The Amur tiger is living large in Durminskoye Reserve, thanks to custodian Alexander Batalov and his team of five foresters. They patrol this 20,000-hectare slice of the Ussuri Taiga, outsmarting poachers, making sure the tigers’ prey don’t starve in the brutal -40˙C Siberian winters, and spending hours in the forest, on foot and on snowmobiles, setting up camera traps to monitor the endangered cats’ movements. And all that graft is paying off. The most recent census found that at least 17 tigers pass through Durminskoye – impressive, considering there are only 400 Amur (Siberian) tigers left in the wild globally.
On my first day at Alexander’s deep-forest reserve, we set off early to set up a camera trap at the top of a mountain, not far from our basecamp. It’s a popular spot for tigers as there’s a rocky alcove – an excellent refuge for a tigress with cubs – as well as a scent-tree where passing big cats leave messages for others. After a steep trudge to the top of the mountain in thigh-high snow, we set up a trail camera directly opposite the tree. Here’s some footage from that camera; it features one of the local ladies, called Baxa:
Afterwards, we set up a few more cameras around the reserve before heading back to base – and we do that most days during my stay. We also explore the vast reserve by foot, snowmobile or 4WD, as well as visit the nearby village of the Udeghe tribe and the Utyos Rehab Centre. Plus, we catalogue the footage we capture on the trail cameras.
Actually, these camera traps give the Durminskoye team the best chance of seeing a wild tiger. The world’s biggest big cat, Panthera tigris altaica is mostly active at night and tends to steer clear of humans. And that’s probably a good thing – seeing as they weigh up to 300kg and can clock speeds of up to 80km/h, I wouldn’t want to run into one while hiking in the forest. Still, throughout my 8-night stay, the local alpha male (aka “Martin”) was never very far from camp – we found fresh tracks every day, some as close as 20 metres from one of our cottages. In fact, one night, Martin got it on with a young lady who’d just wandered into the area from a bordering territory (Side note: As I’m the first Australian woman to visit Durminskoye, Alexander decided to name this new tigress after me – the actual best, amirite?!!) Here’s some footage of Tiger Rachelle being romanced by Tiger Martin (he’s on the left) during my stay:
Giggedy giggedy! The good news is, that night of romance resulted in a family for the frisky couple. Alexander recently sent me this trail-cam footage, captured only a few weeks ago near the basecamp. It shows Tiger Rachelle with 4 cubs aged around 3-4 months:
The absolute cutest, right?!! More importantly, it’s actual proof that local conservation efforts are paying off. High five, Alexander!
If you’re ready to head to Durminskoye and help Alexander protect these legendary cats, here’s how to get started:
- Hit up their website for a broader overview of the reserve, and to contact Olga Parfenova direct with any specific booking questions.
- Choose your flights. I went from Sydney to Tokyo (Japan Airlines), then got a direct 2.5-hour flight to Khabarovsk (S7 Airlines). Too easy. Alexander (or someone from his team) will meet you in Khabarovsk and drive you to the Durminskoye basecamp (about 4 hours).
- Pack properly. They’ll provide a gear-list, so I won’t go into the various layers and accessories you’ll need. BUT be sure to get rubber-soled, grippy boots rated to -40˚C because you’ll be wandering around outside a lot. (I invested in – and highly recommend – the Sorel Caribou). And don’t stinge out when it comes to your parka. I splurged on the Mountain Equipment Cho Oyu, which is designed for polar expeditions, and needed only a technical base layer and thick fleece beneath it to stay toasty. Safe travels!