Three orphaned Siberian Tiger cubs, alone in the snowy Russian Far East, were rescued from certain death last fall by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which operates the Bronx Zoo. The capture and rehabilitation of the cubs – who are part of a rapidly vanishing species – illustrate the challenges of saving Tigers, one animal at a time. Fewer than 500 Siberian Tigers, which are the largest of all Tiger subspecies, survive in the wild, including 330-390 adults. Worldwide, only about 3,200 Tigers exist in the wild, and they face poaching, a reduction in prey species, and habitat loss.
WCS assisted Russian wildlife officials by deploying two of their staff members, brothers Kolya and Sasha Rybin, who are expert Tiger trackers. The cubs were seen stalking a dog near a small village, so the team knew where to start. Fresh tracks led the team to the forest, where they found the cubs staring curiously at them from the middle of a road. Moments later, the cubs vanished into the forest, but the team was able to capture the smallest cub, which weighed only 35 pounds. The cubs were determined to be about four months old.
believe that the cubs’ mother was likely killed by poachers. A 20-year WCS project determined that poaching
accounts for nearly 75% of adult Tiger deaths.
Bones and body parts from a single adult Tiger can fetch up to $5,000
for the poacher alone, and once processed for use in traditional Asian medicine, far more. Female Tigers with cubs seem to be the most
vulnerable, because they will defend their cubs rather than flee.
These three cubs probably remained in the spot where their mother was killed, leaving only when they became too hungry to wait any longer.
team was unable to capture the two remaining cubs for several days. One was followed for 13 kilometers, yet
managed to avoid capture until it ventured onto a military base.
The third cub eluded the team for two more days. Weak and struggling to walk in the deep snow, the dehydrated animal was captured, warmed, and given fluids and food before making the four-hour trip to the rehabilitation center to meet his siblings.
Over the next seven to eight months, the Tiger cubs will have very limited interactions with people to avoid associating humans with food. This spring, small prey will be introduced so that the cubs can learn to hunt. They will eventually be released in a remote part of Siberia – three living, breathing symbols of hope for this imperiled species.