/ 11 October 2008

Happy birthday, Mr Putin, here’s a tiger!

He is famous for his macho stunts — which have included stripping to his waist during a Siberian fishing trip, skiing down a volcano and doing judo.

But on Friday, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s answer to Action Man, went one step further when he showed off his latest birthday present: a rare two-and-a-half-month-old Siberian tiger.

The Russian Prime Minister, who turned 56 on Tuesday, was given the tiger as a present. On Friday he posed with the animal at his dacha outside Moscow, stroking her affectionately.

”It’s the most original present of my life,” he told Russian TV.

Putin refused to say who had given him the female tiger, which is to be called either Mashenko or Milashka.

”She eats meat — two kilos in the morning and two kilos in the evening,” Putin explained, adding that he intended to transfer it from its temporary home in a dog basket to a Russian zoo.

The Siberian or Ussuri tiger is extremely rare, with only between 520 and 550 in Russia. On Friday wildlife experts said they were optimistic the species would survive, adding that the biggest threat was no longer poaching but the destruction of habitat.

”The number of animals is stable,” said Vladimir Kerzer, of WWF Russia. ”We are against having big cats like tigers as animals in the home. They could be dangerous.”

Putin is not the first Russian politician to own a tiger. Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin president, has his own private zoo, which includes tigers, leopards and exotic birds. — guardian.co.uk