Vladimir Putin has long followed a macho doctrine and in the late Noughties, he was often photographed in a way to make him depict him as manly. The Russian President was seen bare-chested, flexing his muscles while pulling trout from the Siberian river Khemchik, riding a horse, petting polar bears and tracking tigers with preservationists. But Professor Mark Galeotti, author of the 2019 work We Need to Talk about Putin, has told how the latter publicity stunt did not go as planned.
But, as Putin arrived, a tiger escaped and ran towards the television crew. The former KGB agent, dressed in camouflage and combat boots, was said to have acted quickly, shooting the big cat with a tranquilliser gun.
He was dubbed a hero, hailed by the Russian media for saving a television crew from being attacked by a wild Siberian tiger. The news was given plenty of airtime.
A presenter told Rossiya television on the evening of the incident: “Vladimir Putin not only managed to see the giant predator up close but also saved our television crew too.”
He then helped measure the teeth of the Amur tiger, which can weigh up to 450kg, and fitted it with a satellite transmitter.
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However, it later emerged that this was not quite how the day had played out.
Professor Galeotti explained: “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.”
According to the WWF, the Amur tiger is now “highly endangered” with there being an estimated 500 left in the wild.
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Putin’s website later showed images of what appeared to be the same tiger he had tranquilised back in the wild. But according to several environmentalists such as Dmitry Molodtsov, who runs a website about big cats, the tiger Putin shot was not the same one shown in the video.
Mr Molodtsov concluded that the one on the website was in fact the docile animal from the Khabarovsk zoo which had been transported hundreds of miles to the Ussuri nature reserve specifically for the event. He too found that the creature died as it was unable to recover from the three consecutive tranquiliser shots.
Masha Vorontsova, head of the Russian branch of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told the Guardian in 2012: “It should have been one tranquilliser shot, but it was three in a short period of time.
“I’m not even blaming Putin, but the people who do these things for him — all they are interested in is big money. It’s against all scientific and human ethics.”