Putin Gets Tiger Cub for Birthday

Ria-NovostiPutin showing reporters a 2-month-old tiger cub given to him for his 56th birthday on Thursday in Novo-Ogaryovo.
There's no doubt what Vladimir Putin's favorite birthday present is this year — a rare Ussuri tiger cub.

State television showed the prime minister tenderly petting the 2-month-old female cub on Friday at his residence outside Moscow. The cub, weighing only about 10 kilograms, was curled up in a wicker basket with a tiger-print cushion.

Putin said a good home would be found for the tiger, presumably in a zoo or wildlife preserve. He hasn't decided what to call her but is leaning toward Mashenka or Milashka.

Putin refused to say who gave him the cub for his 56th birthday, which was Tuesday.

He called journalists to his country home late Thursday without telling them why. Past midnight, after asking them "not to make noise, make a clatter or squeal," Putin ushered the curious journalists into the room where the tiger cub was waiting.

As president and now prime minister, Putin is known for his tough talk and macho image. But children and animals seem to bring out a softer side.

His dog, a Labrador Retriever named Koni, is often with him, even during meetings with world leaders. He told journalists that Koni has not yet met the tiger cub.

In August, Putin had occasion to pet a full-grown female Ussuri tiger after shooting her with a tranquilizer gun. He was visiting a wildlife preserve in the Far East and shot the 5-year-old tiger as part of a program to track the rare cats.