In a world that offers up an endless stream of alarming news about tigers, the story of Zolushka has been a glimmer of hope ever since her rescue back in 2012. The now-famous Amur tiger grew from a frostbitten cub on the brink of starvation to a thriving wild tigress with her own young family – and new camera trap images show that both Zolushka and her two young cubs are still doing well.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), it's been around a year since the youngsters were born, and the family looks to be in good health. "They appear to still be doing well based on these new photos," writes the WCS in a blog update.
When she first arrived at a Russian tiger rehabilitation facility years ago, Zolushka (named after the Russian version of Cinderella) was in poor shape. Found alone as a four-month-old cub after her mother had likely been killed by poachers, the young tiger was exhausted and starving, her tail blackened by frostbite.
Proving her will to survive was strong, Zolushka bounced back, and her next temporary home was a more specialised rehab centre where the growing predator could be completely isolated from humans to prepare her for life back in the wild. "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," writes the WCS.
In this way, Zolushka's lucky survival tale became something more: she was now a pioneer reclaiming lost habitat for the rest of her kind. Before long, the female tiger's presence drew a mate to the 162 square mile protected area, and conservationists were happy and astonished when the pairing produced two healthy cubs. It was the first time that a rehabilitated tiger had survived to breed in the wild.
"This is a watershed event not just for Zolushka, but for the entire population of Amur tigers. These births mark ... the beginnings of a recovery and expansion of the last remaining Amur tiger population into habitat lost years ago,” said WCS Russia Director Dale Miquelle following the births last year.
With the youngsters now growing bigger and stronger, it seems Zolushka's fairytale is well into its next chapter.
Top header image: Peiyu Liu, Flickr