Cinderella’s Cubs

Early this year I wrote about a Tigress named Zolushka, whose name translates to Cinderella, who was orphaned in the Russian Far East in 2012. Zolushka was rescued, rehabilitated and ultimately released in 2013 into territory that had not previously seen Tigers in decades. The ‘Zolushka experiment’ was the first of its kind and proved successful when confirmation was received via camera traps and a GPS collar that she was not only doing well, but had managed to hook up with a male Tiger named Zavetny.  At the time scientists were hoping that Zolushka, the first rehabilitated Tiger in history, would eventually mate and have cubs. This December the just captured proof was released, images photographed and filmed by camera traps. Cinderella and her two beautiful and healthy looking cubs appear to be doing well.

Scientists involved in Zolushka’s release had been waiting for this moment for a long time and were beyond thrilled at the news as it also shows that rehabilitating Amur Tigers is possible. In order for rehabilitation to be considered successful IFAW sets out this criteria, which Zolushka has managed to meet all of:

  • The animal survives
  • It behaves in the same way a wild animal would
  • There is little or no conflict with people and domestic animals – like any other wild animal
  • No harm is caused to the existing population or conservation efforts
  • And in the case of Amur tigers, that they successfully survive the hardest survival period (i.e. winter)

“We are overjoyed with the news of Zolushka becoming a mother to two healthy cubs,” said Masha Vorontsova, IFAW Russia Director. “This is what we’ve all been hoping for since her release in 2013. This shows that she has fully adapted to a life in the wild and is able to successfully hunt, breed and now raise a new generation of Amur tigers.”

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“The Siberian or Amur Tiger, number about 500 in the wild and rehabilitated Tigers represent an important 1 percent of the entire population.” Cinderella and her cubs in the Bastak Nature Reserve. – Image – Siberian Times

This ground-breaking conservation effort was jointly carried out by IFAW, the Phoenix Fund, Special Inspection Tiger, A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). While Zolushka’s story garnered the most attention she is one of five other Tigers that have  been successfully released back into the wild.

If you are interested in helping out the Amur Tiger donations can be made to IFAW or Tiger Time who both work to help this endangered species in the wild.

Circus Tiger

Many countries are finally starting to realize that big cats, and wildlife, do not belong in circuses. The abuse and exploitation that these animals face is not something that should be tolerated and individuals, organizations, cities and governments are thankfully starting to work together on making the archaic form of entertainment a thing of the past.

Once an animal is rescued ensuring they go to a sanctuary that will provide the best possible environment for them to thrive and live out their lives free from stress and abuse is a priority. Looking after an animals physical and mental well-being should be the goal and Rancho dos Gnomos in Brazil, who also rescued the circus Lion Will, has done just that for a former circus Tiger named Paru.

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Paru in September 2015– All Images Ranchos dos Gnomos Facebook

In June of this year Paru, formerly known as Diego, was rescued by the Ranchos dos Gnomos sanctuary and freed from his desolate life in a Zoo in Brazil where he and his former mate had languished for years in small concrete enclosures. Paru a Bengal Tiger, his mate and five Lions were rescued in 2006 after the the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) investigated and seized the animals from the Transcontinental Circus. Unfortunately Paru lost his partner in 2012 and went into a depression making his stay in the Zoo even more dismal. It wouldn’t be until 2015, when the move was requested by IBAMA, that Paru would be relocated to the Ranchos dos Gnomes sanctuary, a journey of over 1000 km to a new and well deserved beginning.

In this video you can see how Paru has difficulty walking and is looking thin, this is from years of ill treatment in the circus, sitting in a concrete enclosure at the Zoo and not getting proper care or stimulation.

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Paru enjoying his new enclosure in July at Ranchos dos Gnomos.

Once at the sanctuary Paru received all the physical and mental support he needed to recover and, over the summer he started improving and enjoying his freedom as he explored his new surroundings.

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Paru explores his new water hole

Watch the video of Paru enjoying a refreshing dip in his private pool and water fall. As Tigers are one of the few big cats who love water this was a wonderful treat, one that Paru took full advantage of to cool down in during the extremely hot Brazilian summer.

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Paru gets comfortable in his bed of hay

Rancho dos Gnomos is a not for profit sanctuary and has operated since 1991. They take in any animal species who is at risk or victims of crime (circus, rodeo, baiting, deforestation, burning, traffic, ritual, the fur industry, slaughterhouse and abandonment). Their mission is to prioritize the welfare of wildlife, exotic, native, domestic, domesticated or other, through preservation, conservation, restoration and maintenance where necessary and, also by the spread of environmental education.

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Photo taken of Paru in September

The main priority are the animals and the sanctuary works to reduce their stress and or keep it to a minimum as many were rescued from very abusive situations and are fearful of humans. For this reason the sanctuary is not open for public tours however, they do make some exceptions for educational work.

For more on Paru, and the other animals at the sanctuary, be sure to visit them on Facebook.

For more information on Circus Bans worldwide please visit Stop Circus Suffering where you can get updates on bans where you live and learn how to help big cats like Paru. As always please do not patronize any circus that uses big cats or other wildlife.

The Not So Magic Kingdom

“Woman Denied Entry At Disney’s Magic Kingdom For Trying To Bring In Baby Bengal Tiger.”

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The not so Magic Kingdom?

Once the shock wore off, the sadness and frustration set in. The headline was attention grabbing and got a reaction, from myself and many others, but that’s whats headlines are for right? As soon as I could I looked up the story which came from the Inquisitor online.  According to the article a guest, who remains unidentified, tried to bring her “pet” baby Bengal Tiger into the theme park on Monday and was turned away by staff. While Disney World does allow entry for service animals Bengal Tigers of any size, do not qualify.

The article then goes on to say that  “After a bit or arguing, the Central Florida Zoo was called to retrieve the baby Bengal Tiger until the end of the woman’s vacation…After a long time period of speaking about the Tiger and reassuring her that the animal would be well treated and taken care of during her time in Walt Disney World, the woman did agree to let the animal caretakers from the Central Florida Zoo care for it.

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Tiger cubs are not pets. They grow up and become displaced, unwanted and abused with nowhere to go, if they are lucky they will make it to a reputable sanctuary like Big Cat Rescue – Image Wikipedia

It was reported in the article that the cub was in the care of the Central Florida Zoo and that Disney would not comment any further. Many people were in an uproar and rightfully so, private ownership of big cats, especially in the US is a big problem. It is currently estimated that up to 10,000 big cats like tigers, lions and cougars are kept captive in the US by private owners in backyards and roadside zoos.

People are often not able to manage these wild animals once they’re fully grown. Consequently, the animals are poorly fed, and left to spend their entire lives in cages with barely enough room to move. Not only is this inhumane, it also is a great threat to public safety.” – IFAW

A case of mistaken Identity? Now this is where the story gets a little spotted – literally. Upon further reading I noticed what was not mentioned when the story first started making the rounds. Here the Inquisitor says “While Cast Members at Disney did originally say that it was a “baby Bengal tiger,” the Central Florida Zoo let it be known that it was actually a “baby Bengal cat” which was being cared for by the guest looking to enter Magic Kingdom.

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Spotted! It’s a Bengal…cat…kitten…not a Bengal Tiger – Image Wikipedia

I came across a thread in the online forum WDWMagic.com where someone got to the bottom of this mystery. Post #64 on the page is by a person who works at the Orlando news station WKMG Local 6. They reached out to both Disney PR, who hadn’t heard about the incident, and the Central Florida Zoo who confirmed “The animal is not a Bengal tiger; it is a ten-day old Bengal cat, which is basically a domestic species…the Disney guests who brought it with them on vacation are hand-rearing the animal at present. The animal will be returned to them tomorrow.

A few lessons here: don’t bring your pets to a theme park, you can’t always believe things you read on the internet, and when in doubt do your research.

All kidding aside, what good can come out of this? A lot of people were shocked and angered by the very idea that a random person could own a Bengal Tiger and, if that helps open up a greater dialogue on the very real crisis surrounding private ownership of big cats, then maybe this is still a story worth sharing.

For further reading on private ownership of big cats and how to help check out:

Cinderella’s Story

In the fairytale Cinderella all ends well when the heroine gets her glass slipper and prince charming… but what if the story was re-written, with the part of the heroine being played by a Tiger?

Zolushka, which translates to Cinderella, was found as a cub by a pair of hunters alone, starved and frostbitten in the Russian Far East in February of 2012. She immediately caught their attention in the snow because she was lying in plain sight making no attempt to conceal herself, she was displaying very abnormal Tiger behavior. It was thought she had been orphaned and left to die, her mother most likely killed by poachers.

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The 4 month old rescued cub named Zolushka after she was found and had surgery on her tail. – All Images via Smithsonian.com unless otherwise stated

The hunters took her to a local wildlife inspector who determined that the little cub was in terrible shape, not only was she hungry but her frostbite was so severe that the tip of her tail was black. Once Zolushka was stabilized the wildlife inspector reached out to  scientist, and Director of the WCS Russia Program, Dale Miquelle for help.

Surgery was performed to amputate the tip of her tail which was necrotic and she was moved to the Center for the Rehabilitation and Reintroduction of Tigers and other Rare Animals. Here they could do two very important things: teach a wild Tiger to hunt and ensure that the animal would not be habituated to humans.

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Bastak Nature Reserve – Scientist hope that many Tiger cubs will be able to be introduced back to the wild and help restore the species to its former range

While the idea of rehabilitating and releasing big cats back to the wild is nothing new, its been done with  bobcats and lynx in North America and in India with Bengal tigers, it has its share of controversy and risks especially when a released animal attacks people or livestock.  As Miquelle told the Smithsonian.comThe risk of having a conflict tiger could easily set back tiger conservation in the region a hundred years.”

In the case of the highly endangered Amur Tiger the benefits out weighed the risks: leave orphaned cubs for dead or raise them so that they could potentially mate with wild Tigers and give a boost to the population.

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Zoluska readied for release – A successful program could then be a model for other scientists around the world to use.

Zolushka would be the first Tiger to go through the rehabilitation process at this facility “It was like a kid trying to figure out a puzzle,” says Miquelle, who was a periodic visitor to the center in those weeks. “She got it, but it took a little time.

In May 2013 the healthy Tigress was ready for freedom

It was determined she would be released into territory that had not seen Tigers in decades and that’s what made the Zolushka experiment so interesting and groundbreaking, it was an opportunity to actually “recolonize former tiger habitat, which was totally unheard of.

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Zolushka was released in the Bastak Reserve in Russia’s remote far East – Image captured via camera traps

Initially Zolushka was tracked via GPS collar and camera traps after her release and the follow-up showed that she was successfully surviving and making kills. Months later when her GPS collar stopped working they worried about her fate, fortunately they were able to use camera traps and the collars data to help pin down her location in the same reserve.

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Zolushka captured by camera traps shows that she is strong, healthy and thriving in the wild

The camera trap images showed the scientists proof that Zolushka was doing well and that a second Tiger, a male who they named Zavetny, also occupied the same territory. Adding to the excitement was the discovery of  “hump tracks”— evidence that two Tigers have mated.

“It would be a milestone: the first rehabilitated tiger in history to mate and give birth in the wild. Miquelle smiled. “Wouldn’t it be amazing?” he asked.

It is unknown at this time whether Zolushka has had cubs, but it is hoped that one day soon the camera trap will reveal photos of her with a line of cubs trailing behind, perhaps like the ones seen in A Family Portrait. For now it seems this Cinderella is living her fairytale complete with freedom and a prince charming of her own.

A Family Portrait

The following images captured using camera traps, in Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve in eastern Russia, shows that there is still lots we do not know about the very rare Amur Tiger.

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A family of three Amur tiger cubs and a female being led through a snowy forest by a large male. Image created by stitching together several images ©Wildlife Conservation Society

Amur Tigers are known for being solitary and highly secretive cats, sparsely distributed across at least 180,000 km2 in the southern Russian Far East. They are among the most endangered of the big cats, and in 2005 their numbers were estimated between 430-500 individuals remaining in the wild. Surveys are conducted every 10 years (the latest was completed in February and results are to be released this summer) and are highly difficult requiring the involvement of hundreds of scientists, hunters, and volunteers.

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Camera traps set up in the forests of Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve in eastern Russia captured these amazing images
– Image Daily Mail Online

It was generally thought that males and females only come to together to mate, the pair separating soon after, but these images which are the first ever recorded, show that on occasion Dad may have a hand in rearing his young.

Slide show of Amur Tiger family walking through the snow

WCS Russia Director Dr. Dale Miquelle said even though there has been “documented sporadic familial groups of Bengal tigers as early as the 1960s, this is the first time such behavior has been photographed for Amur tigers in the wild. These photos provide a small vignette of social interactions of Amur tigers, and provide an evocative snapshot of life in the wild for these magnificent animals.”

21 photos show an entire family of tigers passing in the span of two minutes

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Dad leads the way – The first to trigger the camera trap was the large male – Image Daily Mail Online

Luck and timing Deputy Director for Scientific Programs at the Reserve, Svetlana Soutyrina, set these camera traps and says that out of the hundreds of Tiger photographs collected over the years this is the first time they “have recorded a family together…and it confirms that male Amur tigers do participate in family life, at least occasionally” – source Wildlife Conservation Society

Amur Tiger facts

  • Panthera tigris altaica is referred to as the Amur or Siberian Tiger
  • In the 1940’s populations were estimated to be only 20-30 individuals, widespread hunting for their skins and taking cubs from the wild to supply zoos around the world contributed to their rapid and dangerous decline
  • In 1947 Russia outlawed and enforced strict Tiger hunting laws and population recovery happened with established protected areas and maintenance of large tracts of habitat outside of the protected zones
  • Research conducted under the Siberian Tiger Project demonstrated that resident female tigers need 250-450 km² to successfully rear cubs where the males territory can be up to 1,385 km² and overlap with several female territories
  • Reproduction starts at around 3 years of age, and mating can occur at any time of year with gestation lasting 3 – 3 ½ months
  • Tigers often give birth on the ground in dense, brushy areas with most cubs being born in summer and fall
  • Litter sizes are between one and five cubs but disease, hunger, congenital defects, and predation claim approximately 50% of cubs in their first year
  • Male tigers leave their mothers to find their own territory  between 16 and 22 months old traveling hundreds of kilometers in search of a new territory
  • In the winter the Siberian Tigers coat can be somewhat lighter than that of other Tigers and people sometimes mistakenly think that they have white fur
  • Amur Tigers are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List
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The Siberian tiger and Bengal tiger subspecies rank among the biggest living cats – Image – Wikipedia

Threats

  • Poaching of Tiger parts (skin, bones, meat) for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • Retaliatory killings of Tigers when the big cats kill livestock and people’s dogs
  • Habitat destruction of forest resources by activities such as logging
  • Vehicle fatalities by logging trucks and increased poaching due to access roads
  • Overhunting by humans of the Tigers prey like elk, wild boar, and sika deer
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The oldest Siberian tigers in zoos have lived to 35 years of age, but 14 years is the oldest known age for an Amur tiger in the wild. Image – Wikipedia

Tiger Restoration

Plans to help the  Amur Tiger make a comeback include strategies like anti-poaching and snare removal campaigns; education and support for local communities that live with the big cats; and monitoring of Tigers along the Russian-China border.

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Protecting this big cat will no doubt require a united and determined effort. Image – Wikipedia

What does the future hold for the recovery of the Amur Tiger? Be sure to check back to read about a groundbreaking experiment underway in Russia that aims to help give these rare animals a much-needed boost.

 

 

Draw My Life – Tiger Edition

Tony the Tiger explains to viewers what life is like for captive bred tigers and other big cats in this informative and creative video by Big Cat Rescue

Big Cat Rescueis the largest accredited sanctuary in the world dedicated entirely to abused and abandoned big cats. They are home to about 100 lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars and other species most of whom have been abandoned, abused, orphaned, saved from being turned into fur coats, or retired from performing acts. The sanctuary is working to END the trade in wild cats.”

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A truck stop is no place for a tiger – Tony the Tigerphoto source Animal Legal Defense Fund

Tony’s Story – “Tony is a 14-year old Siberian/Bengal tiger used as a roadside attraction at Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete Louisiana. Tony is an example of the serious problem of privately owned tigers in the United States whose numbers exceed tigers left in the wild. Tony’s owner, Michael Sandlin, has bought, sold, bred, and exhibited tigers for over 20 years.” – Free Tony the Tiger

The Animal Legal Defense Fund continues to work on having Tony freed and sent to a reputable sanctuary like Big Cat Rescue where he can live out his remaining days with the proper care he needs in a peaceful and natural environment away from noise, fumes, concrete and exploitation for profit. To date Tony still resides at the truck stop.

There are only about 3,000 wild tigers left and according to Big Cat Rescue there  are between 5,000 to 10,000 tigers, lions, leopards and more in US cages. The majority of these cats live in miserable roadside zoos, backyard breeder facilities, circus wagons and pet homes. Some will even be sold into the canned hunting industry where wealthy hunters pay to shoot them in a confined space.

What does the US and Global laws on private ownership of big cats look like?

Stop the cycle

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You have the choice NOT to participate in this abusive cycle

  • Never pay to touch or have your photo taken with a tiger or lion cub
  • Don’t attend circuses, fairs, or attractions that feature wild animal shows
  • Don’t purchase items made from wild animals, such as furs and rugs
  • Don’t partake in local “delicacies” made from wild animals, such as tiger bone wine
  • Only visit sanctuaries that are accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries

A crucial step in preventing wild animals like Tony from being exploited is getting laws enacted to ban private ownership of exotic cats.

End Tiger Farming

Tiger farming is alive and well. It must end, period. It does not help conservation and only feeds the horrific trade in Tiger Parts. Please support and educate others on the fight against the Tiger Trade. Time is running out for these beautiful big cats.

Great Cats of the "World"

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