A senior engineer at the Dalpribor factory was the first to spot the tracks in the fresh snow, right there on Borodinsky Street in downtown Vladivostok, next to the bloody remains of a half-eaten dog.
Specialists were summoned. They measured the huge paw prints -- each pad was four inches wide -- and confirmed the stunning news: for the first time in a hundred years, a wild Amur tiger was prowling the streets of the biggest city in the Soviet Far East.
According to reports in two Moscow newspapers last week, a hunting party was organized the same day. All roads to Vladivostok were closed off, and a helicopter was commandeered for the chase.
Toward evening, the tiger finally was spotted lurking near a trolley bus stop on the city's outskirts. When he jumped out, he was shot to death. According to the newspaper Syelskaya Zhizn, the young beast measured nearly 10 feet and weighed more than 440 pounds.
The drama in Vladivostok -- where the tiger is the city symbol -- was only one of several tiger sightings this winter in settlements in the Soviet Far East. There have been numerous reports of attacks on livestock and a few on humans, according to the Soviet press. And now, in recognition of the problem, a new division has been created in the Russian Republic's hunting directorate that will supervise control of large predators.
As tigers creep out of the taiga forests and into villages, towns and cities to prey on dogs and livestock, experts have become alarmed, both for the once-endangered wild cats and their potential prey.
"Many people go skiing in winter in the wooded zone around Vladivostok," reported the local correspondent of Syelskaya Zhizn, the main Soviet agricultural newspaper. "Their lives are in danger."
The trend is explained in part by the growth in the Amur tiger population, found mainly in the Primorsky region of eastern Siberia. An endangered species, listed in the Soviet Union's book of protected animals, the Amur tiger has recovered from a critical period before World War II, when its numbers dwindled to a mere 30: last year the population had risen to 290, according to the newspaper Trud.
Still, the tiger population is considered "minimal" for the survival of the species, experts are reported as saying. The problem, therefore, is not the number of tigers, but their appetites.
As the wilds of eastern Siberia have developed, the tigers' sources of food have dwindled. The felling of the taiga forests and widespread poaching have reduced greatly the numbers of wild boar and deer, which are the tigers' natural prey.
Bested in the wilds by human competition, the tigers have turned to more domesticated sources, slinking by night into collective farms (one farm in the Primorsky region reported 11 pigs killed by a tiger in a single night last January) or feeding off dogs abandoned by their owners at dachas, or country places.
"Cases of attacks on livestock, even people, have grown more and more frequent," Syelskaya Zhizn noted. "This caused specialists in the main hunting directorate to create a service for the control of large predators such as tigers, snow leopards and the white-chested bear."
One suggestion is to create a protective zone for tigers and hoofed animals in existing game reserves, and to open new reserves.
"It is necessary to ensure thoroughly that the rare predator lives only in the taiga and that its visits to town and villages should cease," the newspaper concluded.
But already, the newspapers have carried accounts of attacks on humans, including one on a gamekeeper who was bitten to the bone and was reported in critical condition. In two cases, the tigers were reported shot and killed -- to the dismay of protectionists.
Although tiger hunts were outlawed 40 years ago, permits apparently are given to shoot animals when they range near populated settlements. Last year, 20 such permits were granted, according to Trud.
According to V. Zhivotchenko and other tiger experts interviewed last year by the government newspaper Izvestia, problems between humans and tigers are not always the tigers' fault.
According to these experts, the Amur tiger is "calm and balanced" and lacks the vicious qualities of its Bengal cousin. An experienced tiger-catcher is quoted as saying that tigers rarely attack first.
According to the Izvestia article, the key to surviving a meeting with an Amur tiger is to "let him know you have no claims to his hunting ground and are not afraid of him."
Climbing trees or running away is not a solution, Zhivotchenko said. In the first case, "tigers can wait for a very long time"; in the second, showing one's back to a tiger "only stimulates the beast," he said.
"Improper behavior" toward an Amur tiger can have fateful consequences. The Izvestia article recounted a tale of two villagers who followed a tiger as it dragged a dead animal into the forest.
The tiger, irritated by its followers, attacked one of the men and then lay on top of him. According to the article, the villager then made the mistake of poking the tiger in the eye with a stick, prompting it to close its jaws and "crunch bones."
Somehow, the man survived, but, the article regretfully noted, the tiger was shot dead.