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Putin tells world about plight of Siberian cranes

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06 September 2012


Touch down. Vladimir Putin pictured after the end of the flight. Picture:

At the controls of a motorised hang-glider, and dressed in white overalls, he guilded five birds as they prepare to leave the Kushavet ornithological research station on the Yamal Peninsula, in search of a warmer winter. 

Vladimir Putin's flight - seen by many as his latest macho-man stunt - immediately provoked a flurry of internet jokes, opposition scorn and predicatable Western media mockery. 

Yet according to one major international news database, the endangered Siberian cranes had barely rated a mention in the past year in the world's media until Putin's flight. 

In the 24 hours since the story broke, hundreds of reports revealed the plight of these elegant birds of which there are now only 3,000 left in the wild as Yamal-Nanets featured on newspaper and TV maps around the globe. 

Unlike other birds, the cranes - born in captivity -  eagerly follow the hang glider and pilot in white flapping overalls, associating it with tailing a parent in a tried and tested method of teaching the young birds to fly south. 

white cranes

White cranes, pictured minutes before the 'flying lesson'. Picture:

The theory is that the juvenile birds need to be wooed into doing what should come naturally - migrating. The more cranes that succeed in safely reaching Asia, and returning next year, the greater the hope to save the species.

'For cranes, the parent is a man in a white robe,' explained Yuri Markin, the director of the game reserve.  

'They don't remember a particular person. They remember the white robe and hood, or on the ultralight, a white helmet - and a special beak that is worn on the head.'

Pilots often wear a beak to add to the authenticity, but TV pictures showed Putin without this adornment. 

'They got used to it. They are not afraid, they are overtaking the deltaplane,' said a smiling Putin after landing. 

'They are overtaking, approaching the wing from the left, from the right, from above. Well done. Beautiful guys. Cute. They are three months old, but already quite big.'

He brushed aside criticism of his high-profile wildlife preservation stunts which have included a whale, a Siberian tiger, and and polar bear - telling RT: 'All the preservation programmes we have started are still working.

'I don't know what animal will be next. I will let the scientists decide. I am not just doing this for fun'.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Ready to take off, and lduring the landing: Vladimir Putin pictured at the beginning and end of the flight. Pictures: Russia Today

The Putin flight in northern Siberia brought instead reaction from around the world. 

The New York Times reported: 'Vladimir V. Putin is the unquestioned supreme leader of Russia, known for his icy stare and steely ways. But now Mr. Putin has taken on a new, perhaps more tender, leadership role. He has guided a flock of birds - through the air'.

Shortly before takeoff opined:  'Vladimir Putin - the tiger sedater, the skin-diving archeologist, the motorcycle rider, the bare-chested horseman - plans to try on another role: mother hen.'

In Paris, Agence France Presse reported: 'The Russian president over recent years has made a speciality of meeting some of Russia's rarest wildlife at close quarters, including an Amur tiger, a snow leopard, a beluga whale and polar bear.

'Putin has taken projects to save these species under his own personal patronage, although critics accuse him of being more interested in attractive photo-opportunities than the environment.'

And The Times in London headlined its report: 'Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Putin, leader of the flock'.

Vladimir Putin

In the air... the white crane is pictured following Vladimir Putin's plane. Picture: Russia Today

With Russian politics bitterly divided, opposition figures seized on the flight, with  Alexei Navalny mocking: 'About Stalin they said 'In the night, a light will burn in the window'. And of Putin they will say: 'He flew over our homes with a flock of cranes'.

In reference to a leaked US embassy assessment of Putin, one cartoon flying round the web showed the president with cardboard wings telling the resentful looking cranes: 'Let's assign roles right now. I'll be the alpha crane!'.

In another Putin told the birds: 'I will save you'. A crane replied: 'Maybe I'd better die out.'

There were claims that journalist Masha Gessen, author of a book critical of Putin. She appeared to have been fired from her post as editor of travel and science magazine Vokrug Sveta (Around the World) after refusing to send a reporter from Moscow to cover the Arctic flight event.

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