Interpreter’s mistake gets Korea free Siberian tigers!

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Russia has agreed to donate three Siberian tigers to Korea, the Environment Ministry announced Monday. Siberian tigers, also known as Manchurian or Korean tigers, once widely inhabited the Korean Peninsula but the species is now on the verge of extinction with only a small number living in the wild in the Russian Far East. Korea currently has 51 of the tigers living in captivity which came from the United States and North Korea. Of them, 24 are in the Seoul Zoo.

Russia’s tiger donation came about partly through an interpreter’s mistake. While visiting Korea in June, a Russian delegation led by Vladimir Kirillov, the head of Russia’s Federal Supervisory Natural Resources Management Service, went to the National Institute of Biological Resources with Vice Environment Minister Lee Byung-wook to see a display of mounted animals, including a Siberian tiger.

During the tour, a Korean official said, “Korea is very interested in Siberian tigers.” But the interpreter mistranslated the comment, and asked about Russia’s willingness to donate the animals. In response, Kirillov asked if Korea could raise donated tigers in the wild.

“The government didn’t give much thought to the remarks at the time, but it seems Kirillov proposed the donation while briefing Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on his visit to Korea,” a ministry official said. The Environment Ministry made an official request to Russia for the donation of the tigers in a bilateral environmental cooperation meeting in Moscow on Oct. 30.

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