Brought into captivity as a nearly starved, 3-month old cub, the tigress that became known as Zolushka (Russian for "Cinderella") flourished in a rehabilitation center designed to prepare her for life back in the wild. Without a mother (probably lost to poachers) Zolushka learned how to kill natural wild prey presented to her in the rehabilitation center, where she was kept far from people to preserve her innate fear of humans.
In spring 2013, she was released into Bastak Reserve, in the Pri-Amur Region, an area where wild tigers disappeared some 40 years ago. Zolushka thrived in her new, wild home, and miraculously connected with her prince -- a male tiger that apparently dispersed from tiger range far to the east.
In December 2015, the first ever photos (from remote camera traps placed by Bastak ranger Ivan Polkolnikov to monitor tiger movements) revealed Zolushka with two young cubs- the first ever occurrence of a rehabilitated tiger not only surviving, but reproducing in the wild. Olga Polkolnikova, reserve employee and manager of Bastak's growing tiger database, remarked that "on the eve of their first birthday [the cubs will soon turn 12 months old], the cubs decided to host a small photo session."
Photos show the cubs approaching their mother (still with radio collar) and also playing with each other.
Dale Miquelle, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Russia Program, which helps organize camera trapping in Bastak, noted, "These most recent photos from Bastak Reserve demonstrate that not only have these young cubs survived -- they are thriving, and represent the second generation of a recovery of a tiger population that was once lost to the Pri-Amur region of Russia. This event represents not only a happy next chapter in an ongoing story for this particular tigress and her cubs, but a new phase of recovery for tigers in this region, and new hope for tigers everywhere."
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