Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled off his latest feat, helping a flock of critically endangered Siberian white cranes in their migration to Asia Wednesday. Putin piloted a motorized hang-glider in the Siberian skies, guiding the flock of the migratory cranes.
The Russian president, known for his stunts with animals, led the flock as a surrogate parent in the first leg of the 5000-km migration to their winter habitat in Asia.
According to the local media reports, the birds responded positively and followed the president who wore a white suit. He acted as a surrogate parent or a chief crane of the group, leading the direction of their flight.
The cranes were raised in captivity and so they needed guidance to detect their natural migration route.
The birds are being trained by experienced pilots to migrate towards the warmer areas in Asia in mid September, under a project named the "Flight of Hope" to save the Siberian cranes.
"The role of the pilot is the leader of the flock. He shows the route of the flight," scientist Yuri Markin told the Russian News Service.
"For cranes, the parent is a man in a white robe. They don't remember a particular person. They remember the white robe and hood, or on the ultralight, a white helmet - and a special beak that is worn on the head," said Markin.
According to a local news agency, the birds accepted him as the "parent crane" and flew with him in two of his three flights. Putin was supposed to wear a beak. However, it was not confirmed whether the president had worn the beak.
Putin's spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov confirmed to the Russian newspapers that the president had been training to pilot the motorized hang-glider for the purpose of guiding the cranes.
Putin participated in the project near Kushevat village in the Arctic en route to Vladivostok where he was to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
The Siberian crane is one of the critically endangered species and there exist only around 3000 birds in the wild.
Putin, who is known for his steely image of an unrelenting and shrewd politician, has been in news for similar stunts with the animals in the past. In an attempt to project him as an adventurous and passionate wildlife lover and fearless leader, Putin had earlier kept a tranquilized polar bear as pet, tracked a Siberian tiger and shot that with a tranquilizer and shot a grey whale with a sample collecting dart in the past. He even rode a horse bare-chested.
His latest stunt has amused his critics. Social networking sites are abuzz with cartoons and jokes about his flight with the birds. His opponents allege that these stunts are stage managed for Putin's publicity.