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Nature, Not Hunger, Drove Putin's Amur Tiger to Ditch Russia for China

The Amur tiger, released into the wild by President Vladimir Putin in May, did not cross the border into China out of hunger.

A giant cat with links to President Vladimir Putin ditched Russia for China not out of hunger, but because of its restless nature, a tiger expert said Thursday.

Kuzya the tiger, released into the wild by Putin in May, swam across the mighty far-eastern Amur River and into China last weekend, data from his tracking collar shows.

Early explanations put the migration down to being spurred by the tiger's search for prey, but a regional hunting official has cast doubt upon that version.

"He ate well. We checked," Valery Pogasiyenko, who heads the Amur region's hunting department, told the Interfax news agency.

"He's a stray cat by nature," Pogasiyenko said by way of an alternative explanation of Kuzya's travels.

Though the official did not specify what a tiger's nature involves, some Russian media interpreted him as saying it was a desire for sex that drove Kuzya to wet his fur in the hope of finding a mate on the Chinese side.

Chinese officials, who said the tiger has been tracked to China's Taipinggou nature reserve, have expressed a readiness to "release cattle" in the wild to feed him if he is, indeed, lacking nutrition, state news agency Xinhua reported.

No mention was made of a potential mate for the tiger, however.

Tigers are weary of water, and Kuzya's braving of the 700-meter-wide Amur River has prompted much astonishment.

Some media have speculated the endangered feline might have been killed by poachers — a perpetual danger to Amur tigers — who simply ditched his collar into the river.

But that seems unlikely because the tracking collar will stop transmitting a signal once the tagged animal is dead, local news site said Thursday.

Kuzya was part of a five-cub litter found orphaned in the far-eastern taiga last year. The cubs were nursed to health and released into the wild with the blessing of Putin, a noted animal lover.

Amur tigers, one of the biggest predators on the planet, are an endangered tiger subspecies, with about 400 remaining in the wild, according to available estimates.

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