Lazurina tiger cub dies of malnutrition

Lazurina tiger cub dies of malnutrition

24 January 2011

Considering the growing public attention to orphan tiger cubs and comments in the media from self-claiming experts with insufficient knowledge, the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution would like to provide detailed information on the reintroduction of tiger cubs into the wild in 2010. The Severtsov Institute is carrying out the Russian Academy of Sciences' Programme for the Research of the Amur Tiger in the Russian Far East and monitors the tiger cubs together with the Tiger Special Inspectorate.


Two tiger cubs, named Tatyana and Volodya, were found in poor condition by the roadside in the Primorye Territory in December 2009. Lazurina, the third tiger cub, was found in a doghouse near the Nagornoye village in the region's north in February 2010. First, the tiger cubs were taken to the Tiger Special Inspectorate. Then, subjected to quarantine and treatment for intestinal parasites upon approval from the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources (reference number KT-04-01-32/810, dated February 26, 2010), the cubs were transferred to the Tiger Breeding Centre at the Gaivoron village to be prepared for reintroduction into the wild. The centre's staff includes Viktor Yudin, PhD in Biology and a prominent expert in predatory mammals.


Over the next five months the tiger cubs were kept at the centre in enclosures with the least possible interaction with humans but under zoologists' close surveillance. The Severtsov Institute funded the animals' food and maintenance under the Programme for the Research of the Amur Tiger in the Russian Far East. The tiger cubs were fed meat; in addition, they were given the opportunity to hunt wild animals in the enclosure so that they developed the skills for getting food in the wild. Over this period, the cubs hunted five wild boars and eight sika deer. By late September 2010, the tiger cubs had gained weight and perfected their skills to hunt hoofed animals, including wild boars and sika deer. When reintroduced into the wild, Volodya weighed 101 kg, Tatyana was 77 kg, and Lazurina 83 kg.


Under an approval from the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources (reference number SM-04-01-32/5652, dated August 13, 2010, and VS-04-01-32/6599, dated September 16, 2010), the tiger cubs were released into the Udege Legend national park. Before being transported to the release site, the animals were immobilised, weighed and tagged with satellite radio collars; blood samples were collected for various tests. The animals were in good health (veterinary certificates 225 No 0023595, dated September 27, 2010, and 225 No 0023596, dated September 27, 2010). Later on, lab tests indicated that the tiger cubs did not have any of the ten communicable diseases their blood samples were tested for.


When released, the tiger cubs were a little over one year old and had permanent teeth, which had by that time replaced the deciduous ones. Usually, tiger cubs stay by their mother until the age of one and a half and sometimes later. However, it is dangerous to keep animals that are going to be reintroduced into the wild later in an enclosure for a longer period. It is impossible to reintroduce tiger cubs in winter due to the lack of prey and harsh conditions, while holding them in captivity for an additional seven months until the population of the tigers' prey increases in April may result in them losing their fear of humans due to long interaction and may cause conflicts in the future.


As of January 17, 2011, 183 locations have been received from Volodya's satellite radio tag. The tiger cub has covered an area of about 900 square kilometres. At times, the animal made several-day stops at a single site, which indicates that the tiger cub was preying on relatively large animals and stayed by his prey for a while. Over that period, the tiger cub has made a total of eleven stops at various intervals of between one and thirteen days.


On January 15 and 16, 2011, personnel of the Tiger Special Inspectorate and the Udege Legend national park were monitoring Volodya. After tracing the tiger cub on January 15, they found out that Volodya was moving actively and had killed a large wild boar two days before. In addition, the tiger cub had been hunting a Manchurian wapiti but failed.


Satellite monitoring and the above information prove that Volodya is capable of hunting for his food in natural conditions. Wildlife conditions have also improved along with the weather. It has warmed up and snow cover has decreased from one metre to between 70 and 75 centimetres. The snow cover in coniferous forests is even thinner.


After the cubs' release into the wild, 19 locations were received from Tatyana's collar. At some point in time the connection was lost for technical reasons. Experts say the tiger cub could have been shot by a poacher like a tigress tagged with a radio collar under a project run by the Wildlife Conservation Society and a tigress wounded by a poacher 60 to 80 kilometres from where Lazurina and Volodya were on December 21, 2010.


In the period from September 27, 2010, until December 26, 2010, a total of 324 locations were received from Lazurina's radio collar. Over that period, the tiger cub had covered an area of 570 square kilometres. Just like Volodya, Lazurina made several two- or three-day stops, which indicated that it was preying on a large animal. In the two months after being released, Lazurina made nine stops like this at intervals of between one and sixteen days. On December 8, 2010, Lazurina left her habitat probably due to the lack of hoofed animals in the area and the thick snow cover, which complicated hunting. The tiger cub headed northeast, then made a sharp turn to the west and ended its movement at the Dersu village on the Bolshaya Ussurka River.


After Lazurina's satellite collar kept sending the same location for four days running, a group of experts from the Severtsov Institute and the Tiger Special Inspectorate headed for the location and found the tiger cub's body on December 28, 2010. The body was taken to the Primorye State Agricultural Academy. On December 30, 2010, the academy's senior lecturer Galina Ivanchuk, associate professor Irina Korotkova and veterinary pathologist Dmitry Yevtushenko performed the autopsy, keeping the required records.


The opinion of the experts who performed the autopsy and consultations with independent experts, including Mikhail Alshinetsky, head veterinary doctor of Moscow Zoo, and Natalia Yesaulova, PhD in Biology and associate professor of the Parasitology Department at the Skryabin Moscow Academy of Veterinary Medicine and Biotechnology, prompt the following conclusion.


The animal died of malnutrition and possibly an infection, as indirectly indicated by the swollen lymph nodes. Most of the other identified injuries and abnormalities, including serous catarrhal pneumonia, helminthiasis with subsequent enteritis and skin irregularities, may be explained by the animal's weakness. The malnutrition may have resulted from the animal's inability to prey or an infection. Lazurina spent three months in the wild and according to experts could not have survived such a long period without hunting. If the tiger cub had lacked adequate hunting skills, it would have starved to death within her first month in the wild. Moreover, satellite data indicates that Lazurina made regular stops to hunt. It was 18 days from the time Lazurina left its last hunting spot on December 4, 2010, and December 22, 2010, the tiger cub's presumable death date. Most likely, over this period Lazurina became significantly weaker and the processes developed that later resulted in the animal's death.


Tissue samples collected during the autopsy have been submitted for histological lab tests. The test results will be announced later.

Vyacheslav Rozhnov

Head, Programme for the Research

of the Amur Tiger in the Russian Far East

Deputy Director,

Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution,

Russian Academy of Sciences

DSc in Biology