Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 23-month-old Siberian Tiger, Kuzya has crossed the Amur River and invaded China. The trek across the cold waters that separate Russia from China may end up putting the large cat’s life in peril.
Kuzya had been reintroduced to the wild in May. Putin had a personal hand in releasing his tiger to the Russian Far East. Wearing a tracker, wildlife officials are beginning to express concern for the animal’s safety. Kuzya’s Russian trackers fear the big cat could end up being killed by Chinese poachers. Siberian tigers are rare and on the Chinese black market, fetch large amounts of money.
While the tiger might share President Putin’s desire to expand his territory, a solo invasion of China is more troublesome for the tiger than smart. Fear that Kuzya could be stranded in China is also a concern. The Amur river is expected to start freezing and turning into an icy slush that could be dangerous for the tiger to cross, leaving him in an area the poachers are roaming.
While the fear is poachers will find the tiger and earn a small fortune for him, the strong relations between Beijing and Moscow are uniting together to find and protect the tiger. A union that has been made stronger with the pressures and challenges coming from the West over the Russian and Ukraine conflict. Chinese officials are taking no chances with the safety of Kuzya.
So far Putin’s tiger has traveled around 300 miles from the location he was released in May, with him swimming across the Amur on Tuesday. According to wildlife officials, Siberian tigers regularly cross the Amur, however, and continually face the dangers of illegal hunters on the China side. The chance at a Siberian tiger, which could fetch near $10,000 a carcass on the black market, many find it hard to ignore.
The news that Kuzya had invaded China drew snickers from some of the Chinese people, warning that Putin’s cat could be a spy. Other humorous takes included the headline from The Daily Mail stating that “Putin’s Tiger Cub Defects to China.”
If Kuzya does not head back across the river soon, the fear of the cat being killed will increase greatly. Approximately 40 tigers are illegally hunted in the area yearly, and various parts of the animal are in high demand to feed the growing appetite by the Chinese. The parts are commonly used in Chinese medicine and in tiger bone wine.
The cats were once hunted to almost certain extinction, but with the efforts of the Russian government stopping illegal logging in their habitats, and combating poachers, along with the efforts of others, the Siberian tigers have made a comeback in numbers. In the 1940’s there were only about 40 tigers left in the area. Now, on the Russian side of the Amur river, those numbers are between 370 and 450 tigers, according to wildlife officials. With the illegal poaching on the Chinese side, the numbers are not as good. Fewer than 24 tigers live in the jungle area around the Amur river in China.
While Putin’s tiger may have invaded China, however it was not with malicious intent, no mater what the humorous comments from around the world are. Kuzya is a wild animal, and it is roaming, looking for food, territory, and potentially a mate. While the hope is that the cat will make its way back to Russian land, it is wild and even if relocated back across the Amur river, may very well return to China repeatedly.
By Carl Auer