Vladik, a well-known, lone male Siberian tiger, has hit the road again.
The endangered four-year-old tiger was recently spotted in the same region where he was exiled this time last year.
Vladik first made headlines in October 2016 when he wandered into the far eastern Russian town of Vladivostok, his namesake. The Siberian tiger population in this area has been low after habitat loss and hunting caused their population to plummet in the 1930s. It's extremely rare for residents to see a tiger in the streets, so when 300-pound Vladik sauntered into town, they panicked.
The Siberian Times reported that police patrolled the streets with machine guns and drones. Vladik was eventually captured after police received a tip about his whereabouts, tracked him down, fired a sedative shot into his neck, and transferred the comatose tiger to the Amur Tiger Center, a group that works to rescue and rehabilitate Siberian tigers. (Read more about Vladik's capture.)
For seven months, Vladik stayed at the center, where veterinarians monitored his health and tested his hunting skills. For his release, Amur, World Wildlife Fund Russia, and Russia's Natural Resources Ministry sponsored a helicopter to fly the big cat into Bikin National Park.
It was a conservation success story with a happy ending. But Vladik had other plans.
For months, the tiger has been roaming the region, preying on Himalayan black bears, crossing a highway, traversing a railroad track, and bypassing several small towns. He walked nearly 400 miles south, where he was spotted just outside of his old stomping grounds, Vladivostok. This time around, however, Vladik seems to be exercising more caution and keeping a lower profile.
The center admitted they've known for months that Vladik moved out of the park but only recently made that knowledge public, out of fear for the cat's safety. Officials know where the tiger is because they fitted him with a GPS tracking collar before he was released into the park, in part to study movements of the species.
So far, Vladik hasn't walked in front of the camera traps the center has rigged along his predicted path, so they've only been able to track his motion from afar.
"We are joking that this might be a 'victory lap,'" said Andrey Shorshin from the Amur Tiger Center.
Large male tigers like Vladik are known to roam large distances in search of territory that may provide access to a mate and a steady food supply.
Ten percent of the world's endangered Amur tiger population resides in Bikin National Park, and officials speculated that Vladik may have left because of overcrowding. Reconciling a slowly rebounding tiger population with increasing development is a difficult problem for the Amur Tiger Center and other conservationists. Roughly 500 Siberian tigers can be found in the region, and their population is expected to grow.
By continuing to track Vladik, Shorshin said they can learn more about how Siberian tigers are adapting to human development.