When a Russian man tried to leave his house one winter morning, he found it difficult to open his front door. On 28 January, 2018, Alexey Khaideyev pushed against the unexpected weight, only to hear a growling sound on the other side of the door. And he was shocked to discover a tiger lying on his porch.
He immediately retreated back into his family home and called the emergency services. Khaideyev lives on the outskirts of the village of Solontsovy. His house sits close to a forested area of the Khaborovsk region, where Amur tigers roam freely. It’s the biggest cat on Earth, weighing as much as 700 pounds.
Galina Tsimano, who lives nearby, told The Siberian Times how her neighbor had found the big cat on his veranda one morning. “Alexey Khaideyev came across a tiger on his porch. He and his wife and grandmother live on the outskirts of the village, near the river and forest,” she said. “He wanted to go out to the yard in the morning, but his door was pressed by ‘someone’ from outside.”
Just 500 of these rare creatures are believed to be living in Eastern Russia, and it is extremely uncommon for them to travel through residential areas. Moreover, the Amur tiger’s continued survival in the wild has been in doubt following a recent bout of disease. So when Khaideyev saw what was blocking his doorway, he realized that the animal required help.
Khaideyev subsequently decided to leave the listless animal resting on his porch until expert assistance arrived. “He began to push the door and heard a tiger growling,” his neighbor Tsimano explained. “He went back inside and started calling all the emergency services.”
“The tiger spent all the day on Alexey’s porch until the emergency team arrived,” she added. After the experts from the Ministry of Natural Resources of Khabarovsk arrived, they established that the animal was an Amur tigress aged about ten.
They sedated the suffering animal and moved her to the Amur Tiger Center in Alekseevka, Primorsky Krai. The center, established by the Russian Geographical Society back in 2013, is dedicated to protecting these endangered creatures.
The center’s initiatives, operated in collaboration with WWF Russia, not only fight poaching but also educate the public about the plight of the animals. Sergey Aramilev, director of the center, told The Siberian Times, “The tiger behaved absolutely peacefully, as if she was waiting for help.”
On closer inspection, the team of specialists were stunned to discover why the tigress had behaved in such an unusual manner. Firstly, they were glad to find no evidence of injury caused by poachers. However, what they did find was still a massive cause for concern.
The tigress was clearly suffering with severe dental problems, which had left her incapable of hunting. This had caused the usually powerful creature to become weak and extremely underweight. Her emaciated body suggested that she’d been suffering for some time, and the rescue team guessed that she had approached the residential area as a last resort.
Yury Kolpak, head conservationist at Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources, said that the tiger was “thoroughly exhausted.” “She has serious gum problems, and there are no upper teeth,” he added. “Now it is very important to provide the predator with qualified assistance.”
Aramilev explained the dilemma that the team faced. It was clear that the tigress required emergency treatment, but using an anesthetic on the animal in order to perform the procedure could kill her. “In her current physical condition, it is deadly to put her under an anesthetic,” he said. “Yet without this, it is impossible to carry out ‘active’ treatment.”
At the rescue center the critically ill tigress was given food containing antibiotics in order to help her undernourished body fight infections. Any injections required had to be given remotely, after the cat refused to allow staff to approach her, despite the animal apparently having come to humans for help.
“We will not hide that the situation with the tigress is sad,” said Aramilev. “Now everything depends on her. We really hope that the tigress will pick herself up and survive. For our part, we are doing everything possible.”
Speaking to Down To Earth magazine about the Amur tiger, Aramilev said that the number of the animals in the wild may now be rising due to increased political interest in their plight. He noted the importance of activist organizations, but also pointed out that the problem was far from solved.
“It is the activism of these organizations that has led to the increase in tiger numbers,” Aramilev told Down To Earth in 2016 during an interview at the third Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in Delhi. “However, we recognize that we are just at the beginning, and there is a long way to go.”
Unfortunately, though, despite several weeks of medical attention by the dedicated team at the Amur Tiger Center, the tigress died. Although she had gum disease and no upper teeth, the animal had still been eating minced meat and had even managed to put on some weight.
The staff had begun to grow hopeful when the tigress had become more active in her enclosure. But it turned out that the medical treatment had come too late to save the animal. Viktor Kuzmenko, director of the Amur Tiger Center, told The Siberian Times that despite the team’s best efforts, “age and illnesses took over.”
“Sadly, the tigress couldn’t fight her illness,” he added. “She was in a hopeless state, extremely exhausted. There even was no fat on her heart. Nothing could have saved her.” Nonetheless, the center’s work to conserve the Amur tiger will continue.
Following her death, scientists discovered that the tigress had been suffering from a number of health problems that could be linked to her age. They described it as extraordinary that she had seemingly sought human help during her final weeks in the wild. The Amur tiger is a solitary predator, often marking trees with its scent to keep other tigers at a distance. So, this brave cat had defied nature in the face of death.