Last autumn, a male Siberian tiger was spotted wandering the streets just a few miles away from downtown Vladivostok. Several other sightings followed, making residents in the Russian port city more than a little nervous. The big cat was eventually captured, and now, many months later, he's been re-released into the wild, well away from civilisation.

Exactly why the tiger – nicknamed Vladik by locals – prowled into the city in the first place remains a mystery. At the time, conservationists speculated that the young male may have been searching for his own territory after leaving his mother. Once inside the urban jungle, the big cat may have struggled to find his way back out, with multiple highways blocking escape. 

After finally being tracked down on the side of a road outside of Vladivostok, the starving cat was slowly nursed back to health by the Amur Tiger Centre.

"Vladik is a mysterious tiger," Sergey Aramilev, the centre's Far East Director, told the Siberian Times. "We don't know how he ended up in Vladivostok." 

Aramilev is much less ambiguous about his organisation's decision to release the tiger into Russia's newly formed Bikin National Park, a location far from the wilderness around Vladivostok.

"As we know, male tigers can travel huge distances," he said. "That's why, given his past and passion for city life, we decided to take him to the most remote area of wild taiga with a big number of hoofed ungulates as a food supply."

Wildlife officials prepare to release Vladik into this remote new home. Image: Pavel Fomenko/WWF Russia

The striped predator's relocation to the remote national park was undoubtedly welcome news for city residents, but it was also a great relief to conservationists that the cat survived his brush with urbanisation.

Siberian tigers – also known as Amur tigers – are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and were considered Critically Endangered as recently as 2007. Although the subspecies has recovered significantly from its population nadir of 20 to 30 animals in the 1930s, numbers are still very low: at most, only 540 of these cats are thought to be living in the wild. Of those 540 animals, the majority lives in the region surrounding Vladivostok, with only a handful across the border in China.

While a roaming Siberian tiger like Vladik can pose a danger to humans, the threat is far greater in reverse: through habitat destruction and hunting, humans have been the main cause behind the decline of tigers across the globe. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), we've lost over 96% of wild tigers in the last century.

After bringing Vladik back from the brink of death, the Amur Tiger Centre wanted to ensure this young male had a role to play in the preservation of his subspecies. The release location was strategic: conservationists, Aramilev included, are hopeful that tigers like Vladik will remain in habitats isolated from humans and get on with the important business of reproducing, in this way progressing the species on the long trek back from the brink of extinction. Vladik was tagged with a GPS collar before release so that his journey can be tracked.

"I hope he'll stay there, won't go too far and will increase the number of tigers in [the] Bikin National Reserve," Aramilev said. The WWF, a partner to the Amur Tiger Centre, echoes his sentiments, telling the Associated Press that the team is confident Vladik "has little chance of wandering into urban jungles again".



Top image: Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia Commons