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Endangered Amur Tiger: Orphaned Cub Named "Cinderella" Becomes Mother Of Two [VIDEO]

Dec 14, 2015 12:00 PM EST
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An orphaned Amur tiger named Zolushka, which translates to "Cinderella," recently gave birth to two cubs in Primorskii Krai, Russia – one of the last remaining strongholds of these tigers.

At only four months old, Cinderella was found abandoned and undernourished in the southwestern portion of Primorskii Krai in 2012. Biologists immediately whisked her away to a rescue center so that she could be nursed back to health. Since her successful release back into the wild at Russia's Bastak Reserve two years ago, she has learned to hunt badgers, wild boar and red deer on her own. However, there was still one problem to overcome: no other tigers have lived in this reserve for more than 40 years. But that didn't stop Cinderella from finding her prince.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Cinderella attracted a male from a neighboring area, with whom she has mated and birthed two cubs. The family was recently caught on tape by Ivan Podkolnokov, the reserve inspector responsible for monitoring Cinderella's movement.

"This is a great day for Bastak Reserve" Aleksandr Yuryevich Kalinin, director of the protected area, said in a news release. "This demonstrates that there is still suitable habitat for tigers in the Pri-Amur region of the Russian Far East, and there is a place for tigers here. Our thanks go out to Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, WCS [Wildlife Conservation Society], IFAW [International Fund for Animal Welfare], the Phoenix Fund, and Special Inspection Tiger and working collaboratively with us to make this happen."

Amur, or Siberian, tigers are considered a critically endangered species, with between 350 and 450 tigers remaining in the wild. Almost all wild Siberian tigers live in the Southeast corner of Russia, although their former range included northeastern China, as well as the Korean Peninsula and Mongolia. The primary threats surrounding the animals' survival are poaching and habitat loss from logging and development. These iconic cats are the largest of the tiger species and can grow up to 13 feet in length and weigh up to 700 pounds.  

"This is a watershed event not just for Zolushka, but for the entire population of Amur tigers. These births mark the return of tigers to habitat that had been lost, and the beginnings of a recovery and expansion of the last remaining Amur tiger population into habitat lost years ago,"  WCS Russia Director Dale Miquelle added in the release. (Scroll to read more...)

When Cinderella was originally found in 2012, she had severe frostbite that required an operation to remove the tip of her tail. Following the surgery she was transferred to the Aleksayevka Rehabilitation Center, where she was kept away from human contact and provided with live prey so that she could learn how to hunt. She was then released at 20 months old - the natural age at which mothers generally disperse from their young- and regularly tracked to monitor her progress. While Cinderella remained lonely for some time, a wild male eventually made the 124 mile trek west from the northern-most portions of current tiger range in Russia to find his princess.

"The story of this Cinderella is no fairy tale," Cristián Samper, WCS President and CEO, said. "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."

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