Moscow (AFP) - A goat sent to a Russian safari park as live prey for a Siberian tiger has instead befriended the big cat and the two have become inseparable in a story that has captivated Russia.
Amur the tiger and Timur the goat now sleep in the same enclosure in the Primorsky safari park outside the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, eating and playing together in the snow. And this week they even playfully head-butted each other.
The story of the unusual friendship has touched hearts in Russia, with the safari park releasing regular updates on the pair and planning to install webcams in their enclosure.
Staff at the park say the male tiger, who has been given live animals to hunt and eat twice a week, did not touch the billy goat when it entered the enclosure last month because the goat did not show any fear.
"No one had taught the goat to be afraid of tigers," the park said in a statement.
Zoo chief Dmitry Mezentsev, who studies tigers and leopards, described the unlikely friendship as nothing short of a miracle.
"This is a sign from above," Mezentsev told AFP on Thursday.
"People, take a look at yourselves. There are wars everywhere -- Ukraine, Syria. While such different animals can live together in peace."
Mezentsev said staff realised the tiger would not eat the goat after the two had spent three days together.
Timur now sleeps inside the shelter where Amur previously rested, while the tiger spends the night on the roof.
- A morning stroll -
They meet up in the morning to walk around the spacious enclosure, with the goat usually following the tiger. Over the past few days, they have begun playing together and chasing each other.
On Wednesday, Timur challenged Amur, poking him with his horns.
"The tiger accepted the goat's challenge," the safari park said.
"He pushed his forehead against Timur's horns, the friends butted heads for five seconds without coming to blows, after which Amur calmly went to bask in the sun on the hill."
The tiger has also attempted to teach the goat how to catch prey and has recently taken a great interest in a block of salt given to Timur.
Amur is now being fed live rabbits for lunch -- "out of respect for goats," said Mezentsev.
Many praised the story as a welcome respite from a stream of doom-and-gloom news in a sanctions-hit nation that has been accused of fanning an insurgency in eastern Ukraine and which began a bombing campaign in Syria in September.
- Breaking the gloom -
"We liked the story of the friendship between the tiger and the goat simply because a normal person cannot always live amid the lies, hatred and humiliation," Gazeta.ru online wrote in an op-ed this week.
"One would like to believe it is possible not to gobble up the weak but be friends with them."
With the exchange rate also keeping Russians awake at night, the mass-circulation Komsomolskaya Pravda on Thursday went as far as to publish a joke about it.
"We are so tired of this rubbish! Any news on the tiger and the goat instead?"
The story has sparked calls for a fundraising campaign for the remote zoo, while many are worried that nature will prevail and Timur will eventually perish.
State news agency TASS quoted Novosibirsk zoo director Rostislav Shilo as saying the chance of the tiger eating the goat was 80 to 85 percent.
Mezentsev, however, begged to disagree.
"Timur is in no more danger than a human living next to another human."