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Government Says Putin's Tiger Safe

The rare Siberian tiger tranquilized and collared by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last year is alive and well after giving birth, Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, told Interfax late Wednesday.

Putin drew worldwide publicity in August 2008 when he shot the 5-year-old female tiger with a tranquilizer gun and helped place a transmitter around her neck. That allowed visitors to his web site to follow the animal's prowlings through the Far East. A video of the episode is on YouTube.

Vladimir Krever, of the World Wildlife Fund, had said earlier Wednesday that the satellite-tracking device had been silent since mid-September, which could be a result of battery failure, a broken collar or poachers.

But Peskov said scientists recently replaced the collar because the batteries in the previous one had worn down. "The system is being repaired, which will allow the tracking of the tiger to resume," he said, Interfax reported.

Tigers are rapidly disappearing from the far eastern regions of Russian because of poaching and the loss of habitat, conservationists say.

Their number may have declined by 40 per cent since 1997, the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a report released Tuesday, although another major conservation group, the World Wildlife Fund, disputed the figure.

"It is absolutely incorrect," Krever said. "There's possibly been a decrease in the last two years, but definitely not 40 percent."

He said deep snow in the last two years had limited the tigers' ability to roam, making it harder to count them. His group agreed, however, that the tigers face a loss of habitat.

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