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 Justine's Journal

CackleTV Productions


Siberian Tigers and kayaking in Far East Russia
Saturday, September 30, 2006

Alun and I have just returned from Far East Russia where we were making a TV programme about the Siberian tigers, for S4C. We flew into Vladivostok ( near the China and Korea borders, and directly West of Japan). I was really impressed by the beauty of the area and the friendliness of the people - Vladivostok itself is an attractive port, and as we drove through the Sikhote-Alin mountains we gazed upwards at a mass of shimmering yellows, reds and greens as the Autumn leaves began to fall.

Our first stop was Terney, 800km north of Vladivostok on the East coast. We were there to film the Wildlife Conservation Society radio-tracking Siberian tigers as part of their scientific research. I was focused on their work and I hadn't expected the scenery to be so stunning in it's own right. The coastline is made up of steep grey jagged cliffs, covered in lush green trees, and lapped by deep blue waters. Breaking up the cliffs are azure rivers snaking out to sea across sandy beaches or gravelly bars. We spent 2 days with John Goodrich from the WCS, walking on foot through the forest trying to track a female tiger with cubs. John hoped to pinpoint where the tiger was keeping her cubs, then wait until she went off hunting, and move in and radio collar the cubs. WCS' radio tracking work over the last 15 years has shown them valuable information which helps them conserve the tiger. Things like a single female tigress has a huge territory of 450 square kilometres, 80% of tigers are killed by man and 50% of cubs die within their first year ( mostly when their mothers are killed).

Unfortunately we didn't have the luck when we were there and our tigress moved off before we knew exactly where the cubs were, but it was a great experience to walk through the forest with John and his field assistant Nicoli, wondering what was silently watching you from under the trees and ocassionally being treated to amazing views down the coast. It was a beautiful hot sunny day and the only bad thing was an awful lot of nasty mosquittos in the forest. At the end of both days, Alun and I took a swim in the sea of Japan to wash the sweat and mosquitto bites off.

John has a feathercraft kayak that he sometimes uses to radio track the tigers from the sea and inevitably we talked a bit about the possibilities of kayaking down that stretch of coastline. It really does look temptingly beautiful and remote. Unsurprisingly it reminded me of nearby Kamchatka, although this part of Russia is not volcanic so the peaks aren't quite so conical. The surf isn't so big either as Japan shelters it from Pacific swells. There would be the added challenge of not only bears, but also 500 Siberian tigers, although John thinks you probably wouldn't even see either. The biggest complication would probably be getting permission to be there, as foreigners have to have a special permit to enter any 'borderzone' between Russia and another country - which includes the coastline. We had a permit to be there, but it took a month for the Russian organisation 'Phoenix' to get it for us, and they had to accompany us at all times. It looks like Alexey might get another call!

It was also fascinating to learn more about the Siberian tiger. Despite the usual threats of deforestation, poaching, lack of prey & conflict with man I actually left feeling quite positive about the future. While many of us think of the tiger as living in India & Asia, tiger numbers are dropping in these regions. The Siberian tiger is the only sub-species of tiger where numbers are actually stable. The main reasons for this are that it lives in the biggest unfragmented tiger forest in the world - about 13times the size of Wales, and in that forest are relatively few of the tigers biggest threat - man.

Thanks a lot to the Russian organistion, Phoenix, who arranged everytyhing for us and who co-ordinate and fund a lot of vital education and anti-poaching work in Russia.

Having problems posting photos - will try again later


Blogger Michael said...

Paddling a Feathercraft boat after tigers? Now that's got to be for the very brave wouldn't you think? Sounds like fun, though!
Always enjoy your blog, Justine! Where in the world will we find you next?

2:51 am  

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