A Brief Encounter with a Goral

The cliffs above Khuntami Beach in the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve, Primorye, Russia. Photograph © Jonathan C. Slaght

A dense carpet of stunted Mongolian oak gives way to cliff and then to ocean in the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve. Languid waves massage the sands of Khuntami Bay below, while somewhere inland a wildfire smolders and pushes an ashy haze towards the Sea of Japan.


Moments before I took this photograph there was a crashing in the nearby vegetation, and a long-tailed goral burst from the low shrubs and onto the rocks to assess if I was friend or predator. This stocky, goat-like species has a very small global population, with most of the six hundred or so in Russia distributed along the coastal cliffs of Primorye. Goral are expert mountaineers capable of precise vertical movements along seemingly-sheer cliffs with speed and efficiency.

The beast panicked when it recognized me as human, and with a few hurried scrapes of hoof on rock it disappeared down a steep precipice and out of sight.

The Low Saddle

From my vantage point over the cold, clear waters of the Sea of Japan at Lazovskii Reserve in Primorye, I spotted migrating minke whales and a roiling cluster of harbor seals. The sandy beach below bore tracks of sika deer, Eurasian otter, and Amur tiger. A tigress had sauntered among the boulders there only a day or so before me, pausing to scent-mark the rock with her pungent, earthy urine. She continued down the beach to ascend the low saddle where I now stood, and I lost her trail as she moved into the vegetation. She likely climbed up the ridge–possibly in search of sika deer–or perhaps looking for a quiet place to soak in the sun on one of these last, perfect, late summer days.