Experts at the Amur Tiger Center are keeping a close watch on Vladik, the wild Amur tiger that in 2017 was released back into the Russian forest after attracting international media attention when he wandered the streets of Russia’s Far East city of Vladivostok.

The big cat — a 140-kilogram, 3-year-old male named for the city where he was spotted — is outfitted with a GPS collar so tiger specialists will be able to see where he goes. Vladik was relocated to Russia’s Bikin National Park, chosen for its densely forested, remote location.

His care and subsequent release provide an example of a global effort to protect the endangered Amur tiger, commonly referred to as the Siberian tiger.

U.S. organizations have partnered with Russian research institutions, lawmakers and communities to strengthen anti-poaching legislation, eliminate illegal logging, increase prey populations and raise public awareness about the tiger’s plight.

The work is paying off. After decades of conservation and anti-poaching efforts, the Amur tiger population in the Russian Far East has grown to 540 — the largest contiguous tiger population in the world.

Amur tiger behind fence (© Amur Tiger Center/WWF/AP)
Vladik in 2017, before his release into the wild in Russia (© Amur Tiger Center/WWF/AP)

Amur tigers have been rebounding since the 1940s, when their numbers dwindled to about 40 and widespread hunting threatened their extinction, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Russia was the first country to grant the tiger full protection.

Tigers in the Russian Far East still face dangers from human activities, including urban expansion and illegal logging. And Amur tigers also are seriously threatened by poachers, who hunt tigers to sell their parts — including fur, teeth and bones — in the illegal wildlife market.

But U.S. and Russian counterparts are working together to limit the dangers:

  • Wildlife Conservation Society’s Siberian Tiger Project has equipped experts in Russia to conduct tiger health assessments, translocations and monitoring.
  • World Wildlife Fund has worked with the Russian government and the country’s tiger experts to help secure a network of protected areas along the Russia-China border and implement anti-poaching campaigns.

For its part, Russia is a staunch supporter of tiger conservation. In 2010, for example, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted an international tiger summit during which the 13 tiger-range nations pledged to double the world’s tiger population by 2022.

Vladik, meanwhile, recently trekked roughly 600 kilometers south of Bikin National Park, which experts speculate he left due to overcrowding, before turning and heading back to central Sikhote-Alin in southeastern Russia. Conservationists everywhere are watching his journey.

For World Wildlife Day on March 3, learn more about the threats to animals and what you can do about them.