Frostbitten tiger cub saved in the Primorye Territory

Frostbitten tiger cub saved in the Primorye Territory

12 January 2022

On the eve of the New Year holidays, the local hunting supervision service brought an emaciated tiger cub suffering from severe frostbite and lower jaw trauma to the rehabilitation centre in the village of Alekseyevka in the Primorye Territory. Having performed a complicated surgery, vets gave the tiger cub a chance to live a full life and perhaps even return to the wild.


According to the Amur Tiger Centre, a local angler found the tiger cub on a river bank in the Anuchinsky District of the Primorye Territory and contacted the hunting supervision service. Its rangers promptly arrived and removed the predator from the wild. A vet that was part of the conflict response group rendered the cub first aid and gave it the necessary injections.


“According to one version, the tiger could be one of three cubs whose mother the rangers found in December 2021 in the Anuchinsky District. This was far from the place where the cub was found, but we wanted to make sure that the tiger family we already knew was safe. Having captured the cub, we followed its tracks and confirmed that this is a different tiger cub from a different mother,” said First Deputy Minister of Forestry and Hunting of the Primorye Territory Alexei Surovy.


A visual exam showed that the tiger cub was a four- or five-month-old female. It was emaciated. The tip of its tail was frostbitten, and its muzzle had tissue necrosis. The injured lower jawbone aggravated the deep frostbite of the muzzle. Vets at the rehabilitation centre’s Nika veterinary clinic in the village of Alekseyevka in the Primorye Territory established that the muscle and skin tissues on the lower jawbone were completely dead.


“The nature of the injuries and their condition allowed us to model precisely a picture of what happened in the forest. Most likely, looking for food, the tiger cub left without its mother and had a fight with a dog that bit through the soft tissues of its muzzle. The emaciated cub could not get warm in the freezing temperatures, and the injured tissues on its muzzle and tail were frostbitten. Severe frostbite led to tissue necrosis. These tissues became necrotic before the cub could warm up. The vets took timely measures that gave the tiger cub a chance to survive. However, they are still fighting for its life and health,” said Sergei Aramilev, director of the Amur Tiger Centre.


According to specialists, the tiger cub could have been left without motherly care for several reasons, including natural ones. Its mother could have gone on a long hunt, and her hungry cub tried to find her, walking in deep snow. There have been cases when some tigresses lost their cubs for lack of proper maternal skills. Specialists are looking into all scenarios.


During a second exam, the vets immediately cut off the dead tip of the tiger cub’s tail and took care of the frostbitten section of its lower jawbone. The treatment continued in two stages.


First, specialists had to stabilise the condition of the tiger cub. When found, it weighed only 20 kg (as compared to the normal weight of 30-40 kg). It was exhausted and very weak, and may not have survived a serious surgery on its jawbone and the subsequent rehabilitation. The vets gave it a course of antibiotics and put it on a special diet.


After several days, young tigress began to show improvement. In the following week, it gained 10 kg, began moving more, and displayed an appropriate predator response to a human.


“We had several sleepless nights after the tiger cub arrived at the rehab centre. Some of us monitored the condition of our small patient via cameras, while others simply couldn’t fall asleep because they were worried. Luckily, the course of treatment and the character of the tigress, its determination to live produced results, and we could move on to the second stage of the treatment,” said Viktor Kuzmenko, director of the Tiger Centre.


Nikita Vereshchak, a doctor at Vladivostok Hospital No. 2, and his assistant, Andrei Prodan, were invited to perform a surgery to repair the muscle tissue on the animal’s lower jawbone. A year ago, they operated on a tiger cub called Rosomakha (Wolverine) at the same rehab centre.


The doctors decided to do skin flap surgery. This method makes it possible to repair skin and soft tissues and prevent bone necrosis. A viable pedicle flap of skin is cut out, moved to the area of injury and attached there. The wound is covered by surrounding healthy tissues.


The surgery lasted for two and a half hours. The doctors think it was successful. They plan to follow up on the cub’s post-surgery recovery during a second exam in a week.


If the stitches heal up and the injury no longer bothers the tigress, the cub may be able to return to the wild in the future, but it is too early to make any predictions.


“Now our priority is to stop the tissue necrosis and save the cub’s life. The tail, or rather its amputated part, will not play a big role in the future, but the lower jawbone is very important. We hope the tigress will not experience any delayed effects that frostbite and electrical injuries can cause. At any rate, people are doing all they can to help the cub,” said Sergei Aramilev.


The Amur Tiger Centre would like to thank all those who helped save the tiger cub: the local angler who reported his discovery; the rangers of the hunting supervision service who promptly removed the tigress from the wild and delivered it to the rehab centre; the employees of the Tiger Centre who arranged the treatment; and the vets and doctors who conducted medical exams and an intricate surgery that gave the tiger cub a chance to live.

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