Experts save injured tiger cub’s life in Primorye

Experts save injured tiger cub’s life in Primorye

30 December 2020

A wounded tiger cub aged under six months was removed from the wild on 22 November 2020 in a northern district of the Primorye Territory. Trauma surgeons from Vladivostok Clinic No 2 carried out two surgeries on the cub’s injured leg to prevent amputation. Moreover, this was the world’s first such surgery performed on a wild tiger that restored leg motor function.


The Russian Federal Security Service’s border service informed the Primorye Territory hunting supervision service about an animal possibly in need of help. They found the bloody paw prints of an Amur tiger leading into the forest on the roadside.


The nearest response group and conflict resolution group of the Primorye Territory hunting supervision service immediately went to the scene. Upon arrival, the experts assessed the situation, followed the paw prints in the snow, and soon found a tiger cub with serious forelimb wounds and other external injuries.


The animal was immediately sent to the Centre for the Rehabilitation and Reintroduction of Tigers and Other Rare Animals (Tiger Centre) in the village of Alekseyevka for emergency veterinary care, where experts of the hunting supervision service, the Tiger Centre, the Amur Tiger Centre and the Primorye State Agriculture Academy were already waiting for the cub.


Experts treated the animal’s wounds, took an X-ray, injected anti-inflammatory medicine and vitamins, and also ran the necessary tests.


During the examination, the cub was diagnosed with soft tissue injuries and complex fractures of the humerus, ulna and radius of its right front leg as well as a fracture of a metatarsal bone on its hind leg.


“The animal was in very bad shape, literally hanging on for its life. If people had not come to its aid, the tiger would not have lived for more than two days. Today we can say that the cub will probably survive, as we see improvements. The wounds are healing, and the images show that the fractures are also healing correctly. The tiger cub has a good appetite: during the first two weeks, it gained 10 kg of weight. It will be at least six months before we can make any predictions about the tiger’s possible return to the wild. Everything will depend on how its paw recovers and how the cub performs on the mandatory tests of its hunting ability and its response to people. We will do our best to give the tiger a chance,” noted Viktor Kuzmenko, director of the Tiger Centre.


On 28 November, the first surgery was carried out in the operating theatre of the Tiger Centre. During this surgery, trauma surgeons from Vladivostok Clinic No 2, Nikita Vereshchak and Andrei Prodan, with the support of veterinary experts, implanted metal pins and plates in the tiger’s injured leg and stitched the muscle and skin tissues of the limb. Superficial lacerations on the cub’s body were also treated again. The operation lasted four and a half hours.


On 20 December, the second surgery took place, during which the experts took out some of the temporary pins from the animal’s leg.


At the same time, experts of the hunting supervision service and the Amur Tiger Centre investigated how the tiger got injured. They examined the injuries and the evidence collected on site and found out that the cub had been injured by another large predator.


“We have determined that the cub was injured by the teeth and claws of an adult tiger. While the injuries inflicted by the claws were not life-threatening, the numerous fractures of the right front leg meant inevitable death for the cub. Thank you to the border service for informing us in time and to the Primorye Territory hunting supervision service for quickly saving the cub. We also express our special gratitude to the doctors of the Vladivostok Clinic No 2 who found time on their days off and saved the tiger from sure death, mended its broken bones and restored their mobility. Veterinarians provided all possible assistance to the doctors, including safe anaesthesia, which allowed them to carry out both surgeries successfully. Consultations on the tiger anatomy and the nature of the injuries also proved useful for the doctors. Those involved in saving the tiger agreed to name it Wolverine, after the comic book character, because of the cub’s rapid regeneration of muscle and bone tissue, as well as the metal plates and pins in its leg. No matter what the future holds for the cub, the fact that the surgeries were successful is already a small miracle. I really hope that Wolverine will continue to amaze us,” said Sergei Aramilev, general director of the Amur Tiger Centre.


Healing wild animals’ bones is a complicated process that often fails, and the animal dies. This happens for objective reasons, because it is impossible to give a blood transfusion to a wild animal, especially to a tiger. Most importantly, an animal does not understand that it is getting treated, and tries to move a lot after surgery, thus putting an end to the work of surgeons. Any such case is individual and depends on the nature of the fractures, the length of time before care, and the season when the injury happened.


Nikita Vereshchak, an orthopaedic trauma surgeon at Vladivostok Clinic No 2, said that the tiger had come to doctors with a major injury to its front leg, with multilevel damage to the bones and surrounding soft tissues in different segments complicated by infection.


“With such serious trauma, our efforts focused on saving its life. When the animal’s condition stabilised, it was decided to try to repair the injured limbs. We did our best to preserve the motor function of the animal’s front leg: we repositioned bone fragments and stabilised them with titanium plates, screws and pins. During the second surgery on 20 December, we removed some of the temporary pins that did their job and could later interfere with bone growth. We can say that the callus is growing at a good pace, we have managed to stop the inflammatory process, and the wounds have already healed. Today the leg we operated on can already bear weight. It is still too soon to say, but we have high hopes that the cub will recover full leg function, because whether the tiger will be able to return to the wild will depend on this. I hope it will manage,” Nikita Vereshchak noted.


Russian experts have gained unique experience in rehabilitating tigers in distress and returning them to the wild. These animals are taken from their natural environment due to their wounds, injuries, diseases and other factors threatening their lives or their conflict potential, such as tigers being forced to stray into settlements and attacking cattle and pets.


With the permission of the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, members of a specialised group that resolves conflicts between humans and large predators of the Primorye Territory forestry ministry and wildlife protection service removed the cub from the wild.