Putin’s PR stunt with a Siberian tiger caused the tiger’s death

We know that Putin is obsessed with looking like a macho man. It is part of his attempts to look like a strong, imperialist leader. And he has taken many opportunities to polish this image such as riding horseback topless and playing with big cats. He’s said to be an animal lover but is very hard to believe that somebody so cruel as evidenced in his invasion of Ukraine can be an animal lover when an estimated one third of a million animals have died in that war.

Anyway, he likes to be involved in PR stunts to foster this macho image. The famous Siberian subspecies of tiger lives in the Far East of Russia. It is subject to conservation efforts because its population is very low at around 400. In 2008 Putin wanted to be seen as part of those conservation efforts.

Putin fits a tracker to the over tranquillised Siberian tiger that died when returned to a zoo
Putin fits a tracker to the over tranquillised Siberian tiger that died when returned to a zoo. Image: Getty.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

A PR video shows him being involved in tranquilizing a Siberian tiger, allegedly a wild Siberian tiger, and fitting a tracker to it. But what happened was entirely different.

The authorities had taken a tiger from a zoo! They trucked it to the relevant area of the wild where the filming was to take place. Apparently, Putin always runs late and was late on this occasion. They had to tranquilize the tiger again to protect Putin. This is part of the false imagery presented to the public. The point here is that the tiger was tranquilized in preparation for Putin’s arrival at a set time but because he was late the tranquilliser had worn off, as I understand it, which meant they had to re-tranquilize the animal.

The footage was meant to show Putin tranquilizing the tiger which he did. That meant the tiger received three doses of tranquilize at that stage. He stroked the tiger and gave it a little kiss. It all looked great and Putin was doing his best for tiger conservation.

The tiger was then returned to the zoo where it died because it had received three doses of tranquilliser. Administering tranquilliser to any animal including the big cats and other wild species is always problematic because dosage is critical. I can recall wildlife services over-tranquilizing a mountain lion wandering around a suburban street of America. The intention was to transport the mountain lion out of the area but they killed it. An overdose of tranquilliser was the cause of death.

Professor Galeotti on the BBC Radio 4 Putin podcast said:

“What had actually happened is they had taken a tiger from a zoo and trucked it a long way to the relevant site. And of course, Putin was running late as ever, so they had to re-tranquilise the tiger so that it wouldn’t cause any particular risk to the President when he finally arrived.”

“But then of course he had to be shown tranquilising it. Anyway, he did his photo op, he tranquilised the tiger, he stroked it, he gave it a little kiss – how nice – and then off he went.

“After the cameras were turned off, the tiger was returned to the zoo where, unfortunately, it died. It died because it had been given three tranquiliser shots when really it only needed one. But nonetheless, this was the price for Putin’s photo-op.”

This little story from the Daily Express nicely encapsulates the fakery surrounding Putin. He has given speeches to adoring crowds who’ve been bussed to auditoria to pretend that they are avidly listening to every word he utters. It’s all publicity. It’s all an attempt to shore up Putin’s faltering leadership because of his failures in Ukraine.

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