A rare Siberian tiger cub that was part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wildlife conservation program was recently shot, RT, a Russian television network, reported Sunday. The cub was shot at “point-blank” range near a village in the southern region of Khabarovsky Krai. A group of tourists discovered what they assumed to be a cub, as adult Siberian tigers typically weigh 160-720 kilograms, or up to nearly 1,600 pounds, and measure 2-3 meters, or up to more than 9 feet, long. The animal they found weighed just 50 kilograms, or 110 pounds, and was only 1.2 meters long.

The tourists said the cub was still warm when they found it, and that it bore several gunshot wounds and a smashed face. They left the cub because they had no cell phones to report the incident and feared that the mother Siberian tiger might return. When they returned to the site the next day, the body of the cub was nowhere to be found.

“The cub must have been learning to hunt and jumped out onto the road. People who saw it must have been taken by surprise and fired shots,” Yevgeny, a witness, told Kommersant daily, The Siberian Times reported. “We saw a logging Kamaz [lorry] 3 kilometers away and think the tiger was killed by loggers, because they were the only people in the area. Although, of course, it might have been killed by poachers.”

Putin began a wildlife campaign in 2008 to protect rare Siberian tigers. Putin, in collaboration with the Amur Tiger Center and World Wildlife Fund, implemented new laws that tightened the penalties for poachers who killed the tigers. In the 1940s, there were only 30 to 40 Siberian tigers. However, in June, the RT reported that the preliminary results of a census showed a population of 480 to 540 Siberian tigers, with 100 of them being cubs. In the last decade, there has been an increase of about 50 new tigers.  

The habitat for Siberian tigers lies along the border of Russia and China.