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Putin 'Saves' Russian TV Crew From Siberian Tiger

  • RFE/RL

Vladimir Putin (left) tagging the tiger

Vladimir Putin (left) tagging the tiger

Stalking his prey in the Siberian taiga, rifle in hand, Russia's prime minister looked every bit the war hero.

But beneath the camouflage, it was Vladimir Putin's kinder, gentler side on display when he reportedly rescued a Russian television crew on August 31 that had strayed too close to an endangered Siberian (Ussuri) tiger.

"We probably came too close to her," Rossia television film director Violetta Sergeyeva said after she was "saved" when Putin shot the 5-year old cat with a tranquilizer gun. "She suddenly got loose and rushed to us. A miracle saved us."

Visiting Russia's Far East to demand that construction of a new oil pipeline to Asia be speeded up, Putin had taken time out to participate in the bagging and tagging of one of Russia's most prized and endangered species.

The foray into the woods also helped hone the former president's image as a hardy outdoorsman and environmentalist, in stark contrast to his appearance as a tough-talking statesman.

"You have to look out for No. 1," Putin told Rossia television as the EU prepared to meet the next day to decide how to respond to Russia's recent war with Georgia. "I think that many of our partners, and first of all our European partners, will be guided by this fairly crude but very descriptive saying."

On August 31, Putin saw little chance that Brussels would take steps that would further cool deteriorating relations. And after being seen in video footage carefully helping to measure and attach a tracking collar to the tiger he tranquilized, he had nothing but praise for the West's work with Russia in helping to boost the prized species' numbers.

"First of all, we must thank our colleagues, Americans, European colleagues for being involved with this together with our scientists during a difficult time for Russia when no one was paying any attention to this," Putin said.

The tiger, which once roamed the Korean Peninsula and parts of China and Mongolia, is now confined primarily to Russia's southern Far East. Fewer than 600 are estimated to exist in the region.

with agency reporting