Zolushka (Cinderella in English) is an Amur tiger. She was orphaned in the winter of 2012, and we were helping to raise her at the rehabilitation facility in Alekseyevka village, near Vladivostok in Far East Russia. When she was found, she was exhausted and frostbitten. Very often tiger cubs like her suffer frostbite on their tails. Cinderella’s tail was affected too, so the very tip, about 5 to 7 centimeters, had to be amputated. This is the tip that tigers so characteristically curve up.

Zolushka (Cinderella) released.

    While living in the rehabilitation center, Cinderella has learned two most important skills: to hunt and to avoid human beings. Both are innate, but her time spent in rehabilitation gave her an opportunity to develop them, and Cinderella rather excels at both.

    Whether Cinderella was ready for release, was decided by many of the world’s Amur tiger experts. After long discussions, the date for the release was set on May 9th.

    Cinderella was immobilized and fitted with a satellite collar.

    The team then moved her into a transportation cage. Our party was riding in four vehicles; one of them towed a trailer with Cinderella.

    The weather was rather cool near Vladivostok, but as we started driving it grew warmer. We put two five-liter blocks of ice in there to keep her cool.

    It was a very long and exhausting car drive. We were going to Bastak Nature Reserve, about 1000 kilometers from Vladivostok, near Birobidzhan.

    Tigers used to live in the area, but eventually people killed them all, and there were no tiger sightings there for many years. However, starting with 2006, one male tiger’s presence is recorded there on a regular basis, and he is still sighted today. So we have far-reaching plans for Cinderella.

    Finally we reached the place of release in the very center of the reserve, where no one ever goes, and even rangers only visit on rare occasions.

    The cage was placed in a way that gave Cinderella a good clearing to jump out and run for cover. A block and tackle system was arranged to lift the cage door from the distance.

    The rope was pulled, the door slid open! Then everything was over in a split second. We heard a roar, and for an instant I saw Cinderella leaping out of the cage right away and, contrary to our expectations, disappearing immediately from our sight, making a sharp right turn.

    I was totally enraptured by that moment, so fluid and graceful she was. Cinderella leaped over one of the cameras, ran a bit to the side, stopped and looked back at us. I thought that for the first time in my life I see a tiger in the wild. And that this was perhaps the last time I would ever see a tiger in our taiga. She made a couple more leaps and sort of dissolved among the trees. Cinderella – disappeared.

    It was a strange feeling, on one side a great joy because our Cinderella was free and back home, and on the other hand a realization that you do not want to cross her path again in the future.

    That was it.

    Today, we already received satellite data showing that Cinderella is moving across the reserve territory, so we know for certain that she is alive.

    Let me say again that all of this became possible only thanks to the joint efforts of many people from a number of organizations: Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Inspection Tiger, WCS, Phoenix Fund, and International Fund for Animal Welfare. But more importantly, this was possible thanks to your contribution. A million thank-you’s to IFAW’s generous supporters for saving Cinderella and giving Amur tigers a new hope for their survival.

    —Anna Fillipova, posted Mon, 06/03/2013. Fillipova is an International Fund for Animal Welfare campaigner working in the IFAW Russia office.

    SOURCE: International Fund for Animal Welfare.