BEIJING: Virile, canny and possessed with a boundless appetite for red meat, Kuzya, a 23-month-old Siberian tiger, would seem the perfect mascot for President Vladimir V Putin of Russia, who had a personal hand in reintroducing Kuzya to the wild in the Russian Far East in May.
It turns out that Kuzya, like Putin, has territorial ambitions, which this week drew him across the frigid Amur River that separates Russia and China. His arrival set off a diplomatic incident of sorts when it became clear that “President Putin’s tiger,” as one Russian newspaper put it, was facing possible peril on the Chinese side of the border.
Given the increasingly close relations between Moscow and Beijing, united against what both countries see as a growing challenge from the West, it appears Chinese officials are taking no chances with Kuzya’s safety.
On Friday, the Chinese foreign ministry said prodigious efforts were being made to track and protect the tiger, which swam across the Amur on Tuesday after trekking about 300 miles from the spot where Putin presided over his release.
Maria Vorontsova, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, in Russia, is following the events closely. Ms. Vorontsova was part of the team that rescued Kuzya and four siblings who were orphaned after a poacher killed their mother nearly two years ago.
“Five tigers represent more than 1 percent of the existing population, so it’s important they survive,” she said by phone.
After spending nearly a year in an enclosure, three of the tigers were released in May in a nature preserve in Russia’s Amur Region. It was Putin, Ms Vorontsova noted, who pulled the rope that set Kuzya free.
(She said she knew Kuzya was a fighter when, moments before dashing into the woods, he took a gratuitous swipe at the camera recording his release.)
While some of his siblings stayed in the vicinity, Kuzya was apparently taken with wanderlust and zigzagged through a sparsely settled region of Russia along the northeastern border of Heilongjiang, safely crossing highways and railroad tracks on his way to China. Wildlife rangers who have been tracking his movements by satellite said he was eating well and avoiding human activity, the key to a rehabilitated tiger’s survival.