ZSL’s Dr. Misha Goncharuk, Veterinarian for the ZSL Russia Programme, shares the story of how ZSL helped to rescue and rehabilitate two orphaned Amur tiger cubs in Russia.
In our rapidly developing world, wild animals often become victims of progress. The Amur tiger is no exception as natural causes of death are compounded by anthropogenic drivers such as poaching, car collisions on newly constructed roads, and the spread of disease. When tiger mothers die, they suffer an additional tragedy: their cubs become orphans, and in most cases, lacking survival skills, are doomed to die unless they receive help. When tiger cubs are orphaned, they tend to remain in the area waiting for their mother’s return, often for several weeks. Cub tracks left near snow-covered roads in the Russian Far East often lead authorities to the location of orphans.
I am fortunate to be associated with the PRNCO Tiger Rehab Center (Primorskii Regional Non-commercial Organization 'The Center for Rehabilitation and Reintroduction of Tigers and Other Rare Animals'), supported by ZSL, where I can work with other specialists to help save these orphaned tiger cubs. Since December 2016, we have been working to rehabilitate two rescued cubs, 'Lazovka' and 'Pozhar'.
Pozhar, the male cub, is the most interesting case of late. We suspect his mother may have been poached. He arrived at the centre with serious head wounds, a fractured nose and damaged eye: we didn’t expect him to survive. Despite this, Pozhar had a good appetite - a very good sign. Fortunately, Wildlife Vets International’s Dr. John Lewis, an expert on captive and wild tigers, also happened to be visiting and we worked together to treat Pozhar. We operated successfully on the cub’s nose and eye. Surprisingly, an ophthalmologist confirmed that Pozhar’s eye was normal, days after the surgery. Today, Pozhar is fully recovered, living with female cub, Lazovka until he can be released back to the wild.
Our female cub, Lazovka, came from Lazovsky Nature Reserve, one of the key sites for ZSL’s Russia Programme. Lazovka became an orphan when her mother was killed by poachers near a road and she was rescued when locals observed her feeding on animal carcasses at a garbage dump near Lazo Village. On December 15, I helped the local authorities and PRNCO Center specialists capture the cub. Our preliminary examination revealed no serious abnormalities and we transported Lazovka to the Center.
Lazovka is an active, excitable tiger cub and after a month of being in quarantine (necessary for health reasons), she managed to injure the knee of her hind leg while jumping at the enclosure fence separating her from Pozhar. We were upset as Lazovka started off seemingly healthy, but over time - and with minor treatment - her lameness has almost completely disappeared. She now lives in the same enclosure as Pozhar which helps keep her calm; together they are learning the skills that will ensure their future survival in the wild.
For me, this is incredibly interesting and rewarding work: to rescue orphaned tiger cubs which would have died in the wild and give them another chance.
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