A lot of people from my “Legendary Russian Hunters” list will be from the Far East, for a good reason – the best way to become a legend is to hunt dangerous game, and in no other part of Russia are there so many tigers, leopards, and bears. But my next hero, a native of this land, never hunted big cats – for the indigenous peoples of the area it was a taboo.
Facebook keeps suggesting me an old Outdoor Life story about world’s most legendary hunters. Understandably, most people on the list come from either the U.S. or Britain and its former colonies. Yet, Russia has a number of hunters who deserve the status of a legend, and I’ll try to tell you about some of them. Today’s story is about the Jankovskis of the Pacific Far East, the land where the taiga meets the tropics.
“Young an inexerienced” is how Konstantin Snezhko captioned this video, showing a 2-3 y.o. Amur tiger that has just been driven off by mother tigress to make an independent start. This is perhaps the most dangerous time in a tiger’s life – natural curiosity combined with lack of experience can easily get one into trouble, and the need to cover vast distances in search of appropriate territory only makes things worse.
This search will sometimes take tigers to places totally unsuitable for them – like a big city. The big city in question is Vladivostok, a major port on the Russian Pacific coast, and capital of the Primorye Region that houses Russia’s tiger population. The city authorities used to deny the tigers’ existence within city limits – until October of 2016, when one was captured by a dashboard camera.
It took a few days to locate and immobilize the animal, but – surprize, surprize – it wasn’t the end of it. Just a week later another tiger was caught in Vladivostok! Both tigers were placed in a special tiger shelter and relocated into the wilderness after being vetted and equipped with tracking collars. They apparently thrived on a diet of grabage and stray dogs (dogs being a delicasy for Amur tigers), found ample shelter in parks and abandoned industrial and construction areas, so they were probably not the first and certainly not the last tigers to visit Vladivostok.
How numerous and healthy is Russia’s tiger population is an open question. Environmentalist bodies such as WWF, especially when on a donation drive, claim that Russian tigers are dangerously low in numbers and balance on the edge of extinction. The alternative opinion is that Primorye’s tiger population, estimated at about 600 animals, is healthy and sustainable. The number of tiger encounters seems to support the latter – but it doesn’t mean, of course, that tigers shouldn’t be rigorously guarded. Like on this video, where a protective tigress meets anti-poaching squad.