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BEIJING — Russia’s latest border incursion has farmers on edge in northeastern China, where the authorities have banned them from climbing, hiking and collecting wood in a mountainous area where the two nations meet.
The border has been breached by two large Siberian tigers that were personally released into the wild with much fanfare by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Both appear to have an appetite for Chinese food: One of the duo, called Ustin, went on a killing spree earlier this week, leaving 15 Chinese goats dead. Three more are missing.
Its partner in crime, Kuzya, crossed the border a month earlier and nabbed several Chinese chickens.
"Of course everyone is very worried about it," local police officer Su Chunlei told NBC News. "We hope it will just go back to Russia as soon as possible."
According to China’s Xinhua news agency, Russian experts two years ago rescued five tiger cubs, including Ustin and Kuzya.
Now somewhat larger, the pair were released by Putin in May in a remote Russian Amur region, some 300 miles away from where they crossed the border.
Guo Yulin, the goat farmer, told Xinhua that the goat’s skulls were crushed by the tiger. "When I opened the goat house in the morning, dead goats were everywhere," he said.
Both tigers are fitted with a GPS tracker, and there have been several sightings of Ustin this week —most recently on Wednesday.
The police filmed a short video of the tiger, prowling and then crouching in deep snow after it was spotted near a gas station.
"There’s a lot of snow these days," said Su Chunlei, the police officer. "We guess the tiger became hungry and came in search of food."
There are reckoned to be about 350 adult Siberian tigers left in the wild, most of them in the Russian far east.
Worried that farmers might take the law into their own hands, the local Chinese authorities have issued a warning that tigers are protected in China, and that anybody killing or hurting the tiger will be punished.
A lot more than tiger welfare is at stake, since relations between the two giant neighbors have been warming.
But that has not prevented calls in China’s social media for Putin’s tigers to be hunted down. Others have suggested it is all a Kremlin conspiracy, a spying mission across a border that used to be hotly disputed.