SIBERIAN TIGERS CONFRONTATIONS WITH HUMANS
One average Siberian tigers kill about one person a year. Many of them are trappers who approached to close to the tigers. Unprovoked attacks by man-eaters occur about once every four years. Provoked attacks are much more common. Many of the victims are unsuccessful tiger poachers. Dogs and livestock are frequently taken by Siberian tigers. This occurs often enough that the government compensates people who lose animal to tiger attacks.
Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: "Here is an interesting rule of thumb: with rare exception, all tiger attacks on people have taken place when the latter has been armed. Possibly an armed person is exceedingly bold and is less vigilant. An animal is an animal. It has strong nerves. If you screw up, warn those who have been there, then you never get a second chance. It’s worth noting that tiger attack survivors recall noticing that the tiger’s black pupil filled the entire eye socket. This is apparently one sign by which to gauge tiger behavior. If the animal’s pupils are not dilated, you still have time to get to safety, for the predator is not planning to attack. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]
"True, there are tigers that will stand up for their property. A tiger will follow a hunter and roar like mad, now from the side, now from the front, then from behind, proclaiming to the human that this is his territory, his kill. The tiger will even risk getting shot in the process. One tiger, whose skin was presented to Leonid Brezhnev during a trip by the Communist Party’s General Secretary to Khabarovsk, met its end in precisely this manner. The hunter, suddenly under attack, kept his cool and his shot was right on the mark — he cut the animal almost in mid air! It would have been a shame to waste the skin, he thought. ~~
"There is another story of a hunter who bagged a wild boar that had been wounded by a tiger. The tiger returned to the scene of his kill, forcing the hunter to fire his rifle into the air. Late into the night, the rightful owner of the meat circled the hunter’s cabin, pronouncing heartrending growls: “Come on out,” the tiger beckoned, “and I’ll tell you something about the law of the taiga!” ~~
"Another story with a “moral” is told by an old Udege guide who came face to face with a tiger. “I said to him, go away. I have a gun. I’ll crack your skull. I called him everything in the book! I said to him, you’re breaking the law of the taiga, we can live peacefully! “I quietly moved backwards. Amba just wrinkled his nose. We were on the bank of the river. There was nowhere to go. I lay down on the ground and Amba squatted down next to me. Then I covered myself with a dugout canoe. I hid under it for a long time. I peaked out — Amba was gone. He had left. That was a bad wild animal. He really scared me...” When asked why he didn’t shoot the tiger, the old man answered: “It’s forbidden, a taboo. He is a hunter too. You kill him, and his kind will roundly punish you!” ~~
Siberian Tiger Attacks of People
In the 1950s, a tiger was killed by a train station in Vladivostok. It had killed a dog and mauled a colt and threatened people living in a row of cottages. In 1986, a tiger was caught in downtown Vladivostok. A tractor driver was eaten by a tiger in 1976. On another occasion a hunter checking his traps was attacked by a tiger. Armed only with an ax, the man was saved by his dog, which bit the tiger’s’s tail and held on until the tiger fled.
In February 1995, a trapper failed to return after checking his sable traps near Melnichnoye. A few days later his legs were discovered surrounded by pugmarks from a tiger. It is believed that the man-eater was half-starved and attacked the man from a hidden position behind a fallen tree.
In January 1996, a tiger attacked and mauled a woman at a rural train station near the town of Patizanask, northeast of Vladivostok. The woman's husbands ran up to the tiger and struck it with a flashlight. He saved his wife, but in the process was killed by the tiger who was found several hours later feeding on the man chest and entrails. The tiger was tracked down and killed. Around the same time another tiger killed a poacher by swatting him with a paw. The man apparently died of shock and cold.
According to a report filed on a hunter named Kulikov who was killed in the winter of 1997: "All that was found was a rifle, a cartridge belt, parts of the clothing, the hunter' skull and a leg in high boot...People who know Kulikov tell that he promised them to fetch a tiger skin. Now his comrade regrets: 'He shouldn't have.'"
In December 1997, Associated Press reported: “A government-sponsored hunting team shot and killed a tiger that was blamed for the deaths of two people earlier this month in Russia's Far East. The tiger mauled and ate one man Dec. 3 and killed a second man on Dec. 15 in the northern Primorye region, an area along Russia's southeast coast. Following the second death, authorities formed a team of hunters to track down the tiger. The team found and shot the tiger. [Source: Associated Press, December 23, 1997]
Siberian Tiger Kills Fisherman in Terneysky District.
In January 2010, a Siberian tiger attacked a fisherman, who has later died from the injuries, in Terneysky District, Primorsky Krai. A spokesman for the Amur Branch of WWF-Russia told Vostok-Media: "The accident occurred at Serebryanka River. Earlier, a family living in a little village Artemovo raised the alarm as the master of the household failed to return from his fishing trip. Soon after, police launched a search for the missing man and found him lying dead near the tiger at Serebryanka River, 12 km from Terney village. [Source: Vostok-Media, January 18, 2010 <+>]
"At 11:50 p.m., the accident was reported to the Head of the Primorsky Krai Hunting Management Department. On the Saturday morning, after the emergency meeting of Terneysky District Department of Internal Affairs, the Primorsky Krai Department for Protection, Supervision and Use of Wildlife decided to eliminate the potentially dangerous animal to prevent recurrence of the accident. The police increased their patrols in the area to warn people of the danger. To help police shoot the tiger several groups of the most skilful hunters in the area were formed, but their help proved unnecessary. At 11:00 a.m., the animal was shot when attempting to attack a patrolling car. <+>
"It is not yet known exactly what made the Siberian tiger to behave in such aggressive way. Experts say the autopsy may reveal the reasons of the tiger’s behavior but it will take time. The animal had allegedly been injured in a fight with other animals, such as tiger, bear or wild boar. “We do not rule out that the animal had been suffering from a disease,” an expert said. <+>
The tiger had had been captured and collared by the Russia Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS Russia). Dale Miquelle, who lives in terney and is head of WCS Russia, said the incident turned the town against him and his employees. [Source: Matthew Shaer, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015 \*/]
Avoiding Dangerous Situations with Tigers
Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: It’s misleading to say that the animal is not dangerous. All large predators present certain dangers. A female tiger will attack to protect her accidentally discovered offspring. Always possible is that chance meeting with an old or sick predator, driven by hunger or pain. There is the animal that, in its own way, has taken to living around people. Where the tiger lives, it is always best to be careful and attentive and careful where tigers live. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]
"It could very well be that the predator has a kill near the trail or there is a female tiger in the vicinity. These circumstances increase the danger ten-fold. The most reliable approach is to move backwards, trying not to make any sudden moves. It’s useless to try to run away from a tiger; it’ll catch up to you in just a few leaps. And besides, that kind of behavior only increases the danger of attack — running away from any predator awakens the instinct to follow. Don’t ever turn your back on a predator! According to Yudin’s research on predator behavior, will pounce only on those whose backs are turned, sinking their teeth into the neck vertebrate." ~~
"As it stands, we are the ones who have entered the tiger’s home and so it’s our task to find some common ground with the animal. This is nothing new to hunters. Their line of work is not for the faint-hearted. Hunters set out to take on animals, and are, in general, prepared for the chance tiger encounter. This, however, is not always true of tourists, mushroom and berry pickers, and others spending time in the wilds. ~~
"Nothing is gained by wandering around alone or by trying to be brave and fearless. To avoid accidental meetings with a tiger, it is best to go out only in groups and to make a lot of noise to avoid any accidental meetings. If the encounter nonetheless occurs, the best thing to do is to climb a tree. When a tiger is around, everyone manages to do this just fine. If climbing a tree is not an option, try to persuade the animal, only without excessive hysteria. People are known to have lost their voice. That’s really the pits, but that doesn’t mean you are a goner. Now, try to imagine the situation if your legs give out — what would you do then? Drop to the ground, cover your neck and face with your hands, and hope for the best." ~~
What to Do If Threatened by a Tiger
Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: "So what do you do if you run into a tiger anyway? First of all, don’t lose your cool. Of course, that is a lot easier said than done. Try to keep your wits about you, for your life may depend upon it. Viktor Yudin, a well-known scientist in the Russian Far East who studies the behavior of large predators, considers a tiger a threat when it makes its presence known to people. A tiger has phenomenal hearing, and like all cats, has the capacity to be quiet and unseen, so it probably has already been watching you for a while, deciding whether you present a real danger. But why would it just step out and block your path? The tiger is not likely to attack; and when that “is” its aim, you will have only an instant to think about it. Either the animal is just studying you, or it is out to show who is boss. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]
"On May 2, 1987, the newspaper Sovetskaya Rossiya ran an article entitled “An Hour Alone with a Tiger.” It’s the true story of a person who meets up with a tiger in the wild. The then young scientist Viktor Korkishko spent an hour backing away from a tiger that crept up to within a step or two of him and that was ready to spring. It’s tough to say why the animal went to all this trouble: maybe to shove this “invader” out of its territory. Looking back on the incident, wildlife specialists unanimously agree that Korkishko came out of this alive because he kept his cool. He gave the animal his backpack to tear to pieces, his hat, his vest, all the time trying to talk the predator out of attacking. Suppressing, as best he could, any sign of fear, he slowly moved backwards, analyzing the situation, acting as experience and instinct dictated.~~
"If you have a weapon, you can try to drive the animal off by shooting into the air. But before doing so, make sure you’ve calculated the time it will take you to load another shell since that could be a key moment. There have been a number of such incidents when people have miscalculated. Not all tigers associate a shot with danger; shots are numerous in the taiga these days and tigers have grown used to them...People on expedition in areas where they might encounter a large predator are best to carry a flare; the flame will force any animal to take to its heals.~~
"There are tales of strong-spirited people. For example the guy who was cunning enough to ram his fist down the throat of the animal, to the stomach, just as the animal was about to swallow him up in its maw. The tiger, the story goes, ran away in confusion. It seems to us that these stories are merely the product of an active imagination. Flip off a tiger and what you’ll get in return is a bloody stump! The animal’s jaw is its weapon. It catches flies on the run, so waving your hand in front of its nose puts you in even more danger. There’s one story of a person, who hearing the voices of some nearby rescuers, got it into his head to be brave and hit the tiger on the head. He ended up in surgery with shattered fingers.~~
"Yes, we have intentionally tried to scare you. Forest mice and cats are not just characters in happy fairy tales, and so there is nothing wrong with having some modern armory when out hiking: compressed air pistols, pepper spray canisters, smoke bombs, electrical stun guns, signal rockets. It’s true, this kind of stuff is probably of more use in fighting off aggressive humans in cities than wild animals in the taiga, but such is our modern, urban lifestyle. However, even in the woods you never know what pranks the devil might have up his sleeve. What IF you just happen to be the unluckiest person in the world?" ~~
Hunters Pursue a Siberian Tiger
Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: "A group of hunters has gathered in memory of a friend who had died before his time. There’s plenty of booze, and the deceased, once remembered with a few kind words, is already forgotten as alcoholic blather fills the room. The guys are telling hunting stories, bragging about their sharp shooter skills, about their bravery in one-on-one fights with bears and wild boar. In a word, they are in “fine shape” and are ready to get it on with anyone. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]
"They don’t have to wait long. Suddenly a young kid flies into the room, all out of breath: “There’s a tiger out back of the village!” The silenced crowd looks around at one another. “What do you mean, a tiger. There hasn’t been a tiger around here for thirty years! “Out along the ridge, in the forest next to the field. I saw him myself!” “Maybe it was a dog! Or maybe a cow!"It’s a tiger, a tiger, I saw it myself!” repeats the little guy, all worked up. “A big one?"No, a small one, but maybe a big one.”
"The hunters make for the door in a rush to get a look at the ridge where the animal is hiding. Hey, Stepan, you’re younger, go out and take a look at the tracks and see what’s up with this tiger!” an older guy barks out. And Stepan sets off in a flash. “Hey guys, it’s a tiger, that’s for sure, a two-year old. Hey, let’s bag him, what do you say? They say there’s a zoo that will pay a cool million for him. Then we’ll make a party of it! There’s nowhere for the cat to run with fields all around!” The timid doubts of simple people are instantly overcome by a wave of boozed-up daring, and before long, an armed band is ready to go. Someone runs to the outskirts of the village and cuts a forked tiger pole, someone else brings a rope, and even snowmobile sledge is dragged up to bring in the take. They get their dogs.~~
"The guys decide to break up into two groups. One group would move as a chain to drive the animal into a tight area and while a second group waits with their forked tiger poles press the animal to the ground and tie it up. The hunters joke, the dogs do their thing, but during the pauses, people are casting incredulous glances at the instigator of the affair. “What kind of an outing is this, anyway?” Their muffled discussion comes to a halt when the dogs catch the scent of the terrible cat. The dogs instantly lower their tails, and as if on command, shamefully turn their heads away from their owners and take off for the village where they raise an awful wail right there on the edge of town. The dogs bark, howl and wail right by the gates and it looks like the ardor of our tiger trappers is about to cool down a bit. The doubts of the weak-willed are confirmed when they see the tracks, which obviously don’t belong to a yearling.~~
"Even so, no one follows the lead of the dogs. “Guys, you could tie down a mammoth with this crowd! Sasha alone could handle this one, one whack with those sledge hammer fists of yours, and zap, you’ve knocked it out...,” all this to just throw some fuel on Stepan’s fire. “By the way, I grabbed a pint to keep the buzz going!” While the hooch makes the rounds, the toughest of the tough are chosen to make the grab. Everyone voluntarily and proudly moves along with sparkling eyes, and Sasha, all pumped up by the compliments, lunges his forked tiger pole into the ground, testing it out as if he is pinning the animal’s neck to the ground. He even grits his teeth, either out of anger or for show.~~
"So as to not tempt fate, the guys have not taken along their guns. The ones who are supposed to drive the animal to the capture point are armed with clubs. The crowd is reminiscent of a bunch of rioting peasants during the times of Emelyan Puchachev.“Sasha, make sure no one gets cold feet!” commands the old fellow who prudently gets in with the group that is to drive the animal towards its captors. The hunters push on into the forest, waiting while the capture group takes up its position.~~
Hunters Encounter a Siberian Tiger
Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: "The tiger remains calm, and only its retreating tracks admit its apprehension for the rushing, howling, tree-beating crowd. He walks from one end of the forest to the other, gradually moving closer to his “captors.” The circle grows smaller. The situation moves to a head. The spot where the tiger was supposed to pass is narrow and the hunters, concealing themselves behind tree trunks, stand several steps apart. The bravery and intoxication has worn off when, suddenly, out from the bushes swims the shadow of the striped beast. It moves soundlessly, like a phantom. Only its tail shows any concern, twisting and jerking. The tiger still doesn’t suspect the dirty trick that lies ahead; all its attention is focused on the that band of guys making much more noise than necessary, apparently to maintain their nerves. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]
"When the tiger makes its appearance, some twenty steps away, the captors suddenly sober up. They are about to be attacked by a tense bundle of muscles rippling under a striped “coat.” And when the tiger puts its ears back, tensing up as if to spring onto the closest of the attackers, bodies stiffen and many begin to have their doubts. To break the spell, Sashka hoists his huge fist, giving notice to the men who have been hypnotized by the intense stare of the mighty cat. ~~
"The animal picks up on the trap about five meters away. He quickly looks back, and then quickly squats, instantly tensing up as if ready to leap, but he does not get the chance. Spasmodically stretching the forked tiger pole out in front of himself, Sashka bounds onto the animal with a wild howl.
Siberian Tiger Attacks the Hunters
Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: "What follows happens in a matter of seconds. The animal’s roar blasts the attackers out from behind the trees like corks exploding from a bottle and the crowd takes off in every direction. The animal chasers and their helpers alike are alarmed by a human scream resembling a noise that a hare or a wild boar might emit. Everybody madly rushes out of the forest in the direction of the village, frantically looking around behind them, sprinting off to get their guns. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]
"In several minutes the crowd is once again assembled, and, like a bunch of knights, blast off back to the scene of the confrontation. But their rescue mission stops short when Sashka shows up at the edge of the forest. He is wobbling like a drunk, pressing an injured hand to his chest. He is a bloody mess. Rather than answering his rescuer’s questions, he mutters a bit, and uttering some throaty sounds that don’t sound quite like words. They examine his chest injury at the hospital. It doesn’t at all look like tiger claw wounds. A week later, when Sashka regains his ability to speak and tells what happened.~~
"“I went to hold him down with the forked tiger pole, but then his paw was on it like a cannon blast. He poked me in the chest with it, and I wound up on my back. But I had no time to figure it out. I opened my eyes and there is this wild animal standing with its front paws on my chest, its claws all the while extending and contracting. One twitch, I thought, and he’ll rip me in two. “Get lost, you crawling cur,” I say to him. He winks his nose in my direction, comes up even closer to me, roars and I go deaf. Fangs, like sables, yellow, and oh, the stench. I pretend to be dead. I lay there, quiet, listening, things get better. Then he removes his paws. A couple of more roars, and I open my eyes. He is gone. And you numbskulls, it was like the wind blew you all away.” ~~
“It wasn’t the roar that freaked us, it was your scream,” Stepan defends himself. “It was like you were being cut in half with a saw!” “What do you mean, my scream!? I didn’t even out even a pip. As if enough wasn’t happening to me already! It’s good thing that I guessed to splash vodka on myself; at least he didn’t try to eat me.” Sasha liked to tell that story, usually with hiccuping, and with each retelling the story became a bit spicier with embellishment.~~
"So what happened next to this tiger? It darted across a field and ran into an old man in a fur coat, fishing an opening in the surface of a near-frozen lake. The old man glanced around, saw the devil and dove straight into the water. And, still dressed in his fur coat, he swam across the unfrozen portion of the lake. Naturally, his old lady didn’t believe a word of it.~~
"Then the tiger ventured out onto the road, where oncoming traffic forced him to take cover behind a clump of grass. An avid nature lover sitting behind the wheel noticed something alive, moving in the bush. He grabbed his gun and took out after his game. So the tiger faced yet another captor, one, who, two hours later, was barely drug out from underneath his car by some people who happened to pass by. The tiger’s next moves we do not know. He probably figured that there was no peace to be had with these two-legged creatures and went back into the forest.~~
Ulchkii Raion Siberian Tiger Attack
Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: " Some will remember the ugly scene in Ulchskii Raion, the one that began with a warning in the local newspaper: A tiger that finds itself in unfamiliar surroundings is dangerous. Don’t shoot, for a wounded tiger is even more dangerous. And despite all this, someone shot it, leaving a 34-caliber bullet in its leg. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]
"From here, things escalated rapidly. The animal hid its tracks, moving along a road, resting under a broken bridge where a bus with workers soon got stuck in the mud. People got out. One of them for some reason walked off to the side of the truck, and suddenly yelled “Wolves!” and ran back. Illuminated in the glare of the headlights, a huge cat jumped after him and killed him in one blow. All this took place within just a few steps from the truck.~~
"Then the real war started. Armed field groups were unable to find the tiger even from helicopters. He calmly slept the days away under spruce trees tilted over the road; at night he walked to the village to escort a dog to breakfast and didn’t leave a trace until he met an inebriated old lady on the street. She screamed to her old man, who fired his shotgun, and, to his own amazement, missed. In the morning they set up a cordon, but the tiger was able to break through the death circle. Only this time, he left tracks that spurred along a chain of pursuers. According to Sergei Anokhin, a wildlife manager and the first person to see the tiger and to open fire, the scene was eerie. The tiger, just like a lion, fur standing on end on its mane and head, made enormous leaps with a roar that shook the surroundings. There were dozens of shots, but only two shots hit the mark. The stuffed tiger is now in the Bogorodskoe village museum to remind us that our relationship with our “little brothers” is a serious affair." ~~
Hunters Eaten by Siberian Tigers
Dunishenko and Kulikov wrote: "In another incident, our colleagues were forced to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of a staff hunter in the Samarga River watershed. The tiger stalked him like game. Came in from the side, let him move past and overtook him in three leaps, killing him instantly. Then the tiger dragged the guy up the slope of the mountain and ate most of him. This animal was not injured. He was simply hungry. [Source: “The Amur Tiger” by Yury Dunishenko and Alexander Kulikov, The Wildlife Foundation, 1999 ~~]
"A no less terrifying story took place in the headwaters of the Bolshoi Ussurka River watershed. A couple of hunters left their cabin to pick up their traps, each moving along an individual trap line. By evening, one of them hadn’t returned. In the morning, his troubled comrade took off along the other’s track in a search that soon led him to the site of the tragedy. The snow was crushed down and bloodied and on the trail was the gnawed leg of human. In terror the hunter hoisted his gun, fired a shot into the air and took off from the horrifying site. This shot saved his life - the tiger-killer heard the person approaching and was stalking him at the moment, waiting for a chance to spring when the shot rang out.~~
"The investigation revealed that the hunter did not provoke this encounter. At the time of the attack he was looking at a squirrel in a Korean pine tree, and the predator, sneaking upon the scene, was crouching not very far from the trail. The gun, so it seems, was in the hunter’s hands. He probably saw the tiger lung like a yellow streak of lightening, and most likely he didn’t even have a chance to shoot.~~
"Then there is the noisy 1997 history of the man-eating tiger in the Bikin River watershed. This incident began with a guy hunting the rare animal with the help of snares and traps. The fellow was probably not the type to be easily scared, since the first thing he did was to shoot the tiger with a shotgun and then take off after the wounded animal. The second shot did not hit the mark; the tiger leapt at his offender, killing him on the spot.~~
"The tiger, however, was seriously injured, no long in any condition to hunt red Manchurian deer or wild boar. He had also caught on that humans were easy game. His second victim was a young guy who was guilty of nothing, a fellow out checking his father’s traps. After the funeral of his son, the father, unable to cope with the loss, committed suicide. A special team of hunters shot the tiger after what turned out to be a long search. If the search had been initiated earlier, then the second tiger victim would still be alive.~~
True Story Of A Man-Eating Tiger's 'Vengeance'
“The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival” by John Vaillant is part natural history, part Russian history and part thriller. It tells a gripping and gory story of what it's like to stalk — and be stalked by — a Siberian tiger. John Goodrich of NPR wrote: “At the center of the story is Vladimir Markov, a poacher who met a grisly end in the winter of 1997 after he shot and wounded a tiger, and then stole part of the tiger's kill. The injured tiger hunted Markov down in a way that appears to be chillingly premeditated. The tiger staked out Markov's cabin, systematically destroyed anything that had Markov's scent on it, and then waited by the front door for Markov to come home. "This wasn't an impulsive response," Vaillant says. "The tiger was able to hold this idea over a period of time." The animal waited for 12 to 48 hours before attacking. When Markov finally appeared, the tiger killed him, dragged him into the bush and ate him. "The eating may have been secondary," Vaillant explains. "I think he killed him because he had a bone to pick." [Source: John Goodrich, NPR, September 14, 2010 /~/]
“The other central character in The Tiger is Yuri Trush, the head of the local squad of an anti-poaching unit known as Inspection Tiger, an organization created by the Russian government to combat the black-market trafficking of tigers and tiger parts. Trush was "a guy well-suited to work in tiger country," Vaillant says. Physically imposing and a skilled fighter, Trush was a larger-than-life figure, and a "real warrior." For most of his time with Inspection Tiger, Trush's job involved setting up sting operations and catching poachers. But Markov's death — which is followed later by the death of a second man — meant that Trush ended up having to hunt the same animal he had worked to protect. /~/
Trush said: “There are many people who don't believe this actually happened. They think it's some phantasm of my imagination. But it was real. There are the facts." “Trush needed to anticipate what the tiger's next move would be, and then get there before the tiger did, Vaillant explains. "Trush was charged not just with protecting tigers, but now with saving human lives." Vaillant's retelling is a life-and-death, moment-by-moment chase — and at times, it can be hard to remember whether you're rooting for the tiger or the humans. "The tiger is just trying to be a tiger," Vaillant says. "What's so fascinating to me about that region is that there are human beings and tigers hunting for the same prey in the same territory — and they don't have conflicts." But if you make the mistake of attacking a tiger, you will regret it, he says. /~/
“Markov certainly learned that the hard way. Vaillant says the tiger's response was "logical" and "understandable," but in the case of the revenge it exacted on Markov, it was anything but typical. In writing the book, Vaillant interviewed people of all ages from families who had lived in the Russian Far East for generations. "In living memory, there was no record of an incident like this, of a tiger hunting a human being," he says. "This was a highly unusual circumstance, completely driven by human behavior. If the tiger hadn't been shot, there would be no story." /~/
Book: “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival” by John Vaillant (Knopf, 2010).
Excerpt: 'The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival'
John Vaillant wrote in “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival”: “ Its wan light scatters shadows on the snow below, only obscuring further the forest that this man negotiates now as much by feel as by sight. He is on foot and on his own save for a single dog, which runs ahead, eager to be heading home at last. All around, the black trunks of oak, pine, and poplar soar into the dark above the scrub and deadfall, and their branches form a tattered canopy overhead. Slender birches, whiter than the snow, seem to emit a light of their own, but it is like the coat of an animal in winter: cold to the touch and for itself alone. All is quiet in this dormant, frozen world. It is so cold that spit will freeze before it lands; so cold that a tree, brittle as straw and unable to contain its expanding sap, may spontaneously explode. As they progress, man and dog alike leave behind a wake of heat, and the contrails of their breath hang in pale clouds above their tracks. Their scent stays close in the windless dark, but their footfalls carry and so, with every step, they announce themselves to the night. [Source: John Vaillant. “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival” (Knopf, 2010) ***]
"Despite the bitter cold, the man wears rubber boots better suited to the rain; his clothes, too, are surprisingly light, considering that he has been out all day, searching. His gun has grown heavy on his shoulder, as have his rucksack and cartridge belt. But he knows this route like the back of his hand, and he is almost within sight of his cabin. Now, at last, he can allow himself the possibility of relief. Perhaps he imagines the lantern he will light and the fire he will build; perhaps he imagines the burdens he will soon lay down. The water in the kettle is certainly frozen, but the stove is thinly walled and soon it will glow fiercely against the cold and dark, just as his own body is doing now. Soon enough, there will be hot tea and a cigarette, followed by rice, meat, and more cigarettes. Maybe a shot or two of vodka, if there is any left. He savors this ritual and knows it by rote. Then, as the familiar angles take shape across the clearing, the dog collides with a scent as with a wall and stops short, growling. They are hunting partners and the man understands: someone is there by the cabin. The hackles on the dog's back and on his own neck rise together. ***
“Shortly after dark on the afternoon of December 5, 1997, an urgent message was relayed to a man named Yuri Trush at his home in Luchegorsk, a mid-sized mining town in Primorye Territory in Russia's Far East, not far from the Chinese border. Primorye (Pri-mor-ya) is, among other things, the last stronghold of the Siberian tiger, and the official on the line had some disturbing news: a man had been attacked near Sobolonye, a small logging community located in the deep forest, sixty miles northeast of Luchegorsk. Yuri Trush was the squad leader of an Inspection Tiger unit, one of six in the territory whose purpose was to investigate forest crimes, specifically those involving tigers. Because poachers were often involved, these included tiger attacks. As a result, this situation — whatever it might entail — was now Trush's problem and, right away, he began preparing for the trip to Sobolonye. ***
“Early the following morning — Saturday — Yuri Trush, along with his squadmates Alexander Gorborukov and Sasha Lazurenko, piled into a surplus army truck and rumbled north. Dressed in insulated fatigues and camouflage, and armed with knives, pistols, and semiautomatic rifles, the Tigers, as these inspectors are sometimes called, looked less like game wardens than like some kind of wilderness SWAT team. Their twenty-year-old truck was nicknamed a Kung, and it was the Russian army's four-ton equivalent to the Unimog and the Humvee. Gasoline-powered, with a winch, four-wheel-drive, and wide waist-high tires, it is a popular vehicle in Primorye's hinterlands. Along with a gun rack and brackets for extra fuel cans, this one had been modified to accommodate makeshift bunks, and was stocked with enough food to last four men a week. It was also equipped with a woodstove so that, even in the face of total mechanical failure, the crew could survive no matter where in the wilderness they happened to be. ***
“After passing through the police checkpoint on the edge of town, the Tigers continued on up to a dirt road turnoff that led eastward along the Bikin River (be-keen), a large and meandering waterway that flows through some of the most isolated country in northern Primorye. The temperature was well below freezing and the snow was deep, and this slowed the heavy truck's progress. It also allowed these men, all of whom were experienced hunters and former soldiers, many hours to ponder and discuss what might be awaiting them. It is safe to say that nothing in their experience could have prepared them for what they found there. ***
Discovering a Human Tiger Kill
John Vaillant wrote in “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival”: “The cabin belonged to Vladimir Markov, a resident of Sobolonye, and a man best known for keeping bees. The crude structure stood by itself on the high side of a gentle south-facing slope, surrounded by a thick forest of birch, pine, and alder. It was a lonely spot but a lovely one and, under different circumstances, Trush might have seen its appeal. Now there was no time; it was three o'clock in the afternoon and the sun was already in the southwest, level with the treetops. Any warmth generated during this brief, bright day was quickly dissipating. [Source: John Vaillant. “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival” (Knopf, 2010) ***]
“The first sign of trouble was the crows. Carrion crows will follow a tiger the same way seagulls follow a fishing boat: by sticking with a proven winner, they conserve energy and shift the odds of getting fed from If to When. When Trush and his men climbed down from the Kung, they heard the crows' raucous kvetching concentrated just west of the entrance road. Trush noted the way their dark bodies swirled and flickered above the trees and, even if he hadn't been warned ahead of time, this would have told him all he needed to know: something big was dead, or dying, and it was being guarded. ***
“Parked in front of Markov's cabin was a heavy truck belonging to Markov's good friend and beekeeping partner, Danila Zaitsev, a reserved and industrious man in his early forties. Zaitsev was a skilled mechanic and his truck, another cast-off from the military, was one of the few vehicles still functioning in Sobolonye. With Zaitsev were Sasha Dvornik and Andrei Onofrecuk, both family men in their early thirties who often hunted and fished with Markov. It was evident from their haggard appearance that they had barely slept the night before. ***
“Judging from the density of tracks, there had clearly been a lot of activity around the cabin. Several different species were represented and their trails overlaid each other so that, at first, it was hard to sort them out. Trush approached this tangled skein of information like a detective: somewhere in here was a beginning and an end, and somewhere, too, was a motive — perhaps several. Downhill from the cabin, closer to the entrance road, two tracks in particular caught his attention. One set traveled northward up the entrance road at a walking pace; the other traveled south from the cabin. They approached each other directly, as if the meeting had been intentional — like an appointment of some kind. The southbound tracks were noteworthy, not just because they were made by a tiger, but because there were large gaps — ten feet or more — between each set of impressions. At the point where they met, the northbound tracks disappeared, as if the person who made them had simply ceased to exist. Here the large paw prints veered off to the west, crossing the entrance road at right angles. Their regular spacing indicated a walking pace; they led into the forest, directly toward the crows. ***
“Trush had a video camera with him and its unblinking eye recorded the scene in excruciating detail. Only in retrospect does it strike one how steady Trush's hand and voice are as he films the site, narrating as he goes: the rough cabin and the scrubby clearing in which it stands; the path of the attack and the point of impact, and then the long trail of horrific evidence. The camera doesn't waver as it pans across the pink and trampled snow, taking in the hind foot of a dog, a single glove, and then a bloodstained jacket cuff before halting at a patch of bare ground about a hundred yards into the forest. At this point the audio picks up a sudden, retching gasp. It is as if he has entered Grendel's den. ***
“The temperature is thirty below zero and yet, here, the snow has been completely melted away. In the middle of this dark circle, presented like some kind of sacrificial offering, is a hand without an arm and a head without a face. Nearby is a long bone, a femur probably, that has been gnawed to a bloodless white. Beyond this, the trail continues deeper into the woods. Trush follows it, squinting through his camera while his squad and Markov's friends trail closely behind. The only sounds are the icy creak of Trush's boots and the distant barking of his dog. Seven men have been stunned to silence. Not a sob; not a curse. Trush's hunting dog, a little Laika, is further down the trail, growing increasingly shrill and agitated. Her nose is tingling with blood scent and tiger musk, and she alone feels free to express her deepest fear: the tiger is there, somewhere up ahead. Trush's men have their rifles off their shoulders, and they cover him as he films. They arrive at another melted spot; this time, a large oval. Here, amid the twigs and leaf litter, is all that remains of Vladimir Ilyich Markov. It looks at first like a heap of laundry until one sees the boots, luminous stubs of broken bone protruding from the tops, the tattered shirt with an arm still fitted to one of the sleeves. ***
“Trush had never seen a fellow human so thoroughly and gruesomely annihilated and, even as he filmed, his mind fled to the edges of the scene, taking refuge in peripheral details. He was struck by the poverty of this man — that he would be wearing thin rubber boots in such bitter weather. He reflected on the cartridge belt — loaded but for three shells — and wondered where the gun had gone. Meanwhile, Trush's dog, Gitta, is racing back and forth, hackles raised and barking in alarm. The tiger is somewhere close by — invisible to the men, but to the dog it is palpably, almost unbearably, present. The men, too, can sense a potency around them — something larger than their own fear, and they glance about, unsure where to look. They are so overwhelmed by the wreckage before them that it is hard to distinguish imminent danger from the present horror." ***
Tracking a Man-Eating Tiger in the Forest
John Vaillant wrote in “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival”: “Save for the movements of the dog and the men, the forest has gone absolutely still; even the crows have withdrawn, waiting for this latest disturbance to pass. And so, it seems, has the tiger. Then, there is a sound: a brief, rushing exhale — the kind one would use to extinguish a candle. But there is something different about the volume of air being moved, and the force behind it — something bigger and deeper: this is not a human sound. At the same moment, perhaps ten yards ahead, the tip of a low fir branch spontaneously sheds its load of snow. The flakes powder down to the forest floor; the men freeze in mid-breath and, once again, all is still. [Source: John Vaillant. “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival” (Knopf, 2010) ***]
“Since well before the Kung's engine noise first penetrated the forest, a conversation of sorts has been unfolding in this lonesome hollow. It is not in a language like Russian or Chinese, but it is a language nonetheless, and it is older than the forest. The crows speak it; the dog speaks it; the tiger speaks it, and so do the men — some more fluently than others. That single blast of breath contained a message lethal in its eloquence. But what does one do with such information so far from one's home ground? Gitta tightens the psychic leash connecting her to her master. Markov's friends, already shaken to the core, pull in closer, too. The tiger's latest communication serves not only to undo these men still further, but to deepen the invisible chasm between them — poachers to a man — and the armed officials on whom their liberty and safety now depend. Markov's friends are known to Trush because he has busted them before — for possessing illegal firearms and hunting without a license. Of the three of them, only Zaitsev's gun is legal, but it is too light to stop a tiger. As for the others, their weapons are now hidden in the forest, leaving them more helpless than Trush's dog. ***
“Trush is unarmed, too. There had been some back-and-forth at the entrance road about who was going to follow that grisly trail, and comments were made implying that Trush and his men didn't have what it took. Fear is not a sin in the taiga, but cowardice is, and Trush returned the challenge with a crisp invitation: "Poshli" — "Let's go." One of Markov's friends — Sasha Dvornik, as Trush recalled — then suggested that Trush's team could handle it themselves. Besides, he said, they had no weapons. Trush called his bluff by urging him to fetch his unregistered gun from hiding. "This is no time to be confiscating guns," he said. "What's important now is to protect ourselves." Still, Dvornik hesitated, and this is when Trush offered him his rifle. It was a bold gesture on several levels: not only did it imply an expectation of trust and cooperation, but Trush's semiautomatic was a far better weapon than Dvornik's battered smoothbore. It also short-circuited the argument: now, there was no excuse, and no way that Dvornik — with six men watching — could honorably refuse. It was this same mix of shame, fear, and loyalty that compelled Zaitsev and Onofrecuk to go along, too. Besides, there was safety in numbers. ***
“But it had been a long time since Dvornik was in the army, and Trush's weapon felt strangely heavy in his hands; Trush, meanwhile, was feeling the absence of its reassuring weight, and that was strange, too. He still had his pistol, but it was holstered and, in any case, it would have been virtually useless against a tiger. His faith rested with his squad mates because he had put himself in an extremely vulnerable position: even though he was leading the way, he did so at an electronic remove — in this drama but not of it, exploring this dreadful surreality through the camera's narrow, cyclopean lens. Because Zaitsev and Dvornik couldn't be counted on, and Deputy Bush had only a pistol, the Tigers were Trush's only reliable proxies. Those with guns had them at the ready, but the forest was dense and visibility was poor. Were the tiger to attack, they could end up shooting one another. So they held their fire, eyes darting back and forth to that single, bare branch, wondering where the next sign would come from. ***
“Behind the camera, Trush remained strangely calm. "We clearly see the tiger's tracks going away from the remains," he continued in his understated official drone, while Gitta barked incessantly, stiff-legged and staring. " ... the dog clearly indicates that the tiger went this way." Up ahead, the tiger's tracks showed plainly in the snow, brought into sharp relief by the shadows now pooling within them. The animal was maneuvering northward to higher ground, the place every cat prefers to be. "It looks like the tiger's not too far," Trush intoned to future viewers, "around forty yards." The snow wasn't deep and, under those conditions, a tiger could cover forty yards in about four seconds. This may have been why Trush chose that moment to shut off his camera, reclaim his gun, and step back into real time. But once there, he was going to have to make a difficult decision. ***
“In his professional capacity as senior inspector for Inspection Tiger, Trush acted as a medium between the Law of the Jungle and the Law of the State; one is instinctive and often spontaneous while the other is contrived and always cumbersome. The two are, by their very natures, incompatible. When he was in the field, Trush usually had no means of contacting his superiors, or anyone else for that matter; his walkie-talkies had limited range (when they worked at all) so he and his squad mates were profoundly on their own. Because of this, Trush's job required a lot of judgment calls, and he was going to have to make one now: the tiger is a "Red Book" species — protected in Russia — so permission to kill had to come from Moscow. Trush did not yet have this permission, but it was Saturday, Moscow might as well have been the moon, and they had an opportunity to end this now. ***
“Trush decided to track it. This had not been part of the plan; he had been sent to investigate an attack, not to hunt a tiger. Furthermore, his team was short a man, dusk was coming on, and Markov's friends were a liability; they were still in shock and so, for that matter, was Trush. But at that moment, he was poised — equidistant between the tiger and the harrowing evidence of what it had done. The two would never be so close again. Signaling Lazurenko to follow, Trush set off up the trail, knowing that every step would take him deeper into the tiger's comfort zone. ***
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2016