Russia’s Siberia is home to about 500 Siberian Tigers, also called Amur Tigers. The Sikhote-Alin Biosphere is a protected area of 4000 square kilometres harbours 30 Amur Tigers. Due to these low numbers, and strict conservation laws, tracking these majestic creatures is difficult, but a rewarding experience. In fact, it is unlikely that you’ll come across a Siberian Tiger, but the thrill of tracking them, discovering their trails and signs is a thrilling experience. Siberian tigers are more than 1 metre tall, 3 metre long, and weigh 200 to 300 kgs. These tigers can leap up to six metres in a single bound and cover 100 metres in less than six seconds. They prefer to use the element of surprise and creep up behind their prey. With 16 razor sharp claws and enough jaw power to crush steel, these animals are formidable predators and thus, extreme caution is required while tracking them.
Amur Tigers are endangered and are at the centre of the world’s most stringent wildlife conservation efforts. During the mid-20th century, these animals were hunted relentlessly for their body parts and fur, which were then shipped to China for development of traditional Chinese medicine. The other reason for their dwindling numbers is the rampant deforestation and industrialization, both of which have destroyed their habitat. In the recent years, however, strict anti-poaching laws have been established to prohibit hunting. The Siberian Tiger Project is a tiger-research and conservation effort, wherein radiotracking is used to study their food habits, land use patterns, social structure, reproduction, mortality, and relations with other species including humans. With teams of experts working on the research and conservation efforts, the populations of Siberian Tigers have seen a revival.
Various tours and safaris are organized in the icy-cold jungles of Siberia to track these animals. The region records negative temperatures, and with poor visibility and rugged terrain, tracking the Amur Tigers is a challenging task. The forest reserve where these tigers are found is remote and offers small huts for accommodation, that are equipped with basic amenities. Local guides and experts accompany you through the jungle on the lookout for the tigers. The best mode of transport in these hills is snowmobiles that can easily navigate the terrain. Practically speaking, the chances of you coming face to face with a Siberian Tiger during a 10-12 day trip is very minimal. However travelling to this remote terrain, following pugmarks of this most elusive Tiger, hearing its stories from the locals is a lifetime experience by itself. In case you are one of the lucky ones to spot it, you will join an elite club of privileged few who have seen it with their eyes! The best way to experience these elusive beasts is to setup camera traps and then wait for them to pass by.
Along the way, you need to lay carefully planned camera traps with night-vision facility. Tigers prefer to prowl during the nights, so you need powerful cameras that get activated by motion. A typical tiger circumnavigates its home territory once in 10 days, so by laying the camera traps strategically, or using an observation post in the same area, you can increase your chances of spotting one. You can also visit the tiger-rehab reserve where ailing and injured tigers are looked after, and new-born cubs are cared for.
The forested mountainside is home to many other animals like musk deer, Siberian roe deer, red deer, sika deer, badgers, foxes, otters, and raccoon dogs. You are likely to come across one of these on your search for the elusive Amur Tiger. Apart from wildlife-viewing, you can also visit the local villages and the huts of hunters and fishermen. The locals here are hospitable and amongst them, you can truly appreciate their lives and culture.
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