For those who have been following the story of Zolushka, an orphaned Amur tiger rehabilitated and released back to the wild last May with a GPS collar that also transmits a VHF radio signal, a recent report has come in from our colleagues in the Russian Far East.
During the first four weeks after her release, Zolushka remained in a very small area for a wild Amur tiger. She is able to hunt, according to ground investigations of places where she had spent longer periods, assuming she spent a few days to eat before moving on.
Soon after, Zolushka began making exploratory movements to expand the area she was traversing, even traveling to a remote area where ground trackers could not investigate. We have little information on what she did during this period other than GPS points, but thankfully there are no reports of encounters with a tiger from local people —an important indication that there were no conflicts with people during the excursion. In August she returned to the protected park where trackers were able to confirm locations and confirm that she was hunting well.
Then we lost touch. In September, Zolushka’s GPS collar apparently stopped working, and no further locations have been received since. But persistent efforts from park staff with some support from our partner, Wildlife Conservation Society, have yielded some results. Radio signals from the collar have been heard, and her tracks had been observed throughout September, November and December.
For Zolushka’s safety and protection, her locations must be kept internal. But we can say that Zolushka appears to have successfully negotiated the first eight months of her return to the wild.
So far, there is no evidence that Zolushka has settled down into a well-defined territory, likely normal for a sub-adult tigress. The continued evidence of a resident male in her protected park area is good news and may increase the probability that she will stay and settle there.
So far, the only complaints coming from local people have been some hunters reporting that she has stolen bait from traps. This is critically important as one of the key questions is whether tigers raised in a rehabilitation center will become too accustomed to humans and become conflict tigers after release.
Monitoring her activities and movements during her first winter and how she fares will be particularly important. Continued efforts to track her will be made throughout the winter. But based on the information we have been able to collect to date thus far, she appears to have the skills to survive in the wild.
There are presently three other Amur tigers being rehabilitated under a cooperative effort between IFAW, Wildlife Conservation Society, Servertsov Institute, Inspection Tiger, Bastak Zapovednik, and Agricultural Academy of Primorskii Krai.