Toggle Nav

Uporny's Story

Captured after close encounters with humans, Uporny the tiger was rehabilitated and released, offering researchers an unprecedented look into the wild life of an elusive big cat.

Loading Uporny's Story...

 

March 2017

Khabarovsky Province, Russia

illustration of blue sky and clouds
illustration of mountains in the distance
illustration of trees at the base of the mountains in the distance
illustration of SUV driving in the snow pulling a snow mobile in tow
illustration of tall dead grass in the foreground

March 2017

Khabarovsky Province, Russia

In the Russian Far East, researchers venture into the Gursky Wildlife Refuge with a local policeman.

They've come to investigate a problem with an Amur tiger.

Illustration of researchers getting out of a car in a snowy Russian landscape to investigate an Amur tiger.

In the Russian Far East, researchers venture into the Gursky Wildlife Refuge with a local policeman.

They've come to investigate a problem with an Amur tiger.

For most of the past two years, they've been closely tracking the tiger through a GPS collar.

Nearly a month ago, that collar stopped recording any movement, and showed a dramatic drop in the cat's body temperature.

Blizzards prevented travel to the site until now.

three researchers in heavy snow

For most of the past two years, they've been closely tracking the tiger through a GPS collar.

Nearly a month ago, that collar stopped recording any movement, and showed a dramatic drop in the cat's body temperature.

Blizzards prevented travel to the site until now.

 

To find the point of the last signal, they travel 5 miles from the nearest road, expecting the worst.

illustrated aerial view of three researchers cross country skiing through the snow
branches

To find the point of the last signal, they travel 5 miles from the nearest road, expecting the worst.

 

And they're right.

But this is not a story about the death of a tiger.

illustrated background of snow and trees
researchers in snow
tiger lying covered in the snow

And they're right.

But this is not a story about the death of a tiger.

This is a story about a wild life.

 

November 2014

Vyazemskoye Village, Russia

Several villagers spotted a lone, ragged male tiger on the outskirts of town—a rare sight, but not unheard of in the region.

pink and purple illustrated sunset
Background trees
Tiger lurking in background
snowy Vyzemskoye Village, Russia

November 2014

Vyazemskoye Village, Russia

Several villagers spotted a lone, ragged male tiger on the outskirts of town—a rare sight, but not unheard of in the region.

Vyazemskoye lies at the Western edge of the Amur tiger range, where only about 540 wild tigers remain.

Poaching is still the biggest threat to the Amur tiger. But habitat loss from logging and development also harms their population.

Naturally elusive, tigers tend to avoid humans. But when human development cuts into the cats' habitat, and their natural prey becomes scarce, conflicts with humans increase.

Any tiger that wanders into a human settlement becomes known as a "conflict tiger."

map of Eastern Russia Globe illustration of Amur tiger habitat in far east Russia
illustration of dog barking at the shadow of a tiger

After tigers killed three dogs in Vyazemskoye, locals contacted a group that addresses human-tiger conflict, created with the help of WWF-Russia.

 

Several experts from the group came to snare and tranquilize the cat, a three-year-old male in poor health.

His fur was pale, and his ribs were showing. He was seriously exhausted.

grey background
illustrated tiger in a cautious stance looking to left
illustration of dart moving from left to right

Several experts from the group came to snare and tranquilize the cat, a three-year-old male in poor health.

His fur was pale, and his ribs were showing. He was seriously exhausted.

The tiger was brought to Utyos Rehabilitation Center in Khabarovsky Province, under the care of Pavel Fomenko, species program coordinator for WWF-Russia's Amur branch.

The government-run facility specializes in nursing distressed tigers back to health for their eventual release into the wild.

It's here where the tiger earned his name.

When he refused to leave his transport cage and enter his new enclosure, the Utyos staff named him Uporny, which is Russian for "stubborn".

But Uporny's health improved quickly, and he eagerly accepted food.

Experts from Utyos made sure to keep contact with Uporny to a minimum, preserving his wild instincts for his eventual release.

But Uporny's health improved quickly, and he eagerly accepted food.

Experts from Utyos made sure to keep contact with Uporny to a minimum, preserving his wild instincts for his eventual release.

illustration of Uporny eating a chunk of meat
 

A plan was formulated to study Uporny in the wild.

He was outfitted with a radio collar, which measured body temperature and location, so his movement through the wilderness could be closely tracked.

The collar could be detached remotely, or would detach automatically when it ran out of battery power.

blurred background
illustration of blurred background plants
illustration of blurred background plants
Uporny with tracking device looking out into distance

A plan was formulated to study Uporny in the wild.

He was outfitted with a radio collar, which measured body temperature and location, so his movement through the wilderness could be closely tracked.

The collar could be detached remotely, or would detach automatically when it ran out of battery power.

Along with gathering data from the collar, researchers would track Uporny's activities through observations in the field and the use of camera traps.

Researcher setting up a camera trap

The goal was to learn how rehabilitated tigers move through the region, where they hunt...

...and how best to keep their population safe and away from human settlements.

Tiger caught on a camera trap

After 6 months at Utyos, Uporny was healthy and ready to be released back into the wild.

Uporny from behind looking outside the fence

May 28, 2015

Border of Anyuisky National Park

A site for release was chosen 124 miles northeast of Utyos rehabilitation center, just outside the park in prime tiger habitat.

A male tiger and a female with a cub were already known to be in the area.

Trucks in a field preparing to release Uporny
 

The cage door slid open. Healthy and energetic, Uporny bolted from the cage without looking back.

background sky
background mountains
background trees
Uporny dashing from the truck
motion lines

The cage door slid open. Healthy and energetic, Uporny bolted from the cage without looking back.

Uporny still had a long journey ahead of him.

He would need to establish a home range, find prey, and survive against competitors in the forests of the Russian taiga—a harsh environment with long, cold winters.

Uporny still had a long journey ahead of him.

He would need to establish a home range, find prey, and survive against competitors in the forests of the Russian taiga—a harsh environment with long, cold winters.

Uporny dashing through the forest
 

Over the next five months, the researchers waited anxiously for Uporny to settle as he steadily roamed northward in search of a home range.

But the cat showed signs that he was adjusting well to his new life.

birdseye view of Uporny walking through the forest
tree branches
map of Uporny's territory

Over the next five months, the researchers waited anxiously for Uporny to settle as he steadily roamed northward in search of a home range.

But the cat showed signs that he was adjusting well to his new life.

map of Uporny's territory

The clearest sign was his diet. Through field excursions, researchers noted that the cat was hunting well, regularly catching boar, red deer, and in one case, a female moose—an exceptionally large prey for a tiger.

The clearest sign was his diet. Through field excursions, researchers noted that the cat was hunting well, regularly catching boar, red deer, and in one case, a female moose—an exceptionally large prey for a tiger.

Boar, red deer and moose
 

November 2015

After months on the move, traveling over 430 miles, Uporny finally settled in the Gur Valley River.

He was home.

sky
mountains
valley
foreground tree
Uporny looking out at the valley

November 2015

After months on the move, traveling over 430 miles, Uporny finally settled in the Gur Valley River.

He was home.

 

September 2016

The following fall, researchers even discovered evidence that Uporny had found a mate—a great sign, since rehabilitated animals often show poor social skills.

paw prints on muddy ground
foreground tree

September 2016

The following fall, researchers even discovered evidence that Uporny had found a mate—a great sign, since rehabilitated animals often show poor social skills.

Because they were learning so much from Uporny's movements, the research team decided to leave his GPS collar on for another year and a half.

Because they were learning so much from Uporny's movements, the research team decided to leave his GPS collar on for another year and a half.

Uporny walking away and looking back at the camera

March 2017

And that extension of their study led them here.

Life in the taiga is unforgiving; only the strongest survive.

March 2017

And that extension of their study led them here.

Life in the taiga is unforgiving; only the strongest survive.

Uporny buried in the snow
 

An autopsy is conducted to reveal what caused Uporny's death.

All evidence points towards a fight with another large predator, almost certainly another male tiger.

snow background
snow foreground with trees
two tigers fighting
snow spray
snow spray

An autopsy is conducted to reveal what caused Uporny's death.

All evidence points towards a fight with another large predator, almost certainly another male tiger.

For WWF-Russia, Uporny became a symbol for the freedom and struggle of survival in the wild.

He was captured, rehabilitated, and forced to adapt all over again.

He lived freely in the forest for two years, in the harshest conditions, with temperatures dropping to -40°F and snow up to five feet deep.

He successfully killed large prey, and we believe he found a mate.

Uporny lived a truly wild life, and met a wild end.

For WWF-Russia, Uporny became a symbol for the freedom and struggle of survival in the wild.

He was captured, rehabilitated, and forced to adapt all over again.

He lived freely in the forest for two years, in the harshest conditions, with temperatures dropping to -40°F and snow up to five feet deep.

He successfully killed large prey, and we believe he found a mate.

Uporny lived a truly wild life, and met a wild end.

Uporny looking at camera
 

"He shared his life story with us," says Fomenko.

"With natural causes leading to so many tiger deaths in this region, it's important to keep threats from humans to an absolute minimum."

snowy background
Researcher holding Uporny's tracking collar

"He shared his life story with us," says Fomenko.

"With natural causes leading to so many tiger deaths in this region, it's important to keep threats from humans to an absolute minimum."

This intimate look into the life of an Amur tiger will help us ensure the safety of this vulnerable species...

This intimate look into the life of an Amur tiger will help us ensure the safety of this vulnerable species...

light filtering onto the forest floor
 

...and future populations will owe their continued success in part to one stubborn tiger.

green background
Tigers walking through the forest
bushes
trees

...And future populations will owe their continued success in part to one stubborn tiger.


Uporny's rehabilitation was the result of collaboration between Khabarovsky Province Hunting Department's Tiger Conflict Resolution Group, the Utyos Rehabilitation Center, WWF-Russia, and the Amur Tiger Center.

Since the beginning of 2017, three other tigers have been rehabilitated and released through these partners' work. Two tiger cubs have also been rescued and are currently being rehabilitated.


Back to top.

Explore More

About
World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

View all issues