By Dr. Becker
A real-life fairy tale of sorts was caught on camera in Russia’s Bastak Reserve. There, a camera trap recorded footage of Zolushka — Russian for Cinderella — a rehabilitated Amur, or Siberian tiger, that is now healthy, and with two cubs, no less.
Cinderella was first found by hunters in 2012. At the time, she was just four months old, orphaned and starving. After being transported to a local wildlife manager, who had to amputate the tip of her tail due to frostbite, she was taken to Russia's Aleksayevka Rehabilitation Center.
She learned to hunt and grew stronger until her release in May 2013 at the age of 20 months old, the time when tigers typically leave their mothers. It's been 40 years since tigers have inhabited Bastak Reserve, so the fact that Cinderella is living there — and thriving — is being hailed as an environmental victory.
It’s thought that Cinderella’s suitor may have travelled 125 miles to mate with her, leading to the first tiger cubs in the area in decades. Cristián Samper, Ph.D. president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), told Discovery News:1
"The story of this Cinderella is no fairy tale. The discovery of Zolushka's cubs is real proof that conservation on the ground, conducted by groups working in partnership, can and does work. Zolushka and her cubs are proof that tiger habitat lost long ago is coming back in the Russian Far East."
Tigers Are Endangered but May Be Making a Comeback
Tiger populations are endangered across the globe. Wild populations have plummeted from an estimated 100,000 in the early 1900s to around just 3,000 today. However, this is some evidence that some populations are making a slow comeback.
For instance, the tiger population in India grew 30 percent in one four-year period. While in 2010 a census found just over 1,700 tigers that had increased to 2,226 in 2014.2
The increase is being credited to improved management at the 40+ tiger reserves in the country, along with the government’s efforts to reduce encounters between tigers and local farmers.
The animals are known to leave the reserves to search for food and water, which leads them to farmland that is rapidly encroaching on natural tiger habitats.
A similar victory was made for Siberian tigers in China in 2013. Tigers in the wild were estimated at 18 to 22 in China over the last decade, but newer estimates show the number has doubled, thanks to efforts to restore their natural habitat and enforce bans against hunting and trapping.
In the video above, you can see footage of a mother Siberian tiger and two cubs, which was filmed just 30 kilometers from the Russian border. John Barker, Asian programs leader at WWF, which recorded the video using a camera trap, told The Guardian:3
“There’s a long, long road ahead. But the opportunity is there. If the government, civil society and communities can work together, there’s no reason there shouldn’t be a sustainable population of tigers again in China …
The critical habitat is there. Very often with tigers [globally] the thing you are fighting is just loss of tiger habitat."
Creative Strategies Protect Tigers From Poachers
In India, forests are being cleared to make space for power projects, roads, and human dwellings, leading to significant habitat loss for the region's tigers. This is one threat facing the majestic creatures, but it's not the primary one. Illegal poaching of tigers for body parts used in traditional medicine has also decimated the species.
In India, which is thought to be home to nearly three-quarters of tigers left in the wild — placing international scrutiny on their tiger-conservation efforts — creative protection strategies are being employed. Among them are German Shepherds. The specially trained dogs learned how to detect wildlife products (including tiger skins, ivory tusks and bones from endangered birds) and locate injured animals, which helps authorities track down poachers.
In 2015, 14 new recruits joined 13 other sniffer dogs already in use in India, which have more than 100 cases of identifying body parts, leading to successful prosecution and convictions, to their credit.4
The dogs will help patrol wildlife areas at increased risk of poaching as well as baggage, cargo and vehicles at airports, railway stations and bus stands. The program was jointly funded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade-monitoring network.
Support Senate Passage of H.R. 2494, the END Wildlife Trafficking Act
Stopping poachers is more than a matter of simply stopping a rogue hunter in the woods. Many poaching incidents are orchestrated by "large organized networks of poachers, traders and smugglers — all controlled by city-based businessmen who are seldom linked directly to the illicit goods.
Worldwide, Interpol estimates that illegal wildlife products trade brings in $12 billion a year.5 It's not only tigers that are at risk from such practices — elephants, rhinos and other endangered species are also being targeted. If you want to get involved to protect tigers and other vulnerable species, WCS has put together a petition calling on senators to support H.R. 2494, the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act.6
The Act would better equip wildlife law enforcement and park rangers, often the first line of defense against poachers, traffickers and organized criminal syndicates benefiting from the illegal trade in wildlife, to stop these crimes. You can sign the WCS petition and send a message to your senators here, saying:
"Please support Senate passage of this bipartisan legislation to prevent poaching and trafficking that is fueling terrorist networks and threatening iconic wildlife species with extinction."