an expedition to russia with hope of a glance of the siberian tiger
Natural World Safaris MD, Will Bolsover, heads to the Far East of Russia in search of the biggest cat in the world ... the Siberian tiger.
Slightly fuzzy eyed, I have arrived for my first time ever in Russia. With a 4 hour flight to Moscow and then an onward 8 hour flight to Khabaravosk and the Far East of Russia (Siberia), I suddenly get an idea of the true scale of this monster of a country. As we arrive into Khabaravosk I look out of my window to see miles and miles of snowy tundra stretching out below me and my search for the elusive Siberian tiger begins… or so I thought…
The first news on arrival is that it has actually snowed SO much that it is not even possible to get to the reserve, a 4 hour drive away, today. Instead we are to set out early in the morning with the help of snow mobiles to get to the remote reserve that is home to approximately 70 of the world’s remaining 400 critically endangered Amur (or Siberian) tigers.
After being met at the airport by the lovely Olga and the head conservationist Alexander, we head across town to my hotel where I have a chance to settle in and prepare for the hopeful adventures ahead. The journey is enlightening as Olga translates my questions for Alexander, a man who must be in his sixties and who has dedicated his last 20 years to the survival of the Amur Tiger. Both good and bad news greet me on the way through town as I am informed that unfortunately Alexander can’t be with me for the first few days as he has to attend a conference in town which focuses on the recent census figures that are being published on the Amur tiger. The good news however, is that by all accounts, in the Khabaravosk region the numbers have stabilised and possibly even increased providing a glimmer of hope for one of the world’s most elusive big cats. The area surrounding Vladivostock, located further south east of where we are, still remains the largest habitat for these big cats hence the importance of the upcoming conference to get an idea of how the overall population has fared over recent years.
To be clear from the outset, I do not expect to see any of these endangered felines up close and personal as they truly are elusive. The main aim of my time here is to understand the work that is going on behind the scenes, spend time with Alexander and his son who work tirelessly to protect this hidden corner of Russia, and to set up and monitor camera traps to see if we can get a glimpse into the world of these rare beasts.
I have been told however, that due to the recent heavy snowfall, our chances are not looking good as the depth of the snow literally means that the wildlife of the region stays in place and waits it out and with more snowfall forecast it is going to be tough … but watch this space!
In remote Russia Will is continuing his blog via satellite phone SMS messages.
AM: After a four hour journey with snow plows clearing the way through the heavy snow we arrived at the reserve. Conditions here are very basic; a group of log cabins in the middle of the woods where hardcore conservationists are doing their best in tricky conditions. The snow here is waist deep which will make it hard to see very much but there is news that a tiger has killed a goat in the nearby vicinity so this afternoon we are heading out to check the camera traps to see what if they managed to catch any footage.
PM: This afternoon was spent out and about trying to reach the camera traps through waist deep snow! Our first attempt ended in getting the snowmobile stuck and having to dig it out - they haven't had snow like this for years and it makes it very hard for both humans and wildlife to move around. This also results in there being fewer animal tracks to follow.
We head out again later in the day and this time manage to access one of the cameras but no joy today. We reset the trap and hope for better luck tomorrow. The snow should be harder which will make it easier to get around and plan to head to an old hunting hut where I've been promised a wild boar BBQ!
Tonight I've been through plenty of old footage of tigers in the camera traps. There are about eight individuals directly in this area and March is the prime month for mating. Whilst seeing tigers in the flesh is unlikely, my best friend is a flare gun that I carry in my jacket pocket the whole time ... although I think there is more likelihood that I will need it in the long drop toilet rather than anywhere else.