MOSCOW, November 13 (RIA Novosti) – A local hunter was convicted of deliberately killing an Amur tiger in the Russian Far East on Tuesday, the near-unique verdict following a tricky investigation that took two years to complete.
A magistrate in Primorye Region found Alexander Belyayev guilty of illegal hunting and sentenced him to 14 months of correctional labor and a fine of 575,000 rubles ($18,000), WWF Russia said.
Belyayev also had his hunting rifle confiscated and was prohibited from hunting for life, the watchdog said in a statement.
Belyayev pleaded self-defense and promised to appeal the verdict, which was passed two days before the statute of limitations expired.
This is only the third time a tiger slayer has been convicted in Russia since 2009, and the fourth such case since the fall of the Soviet Union, said Pavel Fomenko of WWF Russia.
The tiger’s body was found on forested hunting grounds with five gunshot wounds on Nov. 15, 2010.
Belyayev admitted to shooting the animal, which belongs to an endangered species, but claimed he was defending himself from the attacking tiger, which lightly injured him, leaving scratches on his forehead.
“But it was the fattest tiger I’ve seen in my professional career, and it had just eaten a piglet,” Fomenko told RIA Novosti. “It had no reason to attack a human!”
Amur tigers only attack humans unless they are provoked or too weakened to hunt for their regular prey, deer and wild pigs.
But this particular tiger – “a mighty fine specimen!” – had been shot twice in its backside and once in its back, said Fomenko, who conducted the tiger autopsy in the case and proved these wounds were the first to be inflicted on the animal.
“You need to be a prestidigitator to shoot an attacking tiger in its hindquarters,” Fomenko said.
Reconstructing the events took months of meticulous study of the incident’s traces in the snow, the animal’s injuries, the trajectories of the bullets and even the tiger’s mood, as reported by foresters in the area.
Experts eventually concluded that Belyayev – possibly accompanied by an unidentified person – shot the tiger from behind, injuring it. The animal tried to get away while the hunter approached it, apparently to finish it off, but failed to land a good shot. The tiger attacked Belyayev, but could not do any serious harm because both of its front paws were crippled, and then slouched off to die overnight of blood loss and shock.
The investigation could not establish the motive for the tiger shooting. Fomenko said poaching was unlikely and put it down to Belyayev’s lack of moral fiber, expressed in words unfit for publication.
The population of the Amur tiger, one of six extant tiger subspecies, found only in Russia’s Far East and some areas of Northern China, currently stands at some 500. The species enjoys special protection of President Vladimir Putin, who presided over an international tiger summit in 2010, spearheading the effort to save the big cats from extinction.
From 30 to 50 Amur tigers are killed by poachers and irresponsible hunters every year, according to expert estimates, but most cases never reach court, Fomenko said.