Legendary Siberian tiger, Olga, killed by poachers

03/31/05

TERNEY, RUSSIA (March 31, 2005) Olga, the first Siberian tiger ever fitted with a radio-collar, is dead, according to officials from the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society, who have been tracking the big cat for the past 13 years. The 14-year-old tiger, missing since January, is presumed killed by poachers who destroyed her radio collar.

Olga was the first animal captured by the staff of the Siberian Tiger Project, a cooperative research and conservation program between the Wildlife Conservation (WCS) and Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik. Radio-collared when she was just a year-old near the village of Terney, her movements and life history were closely monitored for much of her life. She spent her entire life in a 500-square kilometer (approximately 200 square-mile) swath of forest north of Terney in the Russian Far East, giving birth to six litters totaling at least 13 cubs, six of which survived.

"To our knowledge, Olga is the oldest, and the most intensively studied tiger in the world," said Dale Miquelle, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Russia Program, and one of the people who first radio-collared Olga. For many of us, Olga was a symbol of the tiger's resilience and capacity to live side by side with humans. It was a privilege to be able to observe for such a long period, and it's a shame that we could not have followed her longer to witness a more dignified death from old age."

The collar that Olga wore transmitted a regular beeping signal that biologists used to track her movements. Since January, however, they have been unable to locate her signal despite extensive aerial and ground searches over an area of about 10,000 square kilometers (3,800 square miles).

Staff of the Siberian Tiger Project have documented many cases in which lost signals from radio collars are a result of poachers killing the tiger and then destroying the collar. If Olga has met this same fate, it is not an unusual one for tigers in the Russian Far East: of 23 deaths of tigers recorded by the WCS Siberian Tiger Project, 17 were killed by poachers.

"Olga has been living in the same place for 14 years and resident tigers don't just pack up and move long distances," reports WCS conservationist John Goodrich, Field Coordinator for the STP. "It's unlikely that her collar failed. We've used about 100 radio-collars on tigers and bears during the life of the project and have only documented one premature collar failure."

Olga was well known to people around the world, having been filmed for several international television documentaries, including National Geographic's award winning "Tigers in the Snow," and appearing in magazine and newspaper articles. Locally, she was also a type of celebrity, with news of her activities often appearing in the local newspaper of Terney, and talk of her whereabouts and activities a popular topic of conversation, especially among those who lived and worked in the forests where she lived.

A survey to assess numbers of tigers remaining in the Russian Far East, coordinated by WCS and many other governmental and non-governmental agencies, including AMUR, an Anglo-Russian charity that raises money to pay for the urgent work in the Russian Far East, is just being completed. However, it is too early to say just how many tigers remain. Nonetheless, tigers are considered extremely rare, and in danger of extinction throughout their range.

"Since we first radio-collared her in 1992, Olga lived largely outside of protected areas, in forests heavily used by hunters, and intensively grazed by cattle," said Dale Miquelle. "But for 13 years, she avoided contact with those hunters, and never turned to cattle as a source of food, even when trying to feed her hungry cubs. Her perseverance while other tigers were falling victim to poachers' bullets symbolized the fight to save the world's last Siberians, despite overwhelming odds."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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