his movements by satellite said he was eating well and avoiding human activity, the key to a rehabilitated tiger’s survival.

Asked whether she thought Kuzya was looking to make some sort of political statement by sneaking into China, Ms. Vorontsova laughed.

“Every animal wants a good habitat with enough prey and the possibility to meet a nice female,” she said. “In the meantime, hopefully he won’t get into any trouble.” — New York Times News Service

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 2:05:39 PM |

Next Story