Putin's tiger cub defects!

Putin's tiger cub defects to China: Satellite tracking shows endangered beast collared by Russian president has made the trip over the border 

A Siberian tiger called Kuzya released into the wild by Vladimir Putin has defected - to China.

Satellite tracking signals from a special collar shows that he swam across the Amur River border on Sunday, newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported.

Ecologists say that the endangered Amur tiger was probably looking for better nutrition but there are now fears for his safety after he left the Jewish Automomous Republic in the Russian Far East. Vasiliy Gorobeiko, deputy head of natural resources management in the republic, said he is concerned because China is more populated and he could be shot for worrying farm animals.

'Certainly, China will be informed about President Putin's tiger via Foreign Affairs ministry channels but time is needed for this information to reach local ecologists, and before then the tiger may well alarm the local villagers and may even suffer,' he said. 'Kuzya knows how to avoid people and did so well in Russia but in that agricultural area of China, it will be hard for him.'

Putin released Kuzya - then 19 months old - and two other tigers into the wild on 22 May in a remote area of Amur region. Kuzya was the bravest one and was the first to escape to the wild taiga, the natural habitat of the species.

'We can only hope that Kuzya changes his mind and swims back to Russia as soon as possible, while the river is not iced over,' said the newspaper. News of the tiger defection came the day after Putin celebrated his 62nd birthday on retreat in Siberia.

It comes amid reports of business people seeking to go abroad due to the plunging rouble and an economic crisis worsened by Western sanctions. Today the Kremlion strongman was in Siberia's largest city Novosibirsk opening a new bridge over the Ob River.

Putin has led efforts to protect the Amur tigers. The wild population of tigers is now several hundred, still well below a sustainable level without major conservation efforts.

Putin was recently behind the unveiling of a computer animated tiger cub as a new character on Russia's longest-running children's TV programme.