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Russian Far East - Supported since 2005

The Khunta Mi Initiative partners with the Wildlife Conservation Society to encourage a greater commitment from the worldwide hunting community for conservation of the Siberian tiger. Approximately 330-370 adult Siberian or Amur tigers are left in the wild–all residing in the Russian Far East. Since 1992, the WCS Hornocker Wildlife Institute has conducted intensive studies of tiger ecology and initiated a series of conservation initiatives to save this big cat. Primary threats to tiger survival are habitat loss from intensive logging and development, poaching and depletion of prey from illegal hunting. In the Russian Far East, less than 20% of the habitat needed for the survival of the Siberian tiger is protected. All other tiger habitat exists as multiple use lands, where hunting is allowed. Therefore, tigers and hunters must find a way to live side by side. 

“Khunta Mi” by John Banovich -Dale Miquelle, Program Director, Wildlife Conservation Program Under the Soviet regime, natural resource management decisions were centralized in Moscow, eliminating local communities and hunters from management processes. In 1995, new legislation provided opportunities for locals to create non-governmental ‘societies’ that could in turn obtain rights to manage hunting lands. This new arrangement does not provide land ownership, but privatizes the right to use and manage game species on leased territories. These changes have revolutionized wildlife management in Russia. For the first time ever, locals were provided with the responsibility to manage wildlife. Rather than poach or diminish wildlife from the once state-owned properties, people had reasons to properly manage their resources, which they depended upon, for recreation, income and food. Now hunters and hunting societies are responsible for managing game species (including the deer and wild boar on which tigers depend) on over 80% of tiger habitat. With more than 40,000 registered hunters in tiger habitat, hunters form a primary stakeholder group that holds the fate of tigers in their hands. However, without adequate training, and with inadequate means to generate revenue, they lack the capacity to effectively cope with these new responsibilities. WCS is committed to demonstrating that tiger conservation can go hand-in-hand with preservation of the rich hunting tradition in the Russian Far East. Both tigers and hunters have a common interest – high densities of red deer, roe deer, sika deer and wild boar. By helping local hunting societies better manage their resources we will be helping both tigers and hunters. Since 1996, WCS has been working with hunting leases and hunters across the region to support newly established hunting leases; increase capacity for self-management and financial independence; increase wildlife populations (specifically ungulate populations) through effective hunting management on hunting leases; create well-controlled use of renewable wildlife resources; and disseminate information to the local hunters to improve and enhance their understanding of tigers. WCS continues to build capacity for hunting leases, while developing vital environmental education and outreach programs. Ungulate recovery is a priority for WCS, as well as exploring alternative sources of income for locals. Financial stability is key to the long-term survival of hunting leases. In combination, these innovative efforts strive to conserve the last viable population of Amur tigers in the world.

“John Banovich has merged the world of wildlife art and conservation in a unique and exciting way. John is able to use his status as world-renowned artist to further conservation efforts even in the remotest parts of the world, working to save Siberian tigers in the Russian Far East, lions in Africa, and even the brown bears of North America. John brings energy, imagination, and leadership to the conservation arena, seeking new partnerships and new mechanisms to save the world's wildlife.” - Dale Miquelle


Amur tigress, Svetlaya, has become a mother after rehabilitation and release back to the wild.

Amur tigress, Svetlaya, has become a mother after rehabilitation and release back to the wild.

JULY 18, 2017

Fantastic news for Siberian tigers. A recent photograph provides further evidence that tigers are re-colonizing lost habitat in Russia. We previously shared with you the story of Zolushka, an orphaned Amur tiger cub who was rehabilitated, released into the wild, miraculously found a mate and had cubs. Now, a second orphaned Amur tigress, Svetlaya, has become a mother after rehabilitation and release back to the wild.

The image above shows Svetlaya walking along a trail in April 2017 with her back half caked in spring mud. But what really has scientists celebrating is that the photograph reveals the legs and shadow of at least one cub.

After her release, Svetlaya established a home range in the Zhuravlinii Wildlife Refuge, where, amazingly, another rehabilitated tiger named Borya found her in 2015, after venturing almost 200 miles from his own release site. Regular monitoring revealed that Borya and Svetlaya stayed in close proximity to one another through the past two winters, and often shared kills. Female Amur tigers rarely produce cubs until they are 3.5 to 4 years old, an age Svetlaya reached only in fall of 2016. So the arrival of a cub is right on time.

“This image demonstrates not only that we can rehabilitate and release tigers back into the wild, but we can use this process to recolonize lost tiger habitat," noted Dale Miquelle, WCS Tiger Program Coordinator. "This capacity is important not only in Russia to recolonize the Pri-Amur, but in many countries in Asia where tigers have disappeared from suitable habitat.”


In 2013, a nearly starved three-month-old tiger cub named Zolushka was brought to a rehabilitation center in Russia. Now, she's thriving in the wild.

In 2013, a nearly starved three-month-old tiger cub named Zolushka was brought to a rehabilitation center in Russia. Now, she's thriving in the wild.


In 2013, a nearly starved three-month-old tiger cub was brought to a rehabilitation center in Russia. Now, she's thriving in the wild. Roughly a year since her cubs were born, the group has made another appearance in camera trap photos.

The mother tiger (sitting center in the photo) became known as Zolushka in 2013, which is Russian for "Cinderella." She flourished in her rehabilitation and was released into Bastak Reserve in the Russian Far East, to an area where wild tigers disappeared some 40 years ago.

True to her fairy tale nickname, remote camera traps revealed Zolushka with two young cubs in 2015 (video below). It was the first-ever occurrence of a rehabilitated tiger not only surviving, but reproducing in the wild. They appear to still be doing well based on these new photos.

"This event represents not only a happy next chapter in an ongoing story for this particular tigress and her cubs," said Dale Miquelle, Director of WCS's Russian Program, "but a new phase of recovery for tigers in this region, and new hope for tigers everywhere."