Like many who would have watched ‘Operation Snow Tiger‘ aired on Sunday 9th June at 20:00 on BBC 2, the idea of heading to the Russian Far East on a Siberian Tiger Holiday in search of wild Siberian Tigers would have become a little more real. This fantastic two part series (the second part is due to air on BBC 2 on Sunday 16th at 20:00) showcases the habitat, lifestyle, threats and grueling conditions that the tigers and researchers have to work in. This groundbreaking documentary comes during an exciting and crucial time for wild Siberian tigers in the Russian Far East, it is the first time that the BBC Natural History Unit (in 50 years) have managed to film wild Siberian tigers and the work and research documented by the team on the program is very encouraging.
Whilst this series was filmed in a private reserve in the Ussuri Taiga forest that is closed to the public and only for research purposes, there are a handful of reserves that have populations of tigers and some of these populations are increasing. At Royle Safaris we have developed a pioneering tour that aims to showcase wild Siberian tigers to the public, we have an arrangement with a new reserve (set up in 2009) and run by one of the most dedicated tiger researchers in Russia (we may seem cagey with our information on where we go and who we work with, but we do not want to advertise the location of this reserve to potential poachers). This reserve has cabin accommodation which allows us to spend the nights inside the reserve (which is unusual in Russian reserves) and this cuts down the time needed to get from our base to where the tigers are likely to be.
Unlike the reserve used during the ‘Operation Snow Tiger’ series there are many male and female tigers known from our reserve, their movement patterns and territories are well known by the reserve director and our Russian team, this gives us a great advantage as the Russian team work here every day and the tigers habits are known better here than elsewhere in Russia. However having said that any sightings are far from a guarantee, we base most of our chances on one of the resident male Siberian tigers than navigates his territory once every 7-10 days during the winter, this can be predicted fairly well, so with the 12 days that we in the reserve have on our standard tour Siberian Tiger Watching Tour is hopefully long enough for us to see this male as he comes around his territory. We estimate that we have around a 50% chance of seeing a wild Siberian Tiger on this Russian Tiger Tracking Tour, although we have to stress that only a handful of people have ever seen a wild Siberian tiger and any sighting is down to luck and our hard work and expertise, we will try our best as we always do but we want to have expectations at realistic levels.
Despite sightings not be 100% we feel it is important to bring people here as sustainable eco-tourism all of the world is helping us protect wildlife and preserve habitats, with funding in Russia decreasing for these conservation projects this tourism is a major source of income and is one of the main reasons the great work continues in this reserve. We believe that through this form of eco-tourism and by working closely with the local Russian tiger team this reserve and others in the Russian Far East may provide a real alternative to India when it comes to Tiger Safaris and Tiger Watching Holidays.
We have one spot remaining on our scheduled departure for 7th February 2014 however we are able to run this from 22nd February through to the middle of March 2014 as well as the 2014-15 winter season. We can also run this tour during the summer, where Asiatic black bears are commonly seen but tracking wild Siberian tigers is harder and the chances of seeing one are less.
Below is further information on our Siberian Tiger Watching Holiday and your chance to follow in the footsteps of Liz Bonin and the other ‘Operation Snow Tiger’ team and try to find wild Siberian tigers.
The new tiger reserve that we use is deemed the best in the world and the current success rate is due to the resident male patrolling his territory and being quite predictable during the winter. However it is not a guarantee, the local guide that we use the park manager who has also probably seen more wild Siberian tigers than anyone else alive. This is the go to place for researchers and film makers (most recent being Gordon Buchanan) wanted to see the tigers and they have increasing numbers and plenty of cubs at the moment. We always recommend the winter for tracking as their movements are more predictable and they are easier to track and February to early March are the best time.
Two weeks is a great duration for this tour, I would not recommend travelling for a lesser amount of time as the resident male tends to patrol his territory every 10 days or so. So should be in the area at least once in the time you are there.
When we track the tigers we use snow mobiles (which whilst loud are commonplace and the animals are familiar with their sight and sound), as well as 4×4 vehicles (although during the winter the snow cover can make driving difficult), skiing and walking (but again the walking is dependent on snow cover). However these activities can be difficult with lots of camera gear, not impossible but would require a good level of physical fitness and possible (but not essential) experience in working in snow.
The daily activities are tracking tigers and searching for fresh signs of their movements, hopefully finding a kill that could be staked out and of course trying to put ourselves in the path of a tiger moving through the area. Camera traps are regularly used and this is undoubtedly the best way to get photographs and videos of wild Siberian tigers. The reserve has many set up and we will check these as part of the daily tracking sessions, you are free to bring your own if you wish. Another part of the tracking is speaking to the local sable hunters, these hardy men live in the forests and stay in basic wooden cabins. We visit these people to gauge an idea of the tigers movement as they spend so long in the forests they are one of our most valuable assets when coming to find tigers.
The exact itinerary of tracking activities and areas of the reserve that will be visited vary daily and depend 100% on the tigers movements; but we will be spending as much time in the field looking for the tiger as possible throughout the trip. The accommodation that we stay in are large wooden cabins with their own heating and beds, you do not even have to bring sleeping bags as they are very comfortable and equipped with warm bedding. However the conditions are basic is terms of amenities, there are bathrooms and showers and electricity for charging batteries, but we recommend bringing as many spare batteries as possible as the cold weather can drain batteries quicker than usual.
The port of entry to this reserve is the city of Khabarovsk and we recommend arriving in the morning so that you can be transferred direct to the reserve (it is a few hours drive away from the city) and then after the tour you will be transferred to Khabarovsk and we usually book a room in the city for the last night so you can maximise your last morning in the field before departing.
The cost is £3,395 per person (for a group up to 4 people), we can lower this to £2,995 per person for 5-6 people booking as a group.
This price will include:
- Transfers from Khabarovsk to the Tiger Reserve and back again.
- All of your meals in the Tiger Reserve and breakfast in Khabarovsk on the last day.
- Local guide service of our Russian tiger expert and his team of rangers.
- An interpreter throughout.
- Full days of tiger tracking in the field.
- Ski hire if needed.
- Alcoholic drinks.
- Flights and any transport to and from Khabarovsk.
- Meals in Khabarovsk
- Travel Insurance.
- Visa support documents (if needed we can order them in Khabarovsk (USD $50).
Regarding equipment we recommend bringing warm windproof jackets and pants, hats and boots good for low temperatures. February / March is usually warmer compared to December and January but every year is different and it can still go down to -20C (or even to -25″C early in the morning). We can also provide a detailed kit list to this email which lists all of the essential, non-essential and useful things to bring along.
Our tiger expert says that for those who can try the outfit that the Russian professional hunters wear he can offer jackets, pants and boots, he has 2-3 sets and are available at no additional charges. These are incredibly warm outfits and worth considering.
Regarding the tigers in the reserve; there is a “baby boom” at the moment – recently one more female produced 2 cubs. So there are 6 tiger cubs now, all 3 females in the reserve have reproduced in the last 12 months. There is enough food and space for them all that we expect this to form a very good and large population that will spread to other areas of the forest in the future. There are more than 5 adult tigers now on 20,000 hectares of land inside the reserve and we can sleep inside the reserve (that is where the cabins are) as opposed to staying outside of the reserves, this is the only tiger reserve in Russia that allows people to sleep inside the reserve and so we cut down in daily travelling time and increase our chances. Sightings are mostly of the resident male (and father to all the cubs) as he patrols his territory every 10 days or so and can be ‘predicted’ with more accuracy. Photos with trail cams and video are close to a 100% guarantee and helping the work that Alexander and his team are doing here is very rewarding.
We have some camera trap videos of the tigers here including a male and females with their cubs, we are happy to share these videos with any interested parties.
Whilst most of the wildlife is hard to see in the Russian Taiga forest, mostly due to the high levels of hunting that have always occurred here, it is possible to see wild boars, Manchurian wapiti, Siberian roe deer, sable, pine martens and some resident birds.