Leonardo DiCaprio braved scary skies to get to a summit devoted to saving the world’s tigers, donating one million dollars (£630,000) to the cause and earning high praise from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The Hollywood star arrived in St Petersburg on Tuesday after two flight dramas, Putin said, just managing to make the meeting where officials from the 13 countries where tigers still live in the wild agreed to a program to save the big cats from extinction.
DiCaprio was one of more than 200 people aboard a Moscow-bound Delta airlines flight that had to return to New York’s John F Kennedy airport on Sunday when other pilots reported seeing a flash in one engine of the departing plane.
The actor then took a private jet that had to land in Finland early Tuesday for refuelling because of strong winds, Putin said.
“Not everyone would be willing to take a plane again after what Mr DiCaprio experienced, but he did,” he told the audience at a rock concert dedicated to the tiger conservation effort. “Here, in Russia, we call such a person a ‘real man’.”
“If wildlife and tiger conservation is in the hands of people with such character, we are destined to succeed,” he said.
DiCaprio, who watched Putin at St Petersburg’s historic Mikhailovsky theatre, committed one million dollars to conservation group WWF to help support anti-poaching efforts and protect tiger habitat, the group said in a statement.
DiCaprio has already helped the group raise millions for tiger conservation earlier this year, it said.
The number of tigers worldwide has plunged some 95% over the past century, to just 3,200 tigers living in the wild. The Global Tiger Recovery Program estimates the 13 nations countries will need about £222 million in outside funding in the first five years of the 12-year plan.
The countries – including Russia, whose Far East is home to Siberian tigers, the largest tiger subspecies – have agreed to double the tiger population by 2022, crack down on poaching and illicit trade in tiger pelts and body parts.