An Amur or Siberian tiger found orphaned when she was just five months old has had two cubs after being reintroduced into the wild.
Campaigners says it is the first time ever that an Amur tiger has successfully bred after being rehabilitated following a period of captivity.
“This is what we’ve all been hoping for since Zolushka’s release in 2013,” said Masha Vorontsova, director of the Russian arm of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
“It shows that she has fully adapted to life in the wild and is able to successfully hunt, breed and now raise a new generation of Amur tigers.”
Amur tigers are primarily found in the Sikhote Alin Mountain range of Russia’s Far East. IFAW says there are an estimated 500 in the wild – and though such low numbers leave it vulnerable to poaching and other threats, it is a huge increase from the 1930s, when the population fell as low as 20-30 individuals.
Zolushka was discovered in 2012 after – experts suspect – her mother was killed by poachers. She was too young to fend for herself and would have died had she not been taken into captivity.
She was released into Bastak Nature Reserve in 2013 after being fitted with a satellite and radio collar, and rangers have used these and motion-sensitive remote cameras to monitor her progress in the intervening years.
An IFAW spokersperson said Bastak was selected as the release site because it is well protected and has a good prey base.
“It was also chosen because we knew there was a resident male and no female tigers, so her introduction was vital to boost the population,” the spokesperson added.
With other partner organisations, including the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), IFAW helped reintroduce a further five Amur tigers into the wild in 2014.
Of these, four are still living wild – one, a male tiger, started taking domestic livestock, and had to be taken back into captivity.
Watch this video of Zolushka playing with her cubs
Find out more about Amur tiger conservation