Rehabilitated Russian tigers heading into the homestretch | IFAW – International Fund for Animal Welfare
By: Kelly Donithan
Sheba spent almost a decade in a small, concrete enclosure. While her owner loved her deeply, he wasn’t able to provide the proper environment or care to meet her needs as a tiger.
As shown in the video above, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Educational Center teamed up to remove Sheba from her campground cage and move her to In-Sync’s sanctuary in Wylie, Texas.
Sheba is still adapting to her new surroundings, which can be overwhelming at first, as she hasn’t seen another tiger since she was taken from her mother at a very young age.
Releasing her into the large play yard immediately would likely put Sheba in a very stressful and scary situation, so she will be allowed to gradually explore her new habitat at her own pace. Once she is comfortable, she will be romping around and diving in her pool like all the other tigers who call In-Sync home.
IFAW couldn’t do this live-changing work without supporters like you. Click here to learn more about big cats in captivity and IFAW’s efforts to rescue big cats like Sheba.
Two sub-adult male rhinos, named Gopal and Hari, were relocated to Manas National Park from the Wildlife Rescue Centre in Kaziranga the other day. The rhinos will be released in the wild following a period of in situ acclimatisation in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
They follow the five rhinos – three females and two males – who were hand-reared and rehabilitated after they were found in 2006. The three females gave birth last year, proving that the rehabilitated animals are thriving in the wild.
Gopal was found alone in March 2009 in Baruntika and Hari later in August in Haldhibari. It is not known why or how they were separated from their mother. Following the proven rhino rehabilitation protocol of our centre, they were hand-reared in Kaziranga. Both are now about four years old now.
Apart from Gopal and Hari and the five already released in Manas, there are five additional calves currently being hand-reared by IFAW-WTI staff: three at the centre and two in Manas.
“We hope these male rhinos too will bring new genes to the Manas rhino population,” says MK Yadava, Chief Conservator of Forest and Director, Kaziranga National Park. Our cooperative team will be monitoring these rhinos throughout their acclimatisation and after their release in the wild.
Rehabilitation is only one of the several components of our larger Greater Manas Conservation Project in collaboration with the Assam Forest Department, Bodoland Territorial Council, local communities and several community-based organisations (CBOs).
The project also carries out capacity building of the frontline staff as well as the CBOs that work with the authorities in wildlife conservation in the region to help them better protect the rhinos and other wildlife of the region. It also pursues a number of community development projects, including a weaving employment program and distribution of fuel-efficient stoves to reduce tree-felling in the area.
“We are extremely happy that two more of these rhinos, who arrived as young calves and were raised by our team there, are now ready to take the step towards returning to the wild,” says Vivek Menon, Executive Director, WTI and Regional Director – South Asia, IFAW.
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.