Carmen Iben, Global Animal
Russian President Vladimir Putin led endangered Siberian cranes on a flying expedition last week, à la the 1996 film Fly Away Home. But it wasn’t a full success. Putin’s latest stunt left two birds dead, despite the focus of his expedition on species protection. On the surface, the goal to teach Siberian cranes how to migrate appears to be a good idea, as this comes at a time when the birds’ traditional wintering grounds have become polluted with poaching, creating a real threat for the already endangered birds. Putin reportedly recognized this, but the project has not only been relatively unsuccessful, but also harmful and even deadly for the birds.
Though he is not yet a certified pilot, Russian newspaper RIA-Novosti reports that Putin has been flying an ultralight aircraft from the Kushevat ornithological sanctuary where the cranes were raised, to new grounds in Uzbekistan. The birds will have a lot of work to do. They need to complete about 750 miles worth of training with the ultralight before attempting the 2,000-mile trip to their new man-made home.
During the flights last Wednesday, only two of the five birds that followed Putin’s aircraft on its second attempt were able to keep up with him, suggesting that the project may need improving.
The flights turned out to be harmful to the rare birds, as one crane was caught in the plane’s propeller and brutally mangled. With less than 20 of these Siberian cranes left in the wild, the world cannot afford to lose even one.
This is not the first time one of Putin’s publicity stunts has caused unnecessary injuries. While the Russian president is known for displaying his commitment toward saving endangered animals, reports of animals harmed on site in direct relation to his stunts have sparked accusations of animal cruelty.
Last year, Putin was photographed alongside a rare snow leopard in Siberia, another media opportunity to improve his tough guy image and self-proclaimed love of animals. But a closer look by the World Wildlife Fund revealed that the leopard was seized from a nature reserve 160 km away and held in captivity for a week. The leopard was eventually flown back to his place of capture, but not without suffering facial injuries by the scientists who kept him imprisoned for the president.
In many of these instances, Putin’s desire to make news by appearing with animals has actually turned out to be borderline animal abuse, as many unnecessary animal casualties have occurred in direct result to his efforts. While these deaths and injuries often go unreported, it is our job to discourage President Putin from trying any more of his animal stunts.