Tracking Amur tigers in the Russian Far East

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ZSL education officer Chris Pollard
Discovery and Learning officer Chris Pollard teaching a digital outreach session

Wow! I’m still pinching myself. I’ve been given the opportunity of a lifetime.

My name is Chris Pollard and I’m one of the Discovery and Learning Officers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. This year I was awarded the Michael Brambell Travel Grant and on 22 October will embark on my journey to the Russian Far East to work on ZSL’s amazing conservation project with Amur tigers, as well as tiger biologist Linda Kerley and her team. I'll be visiting two reserves in the Primorsky Krai region, Lazovsky State Nature Reserve and Zov Tigra National Park. 

Why travel to Russia to work on this project? 

Well why not! Just like thousands of school children growing up I was fascinated by tigers. Amur tigers are magnificent looking animals and one of nature’s top predators. It’s the largest of the six living subspecies of tiger weighing up to 250kg. But sadly like many species, tiger numbers have fallen drastically since the beginning of the 19th century. This is due to many factors such as poaching, habitat loss and climate change. It’s estimated that the global population of tigers is 3,890, where approximately 500 of these are Amur tigers and numbers of Amur tiger reaching a low of 40 in the 1940s.

These worrying figures prompted Russia to become the first country in the world to grant the tiger full protection. Due to the dedication of hard working conservationists like Linda, this number has now climbed to 500. You could argue that this is a conservation success story, however, the hard work has not stopped and I’m travelling to Russia to experience things first-hand.

How do you plan a trip to the Russian Far East?

Let’s be honest it’s not every day you hear of someone travelling to this remote region of the world. I had so many questions going round in my head. What do I need to take with me? How long will I go for? How will I get there? How do I go about getting a visa? Where will I get picked up? What will I be doing?

Thankfully I’ve had help from different departments across ZSL and I’ve also been emailing Linda regularly who has been fantastic helping me with the logistics of the trip. Getting the visa was certainly an interesting experience because I’ve never applied for one before. After heading into to central London to submit my application at the Russian Visa Centre, it was then I knew the trip was becoming real.

My two-week long trip will see me transit through Moscow and arrive in Vladivostok on 23 October. I’ve never heard of Vladivostok before so I typed it into Google and was surprised that it borders very closely with China and North Korea. Once I’ve arrived in Vladivostok I will be staying in a hotel for one night before Linda picks me up the following day, and that’s when the adventure really starts.

So what will I be doing on a day to day basis?

I’m not entirely sure but this adds to the excitement! One day I could be tracking Amur tigers in the Sikhote-Alin mountain range looking for foot prints and scat marks (tiger poo), another day I could be collecting images and videos from camera traps - I’m sure Linda will have a few surprises for me.

Everything that I learn from Linda and her team will be shared with school groups back here in the UK. It’s important to get schools involved in Amur tiger conservation and recently I’ve been in contact with Northwood College for Girls who would like to find out more about this project. Through Skype, Year 4 students were asking me fantastic questions about Amur tigers and what I think it will be like in Russian Far East. The most common question I got asked was ‘will you see a wild tiger?’. The chances of me seeing an Amur tiger will most likely be fairly slim, but one thing is for sure, I will certainly feel the animal’s presence.

Discover more about ZSL's conservation work with Amur tigers  

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