On Sunday night, Lara and Akamas, two endangered Siberian tigers, arrived at the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling, West Bengal. This marks the return of Siberian tigers to India after the last one in Nainital Zoo passed away in November 2011. The tigers were transported in special ambulances from Kolkata airport as part of an animal exchange program, having been flown from Cyprus.

The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, renowned for its conservation efforts, had hosted a Siberian tiger until 2007. Both tigers are currently in quarantine in separate enclosures and will be moved to another enclosure for public viewing after a month, according to Basavraj Holeyachi, the director of the zoo.

In reciprocation for the animal exchange program, the zoo sent a pair of Red Pandas to Cyprus’s Pafos Zoo. The Darjeeling Zoo is internationally recognized for its successful conservation and breeding program for Red Pandas, currently housing 25 of them.

The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park initiated the first ex-situ snow leopard conservation breeding program in 1986, followed by the Red Panda project four years later. Notably, Kunal and Mahesh, two Siberian tigers, were sent to Nainital from Darjeeling in 1997, with Mahesh passing away in 2001.

As of 2022, the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated the Siberian tiger population in eastern Russia to be around 265 to 486, with their presence also noted in China and potentially North Korea.

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