Fearing the economic situation in his home country and excited about the opportunities available in China, Kuzya, a 23-month-old Siberian tiger raised by Russian President Vladimir Putin, moved to China on Friday, according to government officials.
Kuzya was personally released back to the wild by Putin in Russia’s remote Far East in May, The New York Times reports. Finding it hard to make a living, he trekked some 300 miles to the Chinese border and recently swam across the frigid Amur River towards a better life in the PRC.
This is a serious loss of face for Russia. One Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, wrote this week. “There is still hope that Kuzya will be sensible and swim back before the river turns to icy slush.”
It also could be a serious diplomatic incident for China, as wildlife officials scramble to locate Kuzya by installing infrared cameras and disabling illegal tiger traps—before Kuzya ends up as a rug in a rich official’s living room.
According to The New York Times, a tiger carcass is worth around $10,000 and 40 tigers are illegally hunted each year. There are fewer than 500 Siberian tigers still living in the wild, with only 18 or 22 living in China. This is partly due to tiger feasts/slaughters attended by the rich/cruel in China, and the fact that the Chinese government doesn’t ban the trade the trade of tiger skins (but it does ban the trade of tiger bones).
Despite the dangers, another of the set of tigers released by Putin isn’t far behind Kuzya. Xinhua reported on Friday that Ilona was found roaming some five kilometers from the border.
Putin has said that the tigers gathering on the Chinese border are not under the Russian military, but are merely peacekeepers.
by Alex Linder
[Images via International Fund for Animal Welfare]