Russian Premier Putin shoots, tranquilizes Siberian tiger

September 2nd, 2008 - 1:15 am ICT by IANS  

Moscow, Sep 1 (DPA) Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took on the role of nature lover and protector of threatened species in Russian media reports Monday that told of his accurate tranquilizer shot putting to sleep a Siberian tiger.Putin, 55, during his two terms as Russian president appeared in photo essays in pro-government media as a black-belt judo expert, and as a buff shirtless fisherman.

The front page of Moscow-published Vedemosti newspaper, a publication normally devoted to serious economic news, pictured Putin in a camouflage uniform, stroking a slumbering tigress he had recently knocked out.

“Two in the Taiga,” the Vedemosti headline read.

The popular newspaper Komosomolskaya Pravda also carried a report of Putin’s accurate shot and praised him for travelling to Russia’s Far East to the Ussuriisk nature preserve near Vladivostok to look personally into an endangered species programme, despite continued conflict with Western nations over Georgia.

Russia’s state-run broadcasting channel Vesti carried the story of Putin shooting the tiger as well, reporting the former KGB agent was protected by “alert and determined” staff from harm during the forest encounter with the tiger, ending after Putin subdued the animal with a sleeping dart.

Putin helped recover the tigress and reportedly measured her personally, kissing the animal and whispering “until we meet again”, the Interfax news agency reported.

Putin is by most standards Russia’s most popular public figure.

He has long been the focus of a semi-official personality cult similar to government promotion of state leaders during Soviet days, and adulated in Russian state-controlled media.

Though yielding the presidential office to successor Dmitry Medvedev, Putin is in Russia widely considered still to be the actual leader of the country.

The Siberian, or as it is known in Russia Ussuri, tiger is the world’s largest feline.

Only some 500 of the nearly extinct carnivores are thought to still exist in the wild, in Eastern Siberia and remote regions of China.

The main danger to the Siberian tiger’s survival is loss of habitat to encroaching human activity, particularly logging and poaching.

The conservation group visited by Putin places electronic neckbands on the big cats and tracks them.

Putin thanked international financiers for the support of the protection of endangered species programme.

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