The forests of Russia’s Far East evoke a strange feeling, one that most Europeans have not been forced to consider for centuries. It is the sensation of being watched; of unseen menace lurking between the trees. Ultimately, it is the realisation that you are among predators, and being contemplated as either a rival or prey.
A loud roar echoes around as we tread through a valley of volcanic rock formed between a dense canopy of Mongolian oak and Korean pine. My guide, Pavel Fomenko, hands me a flare with the instruction to use it should a bear approach.We creep forward, crunching over fallen leaves while our other guide, the hunting inspector for Primorsky Krai province, Alexander Korneev, peels off into the undergrowth.
Ravens shriek about the treetops. If the birds are up, Fomenko warns, it means something has disturbed them. We arrive at a clearing scattered with clumps of fur. A few metres away lie the remains of a black bear, buzzing with flies. This is what we have been searching for: the recently dispatched supper of an Amur tiger.
They call this boreal wilderness the taiga in Russian, forests sprawling hundreds of miles from the North Korean border up towards the Arctic. They are home to a vast collection of flora and fauna and, above all, predators. An estimated 95 per cent of the world’s population of Amur (or Siberian) tigers live here.
Up to 10ft long, larger, heavier and stronger than their Asian cousins, they are the undisputed rulers of the forest; their orange, black and white pelts enable them to move like ghosts between the trees.
We have been tracking this particular tiger, Vladik, since my arrival in the Russian port city of Vladivostok three days earlier. A young male around four years old and weighing more than 22st, he first drew attention to himself in October 2016 after wandering into Vladivostok’s concrete suburbs and provoking a storm of publicity. Eventually he was caught and taken to a tiger rehabilitation centre, before being released this May in the Bikin National Park, wearing a GPS collar.
Since then, however, Vladik has been steadily heading south, back towards Vladivostok, covering around 450 miles and killing 10 large animals en route, including bear, deer and wild boar. Fomenko, who is WWF Russia’s head of rare species conservation, fears that if Vladik continues this trajectory he will end up once again too close to a…