Newspaper article International New York Times

Astray in China, 'Putin's Tiger' Raises Furor ; Officials on Both Sides of Border Scramble to Protect Siberian Cat

Newspaper article International New York Times

Astray in China, 'Putin's Tiger' Raises Furor ; Officials on Both Sides of Border Scramble to Protect Siberian Cat

Article excerpt

A tiger that Vladimir V. Putin famously helped set free in Siberia has crossed into China, leading to fears he might be killed by poachers.

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, who had a personal hand in reintroducing him to the wild last May after he and his orphaned siblings were rescued in the Russian far east.

It turns out Kuzya, like Mr. Putin, has territorial ambitions, which earlier 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.

On Friday, wildlife officials in China's far northeast were scrambling to ascertain Kuzya's whereabouts after his Russian minders, tracking him by radio transmitter, expressed concern he could end up in the hands of poachers -- not an unlikely outcome given the steep price the rare Siberian tiger can fetch on the Chinese black market.

"There is still hope that Kuzya will be sensible and swim back before the river turns to icy slush," the Novaya Gazeta newspaper wrote earlier in the week.

Despite a spotty record of environmental stewardship, China holds animals in high regard -- both as talismans of good fortune and as ambassadors for global diplomacy (see Giant Panda). Mr. Putin, too, has a soft spot for animals, and he is frequently photographed cavorting with various wild beasts, including snow leopards, polar bears and dolphins. In one of his more notable animal-related photo- ops, Mr. Putin, wearing white coveralls, strapped himself into a motorized hang glider in a failed attempt to lead a flock of endangered white Siberian cranes on a cross-country migration.

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 now that he has changed nationalities, as it were.

On Friday, the Foreign Ministry said prodigious efforts were being made to track and protect the tiger, which swam across the Amur on Tuesday after trekking some 300 miles from the spot where Mr. …

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