For the first time ever, a rehabilitated Siberian tiger has successfully returned to the wild, has found a mate and produced healthy offspring. The tiger, who is named Zolushka, was originally found as a starving, frostbitten young cub in Russia’s far eastern territory. Camera footage in the region where Zolushka was released have spotted two young and seemingly healthy cubs at their mother’s side.
Just one year after arriving at the rehabilitation center, Zolushka was already hunting prey at a similar skill level to other wild tigers her age. It was her quick development that convinced conservationists to reintroduce Zolushka to the wild. They fitted the young female tiger with a GPS collar and planned to monitor her movements with cameras they installed throughout the area.
The camera footage showed that by the winter after her release, Zolushka was sharing territory and food with a healthy male tiger that has been nicknamed Zavetny by scientists. Based on tracks in the snow, the scientists suspected that the two tigers were mating, possibly as early as February of this year.
And just last week, a little more than two years after Zolushka was released to the wild, young tiger cubs were spotted nearby Zolushka, essentially confirming that the once dying cub had now become a proud mother. The conservationists were ecstatic, with one saying that he feels like a “godfather”.
Assuming all goes well, Zolushka will care for her young cubs for the next year and a half. At that age, tigers typically leave their mothers to search for their own territory. Meanwhile, Zavetny might stop by to see his offspring from time to time, he will most likely leave the bulk of the parenting to Zolushka. In tigers, it is the mother’s job to provide food for the offspring and also eventually teach them how to hunt. The conservationists are particularly curious about how Zolushka will fare as a mother, given that she did not have a traditional mother around for most of her childhood.
For now though, it’s a happy moment, as video footage shows the baby cubs huddling near their mother and playfully tussling with her. There doesn’t appear to be any unusual signs so far, as the cubs are showing typical behavior for youngsters their age. The conservationists will continue to monitor Zolushka and her family to see what happens from here.