The Sikhote-Alin Mountains. Photograph Ⓒ Jonathan C. Slaght

From the tight, conical confines of the blue-and-silver helicopter, I delighted in the view outside the thick porthole glass. We floated above the rippling rolls of bare oak and dull-green pine of the central Sikhote-Alin Mountains, and although it was already mid-April, winter still lingered. These mountains held snow where I expected to see the timid offerings of early spring.

My companions on this journey did not share my sense of wonder, however. Rather, they gazed introspectively at the metal floor or distractedly out the other portholes, silently analyzing their recent failures. We flew empty-handed to the village of Ternei after several hours unsuccessfully trying to locate and dart tigers for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Siberian Tiger Project.


Watch me avoid turning the first Bison into a disaster. Photograph courtesy Jeff Morey, WCS.

Click on the above photo or follow this YouTube link below for a nine-minute, LIVE telling of my Heeding the Sign story, from the inaugural The Bison performance held at the Bronx Zoo on July 8th, 2015.

“The Bison” is the Wildlife Conservation Society‘s new story-telling vehicle–a venue for field researchers and people from all walks of life to share their interactions with diverse wildlife across the globe. Thanks to Stephen Sautner, Nat Moss, Natalie Cash, Jeff Morey, and Steve Fairchild for making this a successful event (I only knock over the microphone once….).

All things considered, this could have been worse. Photograph © Jonathan C. Slaght

Unless milling about and smoking is part of their job description, some Russian laborers have perfected the art of taking breaks. I passed one such troupe recently; a half-dozen road workers honing their resting skills with pensive draws on inexpensive cigarettes while squatting in the shade and staring indifferently at the occasional car or truck that passed.

This was the Ternei County roads crew, and they were out fixing potholes. I was one of four people in a pickup truck headed north to the village of Ternei, with tiger biologist Dale Miquelle behind the wheel, and this section of road was a patchwork of unpredictably-located and sometimes unavoidable pits. These ruts were waiting to be filled with shovelfuls of hot asphalt and pressed flat by a steamroller, but in the interim they were being filled instead by inattentive drivers who plowed their vehicles into the depths of these yawning chasms.