Putin’s Tiger – Caught in the Act!

By Zoe Jewell of Wildtrack 

Last week Vladimir Putin released Kuzya, complete with electronic tracking device, but forgot to tell her she was to stay in Russia.

Shortly after she swam across the freezing Amur river into China where she stopped for supper at a Chinese chicken farm take-away.  She left nothing but a few feathers and probably ….. her footprints.

Kuzya is one of the few remaining Amur tigers in Russia. This population ranges between Russia and China in the border areas of the remote Chinese north-east. Data are desperately needed on numbers and whereabouts if these beautiful animals and their unique habitats are to be protected.

For the moment Kuzya’s electronic tagging device allows Russian and Chinese conservationists to monitor her movements. But electronic transmitter collars are notoriously unreliable, very expensive and can be harmful to the animals that carry them.

When the collar fails, how will we know if Kuzya has survived, or which nationality she has decided to adopt?

Back to the scene of the crime.   Kuzya’s footprints could provide all the information we need.WildTrack (wildtrack.org), working in the Pimm Lab at Duke University and with the JMP software from the SAS Institute, has developed a footprint identification technique (FIT) that can literally FIT the big cat to her prints.

FIT can identify individuals and sex with > 90% accuracy, is cost-effective, and footprint images could easily be snapped by, say, the aggrieved owner of the chicken farm, or a local villager.

Together with their Chinese colleague, Dr Jiang, Director of the Chinese State Administration Feline Research Centre, and his student Jiayin Gu, WildTrack has identified 44 Amur tiger and is now applying this technique to allow tigers like Kuzya freedom to roam without a passport.

We thank National Geographic for its support of our work to develop FIT.




Stuart Pimm is the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He is a world leader in the study of present day extinctions and what we can do to prevent them. Pimm received his BSc degree from Oxford University in 1971 and his Ph.D from New Mexico State University in 1974. Pimm is the author of nearly 300 scientific papers and four books. He is one of the most highly cited environmental scientists. Pimm wrote the highly acclaimed assessment of the human impact to the planet: The World According to Pimm: a Scientist Audits the Earth in 2001. His commitment to the interface between science and policy has led to his testimony to both House and Senate Committees on the re-authorization of the Endangered Species Act. He has served on National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration and currently works with their Big Cats Initiative. In addition to his studies in Africa, Pimm has worked in the wet forests of Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil for decades and is a long-term collaborator of the forest fragmentation project north of Manaus, Brazil. Pimm directs SavingSpecies, a 501c3 non-profit that uses funds for carbon emissions offsets to fund local conservation groups to restore degraded lands in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity. His international honours include the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010), the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006).
  • Ima Ryma

    Call me Kuzya, cuz Putin did
    Give this Amur tiger that name.
    To that bare chested guy I bid
    Farewell. He could not turn me tame.
    And so he let me loose to roam
    The wilds where wild of us are few,
    “Twixt and ‘tween Russia/China home.
    First thing I did – what tigers do –
    Some farm fresh meat – chicken takeout.
    Left feathers and footprints behind.
    So guess who – there can be no doubt.
    Russia just hopes China won’t mind.

    The news is that this pussycat
    Crossed over the border – what’s that!

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