Artist’s conception. (Original photos by Jackie and Agencia Brasil.)

There are 20 white cranes left in the world. But for one special day, there were 21. OK, the extra crane wasn’t really a crane. It was Russian President Vladimir Putin on a hang-glider, wearing a white jumpsuit and a crane nose.

The idea was for Putin to be a sort of Rudolph the Crane-Nosed Reindeer, because apparently the cranes can’t get to where they’re going on plain old reliable crane instinct. This sounds sort of far-fetched until you consider the fact there’s only like, fucking 20 of them left in existence — news flash, white cranes do not have their shit together in any way, shape, or form. When it comes to migrating they’ll take whatever help they can get, even a douche in a crane outfit to lead the way.

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Putin, so disparaged as a humanitarian, has of late been doing his best to resurrect himself as an animaltarian, or at least someone who does stuff about animals that’s either brave (rescuing people from tigers), generally swashbuckling (tagging a whale with a dart), or miscellaneous/innocuous (hanging out with snow leopards). Of course, being a tyrant and a liar and so on, it’s not clear how much of this stuff he’s actually done and how much of it he’s just made it look like he’s done so he can spend his time doing things he’s really good at, like jailing Pussy Riot and then not letting them eat vegan.

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Of course no story about Putin, even one where he tries to save a bunch of animals who can barely manage to field a softball team, ends without someone either getting poisoned or getting fired. The editor of the most famous Russian science magazine refused to cover this event. And then she was fired, and she sent out a tweet blaming Putin. Apparently the president has compassion for hapless endangered cranes but not hapless endangered journalists.

UPDATE: Here’s video!