That Thing that Tigers Do

Следы Тигра на Дороге_Слат
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.

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Enclave of Biodiversity

Blagodatnoe Bay in Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve, Russia. Photograph © Jonathan C. Slaght

This isn’t the Siberia you think you know.

In fact, it’s not Siberia at all: in Russia, most territory east of Lake Baikal—that chasm of fresh water in the middle of the country—is the Russian Far East, not Siberia. It’s a vast region about twice the size of India, an unfathomable expanse of forest intersected by clean rivers and inhabited by very few people. Indeed, the entire Russian Far East has a human population of just more than six million people—about two million fewer than New York City alone.

The southern fringe of this poorly-known and little-visited corner of the globe is one of the most biologically-rich temperate forest zones in the world; an enclave for some of the rarest animals and plants on Earth.

Here, northern temperate and boreal mammals such as brown bears, Eurasian lynx, and red deer overlap with subtropical species such as Amur tigers, Amur leopards, and Asiatic black bears. Of the nearly seven hundred bird species found in the former Soviet Union, about half occur in the southern Russian Far East. Thirty percent of all endangered species in Russia are concentrated in only one percent of the country’s vast territory. Up to forty-eight of these species (fifteen percent of all endangered species in Russia) are endemic—they occur nowhere else.

The region’s unique assemblage of natural communities, along with the long list of threatened and endangered species (including many of global significance), make this region of crucial importance to global biodiversity conservation.

This article originally appeared on Follow the link for a slideshow of wildlife from the region.