In 2012, a group of hunters found a four-month-old female Amur (Siberian) tiger cub alone in Russia’s Primorskii Krai in 2012. She was in bad shape: suffering from frostbite, starving, and close to death.
The hunters brought the cub—one of only about 540 endangered Amur tigers left in the world—to local wildlife authorities, who named her Zolushka, or Cinderella. The local wildlife manager performed an operation to remove the tip of her tail, which had been irreparably damaged by the cold. Once she recovered, Zoluskha was transferred to a tiger rehabilitation center, where she spent the next year learning how to be a tiger—living without humans and hunting her own food.
Young tigers typically leave their mothers at 20 months old. When Zolushka reached 20 months, she was moved yet again, this time into Bastak Reserve. Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Russian Academy of Sciences tracked the young tiger’s first few months to be sure she could make it on her own. They needn't have worried; Zolushka adapted quickly to her new environment and wasted no time tracking down the reserve’s wild boars, red deer, and badgers.
Image credit: Bastak Reserve
There was still one problem: The last of Bastak Reserve’s tigers disappeared in the 1970s. Zolushka could be the first of a new generation—but only if she could find a mate. And there were none to be had on the reserve.
Then one day, a single male tiger appeared. Scientists estimate he must have traveled more than 124 miles from the nearest tiger territory to get there. Before too long, Zolushka’s trackers began finding two sets of huge pawprints together in the snow.
Months passed. Then, last week, the reserve inspector spotted something wonderful on a camera trap: a healthy Zolushka, standing protectively over her two cubs. They are the first tigers born in the reserve in 40 years.
“This is a watershed event not just for Zolushka, but for the entire population of Amur tigers,” WCS Russian director Dale Miquelle said in a press statement. “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.”