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Photograph courtesy Julie Larsen Maher

The Old Guard at the Sikhote-Alin Reserve in Primorye—the Soviet biologists now dead or retired—were seriously tough individuals. They lived in Ternei before that village could be reached by car; a human enclave besieged by mountain, forest, and sea. Their workplace was true wilderness where, over the years, they endured harrowing experiences as a matter of routine. One biologist recounted how he once killed a charging bear with a hatchet.

A hatchet.

So, when one of the Old Guard began recalling his encounter with a Eurasian wolf decades prior, I sat forward. This was going to be good.


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Tiger tracks along a snowy road in Primorye, Russia. Photograph © Jonathan C. Slaght

It was one of those early spring days in Ternei; too cold to comfortably sit outside. But it had been a long winter and we were determined to enjoy the above-zero temperatures. With sweaters and jackets covering our hunched shoulders and knit caps obscuring our heads, a dozen of us huddled around platters of smoked salmon, barbequed meat, and vegetables to celebrate winter’s passing. Moonshine added warmth for those who wanted it.