That distinction fell to the forest—the off-grid benefactor oflast resort that Markov’s friend Sasha Dvornik and many of its otherdependents refer to as Taiga Matushka: Mother Taiga.When Russians wax eloquent about their homeland, they will ofteninvoke Mother Russia, but Mother Russia is not the nation, and She iscertainly not the leadership; She is the Land. The deep Russian bond tothe earth—specifically, the soil—transcends all other affiliations with theexception, perhaps, of family. Likewise, the forest and its creatures—plant and animal alike—have a significance that most of us in the Westlost touch with generations ago. It is a connection—a dependence, really—that exists in stark contrast to the State’s willful, capricious, andalarmingly comprehensive destruction of the environment. Come May 15or so, the vast majority of Russians—regardless of where they live orwhat they do—stop and interact with the land more intensely, and withmore devotion and genuine understanding than most Westerners, whomay perceive themselves as environmentally aware, could ever hope to.May is potato planting time in Russia, and just about everybodyparticipates. It’s a tradition, it’s a ritual, and it’s how you make it throughthe winter in a country where winter seems to last forever and salaries areinadequate, when they are paid at all. Armenian Radio has addressed thisissue, too😮ur listeners asked us:“Is it possible to make ends meet on salary alone?”We’re answering:“We don’t know, we never tried.”Before the Revolution, the czar was often referred to as the “LittleFather” (the “Big Father,” of course, being God). This notion of asupreme (human) being who unifies, protects, and guides the country is a
theme that dates back to Ivan the Terrible, the first “Czar of all Russia,” asavage and canny expansionist who set the tone for the next five centuriesof Russian rule. Today, the tradition is alive and well: Vladimir Putin hasbeen described as a “Good Czar” and a “Strong Man for Russia,” just as“Iron Joe” Stalin was in the 1930s. This is considered a good thing,especially if you believe your country—as many Russians do—to be aglorious but underappreciated stepchild of the First World surrounded byenemies. It is one of the principal reasons Putin enjoys such widepopularity, even in the neglected hinterlands of Primorye, and why Stalinis still admired by millions of Russians. The Russian State, in otherwords, is masculine and paternalistic. But the State, in addition to beingsecretive, xenophobic, and heavily armed, is also fallible, shortsighted,and prone to betrayal. In fact, over the past century, broken faith hasbecome something of a national characteristic. It is no coincidence that,in Russia, the divorce rate is one of the highest in the world, and singlemothers (both literal and practical) are nearly as common as children.Fathers get drunk, have affairs, take off, die young, or simply give up—for all kinds of reasons. When this happens, and there is no extendedfamily to rely on, there are only a couple of options left, besides anorphanage: struggle on with the mother, or brave a risky existence on thestreet. The taiga offers a combination of the two.After the logging company closed down and the State abandoned them,the working people of the Bikin valley fell into the tough but bountifularms of Mother Taiga, but they did so in a way that was technicallyillegal and often dangerous. More often than not, homemade vodka andhomemade bullets went hand in hand. A corollary to this brand ofbetrayal and abandonment is an intensified, overdetermined relationshipbetween mothers and their children, particularly between mothers andonly (surviving) sons (Joseph Stalin being but one example). The sameheld true for Mother Taiga and her desperate boys.
By 1997, Sobolonye had become a profoundly unhealthy place to be:morale in the village plummeted and alcoholism, already a kind ofcultural norm, became rampant. Things began to break and burn, andpeople began to die—in all kinds of ways. Today, three of the huntressBaba Liuda’s five children lie in the village graveyard. “I can’t call it lifeanymore,” she said. “It’s just an existence.”Under these circumstances, time, as most of us know it, begins to blurinto irrelevance. Replacing it in Sobolonye was a far more approximatechronology that could be called subsistence time: when you’re broke anddisconnected and living in the woods, the steady pronouncements ofclocks and calendars no longer carry the same weight. Maybe, if you’relucky, the arrival of a meager pension check will give some structure tothe month, but if some or all of this money is invested in vodka, it willonly serve to blur time further. As a result, subsistence time includesperiods of suspended animation combined with seasonal opportunitiesdetermined by the natural cycles of fish, game, bees, and pinecones.These, in turn, may be punctuated by potato planting and the occasionalstint on a logging or road building crew. It’s a kind of ancient schedulethat is all but unrecognizable to many of us, despite the fact that millionsof people live this way all over the world.Markov did his best to dodge the depression and inertia that stalked somany of his neighbors, and one way he did this was by spending more andmore time in the taiga. “He was a good man,” recalled his neighbor IrinaPeshkova. “He knew everything in the forest—everything. He could findany root. He even saved some bear cubs once.”“He was always running around doing something,” said DenisBurukhin. “One cannot afford to be lazy in the forest: you need firewood;you need water. You have to be checking your traps and your nets,hunting for meat—you have to be hustling all the time.”Perhaps recognizing the need for some kind of objective order anddiscipline, Markov kept an alarm clock in his cabin. But the longer onespends in the elemental and self-directed world of the taiga, the harder itcan be to put up with the demands of a domestic routine. By the timeTrush ran into him and confiscated his gun, Markov’s preference had
clearly shifted away from village life. During a brief visit home, a Nanaihunter named Vasily Dunkai summed up the tayozhnik’s dilemma: “Thetaiga is my home,” he said. “When I come back to my house, I feel like aguest. That’s how most hunters feel. I’ve been home for a week now, andI am sick and tired of it.”Vasily Solkin, a fifty-year-old filmmaker, magazine editor, andleopard specialist, is also an experienced hunter and a friend of Dunkai’s.Like him, he has spent months on his own in the taiga. Originally trainedas a war journalist and propagandist with the Pacific Fleet, Solkinresigned from the Party in the late 1980s and became a dissidentfolksinger. He is a restless whip of a man with long hair and a full beardwho comes to work at the Far Eastern Institute of Geography, outsideVladivostok, wearing jeans, vest, and cowboy boots. Solkin’s uniquecombination of education and experience has enabled him to articulatethe tayozhnik mind-set better than most, and he was sympathetic toMarkov’s situation. “The most terrifying and important test for a humanbeing is to be in absolute isolation,” he explained. “A human being is avery social creature, and ninety percent of what he does is done onlybecause other people are watching. Alone, with no witnesses, he starts tolearn about himself—who is he really? Sometimes, this brings staggeringdiscoveries. Because nobody’s watching, you can easily become ananimal: it is not necessary to shave, or to wash, or to keep your winterquarters clean—you can live in shit and no one will see. You can shoottigers, or choose not to shoot. You can run in fear and nobody will know.You have to have something—some force, which allows and helps you tosurvive without witnesses. Markov had it.“Once you have passed the solitude test,” continued Solkin, “you haveabsolute confidence in yourself, and there is nothing that can break youafterward. Any changes, including changes in the political system, are notgoing to affect you as much because you know that you can do it yourself.Karl Marx said that ‘Freedom is a recognized necessity.’* I learned thisin university, but I didn’t understand what it meant until I’d spent sometime in the taiga. If you understand it, you will survive in the taiga. If you
think that freedom is anarchy, you will not survive.“It becomes like a drug,” he said, “you have to have it. So, it’s astrange feeling when you come back [to civilization] because, in thetaiga, the most important things are your bullets. But as soon as you getto the main road and see the bus coming, you understand that thosebullets don’t mean anything in this other life. All of a sudden, you needmoney—strange paper, which you couldn’t even use to start a fire, andyour bullets aren’t going to help you. This transition can be verydifficult.”On a shelf in Solkin’s office are several cat skulls, including onebelonging to a tiger. It is only when you study it closely that you see thebullet holes, and it is clear from their placement that the tiger was shothead-on at close range. “Poachers can be brave, too,” said Solkin.Outside of Primorye’s nature preserves, the Bikin valley is one of thewildest places left in the territory and Markov had come to know it well.In previous years, he had hunted and kept bees further upriver in Ulma, atiny settlement accessible only by boat or snowmobile. Between his localexplorations and seasonal migrations, Markov had gained acomprehensive knowledge of the region and its loosely scatteredinhabitants. His charm worked to his advantage here, too: he befriended areclusive hunter named Ivan Dunkai (Vasily Dunkai’s father) who gavehim permission to hunt in his territory. This is when Markov’s gyrebegan to tighten.In the taiga, to this day, there are small but well-developed industriesand markets for many kinds of forest products ranging from honey andnuts to mushrooms and medicinal roots. In Primorye, the collection ofginseng, laminaria (a species of edible kelp), and trepang (sea cucumber)were, along with fur trapping and gold mining, among the region’sfounding industries and still remain profitable. Until the 1970s, opiumpoppies were cultivated openly in some villages and they are still grown,
though, as with more recent marijuana plantations, greater efforts arenow made to conceal them.Before Markov acquired his portable barracks, his friend DanilaZaitsev had used it as a remote plant for processing fir needle oil, amultipurpose folk remedy rumored to be effective on everything fromcoughs to rheumatism. After perestroika, the niche market for fir oilcollapsed, and the project was abandoned. With Zaitsev’s help, Markovmoved the caravan into the sunny clearing where it now stood, ringed bytiger tracks. In addition to being his new hunting base, he and Zaitsev rana honey operation from there, consisting of about forty hives. On the side,they brewed medovukha, a honey-based drink comparable to mead.Apparently, Markov had a gift. “He liked bees,” recalled his son, Alexei,who shares his father’s stature, eyes, and cheekbones, “and they likedhim. He would go to the hives without his shirt. He wasn’t afraid.” So atease was Markov that the bees would cluster about his half-naked body,stinging him only occasionally.It was from these hunting grounds that Markov started poaching gamein earnest. His guns, of course, were unregistered, his bullets homemade.He was desperately poor. When he managed to bag a deer or a boar, hewould often barter the meat for essentials like sugar, tobacco, gunpowder,and tea. (This, incidentally, is exactly how Dersu Uzala was making hisliving when Arseniev first encountered him in 1906.) It was the taiga, andthe creatures it contains, that kept him and his family alive. But by 1997,this hand-to-mouth existence was taking its toll. A heavy smoker,Markov was approaching fifty in a country where the average lifeexpectancy for men was only fifty-eight. For his demographic, it waseven lower than that. When Yuri Trush encountered him the previousyear, he recalled being struck by the unhealthiness he saw in Markov’seyes: they were badly bloodshot and had a yellow cast to them. Trushcouldn’t tell if this was the result of a recent drinking binge, or somethingmore serious, but Markov had other problems as well: ever since taking abad fall on his hunting skis several years earlier, he had acquired apermanent limp. No longer able to cover the ground or carry the weighthe once could, something had to change, but without money—a lot of it
by Sobolonye standards—there was no way to leverage himself out of hissituation.Many people reach a point where they realize that the shape their lifehas taken does not square with the ambitions they once had for it. InRussia, there are entire generations for whom this is the case. Since 1989,though, a whole new frontier of opportunity has opened up, much of it onthe black market. Oil, timber, humans, and tigers all have their nichehere, and the line between politicians and mafia, and between legitimatebusiness and crime, has blurred almost beyond recognition. This is theWild East, and business is booming. You can see the affluence enjoyedby these “New Russians” parading down Aleutskaya and Svetlanskayastreets along Vladivostok’s Golden Horn: leggy women in spike-heeledboots, barely visible beneath sumptuous, ankle-length coats of sable andmink, their carefully made-up faces hidden in voluminous cowls; the menin sharp European suits, speeding by in fleets of right-hand-drive ToyotaLand Cruisers fresh off the boat from Japan.Markov didn’t witness this explosion of wealth firsthand, but hecertainly heard about it and saw it on television, and he already knewwhat it felt like to drive a fine car. There are a lot of people in Primoryewho cook with wood and draw water from community wells who wonderhow they might get a piece of this new and glamorous pie. Some of thembelieve the answer lies in making what, in urban terms, might be called abig score. In the forest, there is really only one thing that qualifies, andthat is a tiger. After a game warden named Yevgeny Voropaev wasordered to shoot an aggressive tiger on the outskirts of Vladivostok, hewas approached by a Russian gang member. “He made an offer to me,”Voropaev said. “Fifty thousand American dollars for the whole tiger—meat and skin and all.”He let that number sink in.“Fifty thousand dollars if I got it to the border.”Markov had heard these stories, too, and, while they may have beenpart fact and part urban myth, it was well known that the Chinese hadstrange appetites, and some of them had lots of money. They also hadready access to the Bikin, which flows directly to the Chinese frontier.
For someone as broke and isolated as Markov, even a fraction of this kindof money would represent a spectacular payoff, but it was a payoff thatwould come with a unique set of complications and liabilities—kind oflike selling a briefcaseful of stolen cocaine.* In November 1918, at the height of the looting, six members ofArseniev’s family, including his father, were murdered for their propertyby local peasants.* This quote, often attributed to Marx, is Engels’s paraphrasing of Hegel:“The truth of Necessity, therefore, is Freedom.”7
8How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea?SHAKESPEARE,Sonnet 65IT IS GENERALLY UNDERSTOOD THAT THE ANIMAL WERECOGNIZE AS A tiger has been with us at least since the PleistoceneEpoch (1.8 million to 10,000 years BCE). The oldest definitivelyidentified tiger fossils date to roughly two million years ago and werefound in China, which is where many scientists believe the species firstevolved and then disseminated itself across Asia. The tiger’s historicrange was vast, spanning 100 degrees of longitude and 70 degrees oflatitude, and including virtually all of Asia with deep inroads into Siberiaand the Middle East. Five hundred years ago, large predators that werealmost certainly tigers were reported in the Volga and Dnieper rivervalleys, just a few days’ travel from Kiev, Ukraine.Fossil evidence of tigers has also been found further north and east, inJapan and on the Russian side of the Bering Strait, and it raises thequestion: why didn’t this skillful and adaptable predator simply keepgoing? The mixed broadleaf and conifer forests of the Ussuri valley sharea lot in common with historic European and American forests; it isunnerving to imagine a tiger at home in such a landscape because itimplies that tigers could have infiltrated Europe and the New World.Given time and opportunity, tigers could—in theory—have emerged fromAsia to rule every forest from the Bosphorus Strait to the EnglishChannel, and from the Yukon to the Amazon. But for some reason, theydidn’t. Why they failed to colonize the Americas is a mystery: somethingabout that northern land bridge—Too cold? Not enough cover to stage an
ambush?—barred their way. Perhaps it was the cave lions that stoppedthem.Life in the higher latitudes has always been precarious and, by someestimates, the Russian Far East has never supported more than a thousandtigers. Due to the extreme climate and its impact on prey density, largemammals, in general, are more sparsely distributed in the taiga than inthe tropics. As a result, Amur tigers must occupy far larger territoriesthan other subspecies in order to meet their needs for prey. In Primorye,these territories can be so large that, after trying to follow several tigerson their winter rounds, a pioneering tiger researcher named Lev Kaplanovspeculated in the early 1940s that Amur tigers were simply wanderers.“The entire winter life of a solitary tiger takes place as a sequence of longjourneys,” wrote Kaplanov, the Amur tiger’s most famous earlyadvocate.1 “The tiger is a born nomad.”The tiger was first classified as a distinct species of cat in 1758. Thesubspecies known variously as the Korean, Manchurian, Siberian, Ussuri,Woolly, or Amur tiger was first designated Felis tigris altaica in 1844.Since then, the taxonomic scent tree has been marked and marked again,to the point that this subspecies has been reclassified seven times. Thelast man to stake his claim was Nikolai Baikov, a lifetime member of theSociety for Study of the Manchurian Territory, and of the RussianAcademy of Sciences. In his monograph “The Manchurian Tiger,” Baikovbegins by paying homage to the explorer Vladimir Arseniev and to thenovelist Mayne Reid (The Headless Horseman, etc.). He then proceeds togo out on a limb that both of those brave romantics would haveappreciated: in Baikov’s opinion, the creature he reclassified as Felistigris mandshurica was no ordinary tiger but a living fossil—a throwbackto the Pliocene worthy of designation as a distinct species. “Its massivebody and powerful skeletal system are reminiscent of something ancientand obsolete,” wrote Baikov in 1925.2 “The Far East representative of thegiant cat is … extremely close, both in its anatomical structure, and in itsway of life, to the fossil cave tiger, Machairodus, a contemporary of thecave bear and the wooly mammoth.”
Baikov supported his claim with detailed drawings comparing theskulls of these two animals, which, based on his rendering, do bear astrong resemblance. Machairodus was a genus of large saber-toothed cat,which lived between two and fifteen million years ago and overlappedwith our protohuman ancestors. Specimens have been found all over theworld. This thrilling if misguided notion of a feline missing linksurviving in the mountain fastness of Manchuria caused a stir amongmuseums and zoos of the period and helped drive the market for livespecimens. Baikov did his best to promote this view, and, to some extent,his efforts are still bearing fruit (and sowing confusion) to this day.Even now, it is taken as a given that the Amur tiger is the biggest cat ofthem all and, based on samplings of numerous tiger skulls from all overAsia, the measurements bear this out. Viewed on a graph, the Amur skullsshow up as outliers, occupying a territory all their own. Seen in thiscontext, it is easier to understand the impulse to classify them as aseparate species. The fact that they seem to thrive in conditions thatwould kill most other tigers is another reason, and it is here that size andclimate have conspired to give the impression of an Ice Age throwback.Much has been made of the Amur tiger’s massive size by Baikov andothers, and extraordinary dimensions have been claimed: lengths up tosixteen feet and weights up to nine hundred pounds have been quoted inreputable publications. It reveals more about us than it does about theseanimals that we wish them to be larger than life, but anyone who has beenclose to an Amur tiger will tell you that these creatures need noembellishment; they are big enough as is. The snarling specimen in theAmerican Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Biodiversity is nearly thesame size as the polar bear in the adjacent Hall of Ocean Life.One reason Amur tigers grew so big in the popular mind is that, whenBaikov and his contemporaries were describing them, there were manymore to choose from, and among this larger population there certainlywould have been some huge individuals. But there is also a lot of extrafootage to be found in a tiger’s tail, which can comprise a third of thetotal length, and a further 10 percent (or more) can be gained by stakingout a fresh, wet hide. In 1834, the Bengal Sporting Magazine described
this technique in a how-to article that, had it been written today, couldhave been titled: “Turn Your Ten-Footer into a Twelve-Footer!” Suchpractices, combined with the trophy-hunting mind-set, the exotic locale,and a dearth of reliable recording equipment, created fertile ground formythmaking. But when all is said and done, the record breakers, like somany of the best stories, always seem to come secondhand.In spite of this, sincere attempts were made to fix these cats in realspace. Ford Barclay, writing in The Big Game of Asia and North America(1915), the last in a deluxe four-volume compendium of huntinginformation from around the world, estimated the length of a tiger shot inthe Vladivostok area to be thirteen feet, five inches, nose to tail. Barclayalso interviewed the famous British taxidermist and author RowlandWard, who assured him that a skin sold in London, also from that area,“must have belonged to an animal that measured 14 feet.”3 That isroughly the length of a compact car. If this is accurate, it would make theAmur tiger the longest (if not the heaviest) carnivorous land mammalthat ever lived. Ward, a conscientious and detail-oriented man, wrote TheSportsman’s Handbook to Practical Collecting and Preserving Trophies ,which went through a dozen editions between 1880 and 1925, the peakyears of big game hunting. Ward saw and stuffed scores of tigersthroughout his long career, and his size estimate should be judgedaccordingly. However, if such behemoths once roamed the boreal junglesof the Far East, they do so no longer. Baikov and Barclay, both huntersthemselves, were making their audacious claims when tiger hunting was acresting wave, about to break forever.Tigers, it must be said, have taken a ferocious toll on humans as well. InIndia, some legendary man-eaters killed and ate scores of people beforebeing hunted down. A number of these cases have been documented bythe famous tiger hunter and conservationist Jim Corbett. It would beimpossible to accurately tally the tiger’s collective impact on humans
through history, but one scholar estimated that tigers have killedapproximately a million Asians over the last four hundred years.4 Themajority of these deaths occurred in India, but heavy losses were sufferedacross East Asia.Throughout Korea, Manchuria, and southeast China, tigers wereconsidered both sacred and a scourge. Until around 1930, tigers continuedto pose such a risk that, in North Korea, the bulk of offerings made tosome Buddhist shrines were prayers for protection from these animals.Nonetheless, tigers were held in high esteem in part because it wasbelieved that they, too, made offerings to heaven. In the tigers’ case,these gifts took the form of the severed heads of their prey, adetermination made, presumably, by the beheaded state of many tigerkills. Ordinary people were reluctant to retaliate against a predatory tigerfor fear it would take offense, not to mention revenge, and so their day-to-day lives were shaped—and sometimes tyrannized—by efforts to atonce avoid and propitiate these marauding gods.According to Dale Miquelle, the American tiger researcher, therelatively low incidence of tiger attacks in Russia as compared to Koreaat the turn of the last century, or in the Sundarbans today, is due tolearning: “When the majority of people have no means of defense (i.e.,firearms) tigers figure that out and include them on the list of potentialprey,” he explained.5 “However, where you have a heavily armedpopulace (e.g., Russia) tigers also figure that out and ‘take people off thelist.’ The implication is that you have to teach tigers that people aredangerous. I think this holds for most large carnivores.”This logic holds up in many places, but in Primorye, the Udeghe andNanai experience apparently defies it. Despite the fact that they madetheir home in a landscape regularly patrolled by tigers, there is no record—anecdotal or otherwise—of tiger attacks on a scale with their Chineseand Korean neighbors. Further south, along the China coast, tiger attacksand man-eating were common, and this combination of hazard andreverence made for some strange cultural collisions. In 1899, a tigerhunting missionary named Harry Caldwell relocated to Fujian province
from the mountains of east Tennessee. Caldwell, a Methodist, soonrealized that tigers were not only present and plentiful but that they wereeating his converts. And yet, much to his dismay, his parishioners seemedto venerate these beasts almost as if they were sacred cows. Armed with acarbine and the 117th Psalm, Caldwell began shooting every tiger he saw,only to find that the large striped cats he and his coolies brought out ofthe hills were greeted with skepticism. Elders in his village claimed theylacked certain tigerish attributes, but the subtext seemed to be that if thisforeign devil had been able to kill them then they couldn’t possibly bereal tigers. “Father’s first two kills were immediately discredited on thisscore,” wrote his son, John, in his memoir, China Coast Family.6 “Thesages announced to the assembled crowds that these were not tigers at all,but some other evil animal masquerading in tigers’ guise.“According to the wisdom of the sages, the Chinese character [Wang: ] meaning ‘Lord’ or ‘Emperor’ must be found in the markings of theforehead of a tiger if it be a tiger of whom the devils and demons areafraid. Another of Father’s early kills, a magnificent male of which hewas very proud, [was also] disqualified.… They announced that theanimal could never have been born of tiger parents, but had come out ofsome strange metamorphosis from an animal or fish living in the sea.”Up north, Manchu peasants endowed the tiger with similarly elusiveand ineffable qualities, as did the Udeghe and Nanai, who wouldsometimes go so far as to abandon a village site if tigers were active inthe area (which may help explain the rarity of attacks). But in Korea,when the Buddha, luck, and shamans all failed, there was still one placeleft to turn, and that was to the Tiger Hunters Guild. Long before theRussians started hunting tigers in the Far East, members of the TigerHunters Guild had made a name for themselves as the boldest hunter-warriors in Northeast Asia, and their feats of daring are legendary. Theso-called guild, a military organization that came into being during thelate Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897), included both hunters and professionalsoldiers. In addition to their other feats, they are credited with repellingattacks by French and American forces in 1866 and 1871, respectively.
The Koreans were much admired by the Western hunters whoencountered them, in large part because they were still using matchlockrifles and pistols. Based on designs dating from the fourteenth century,these medieval Chinese weapons depended on a fuse to light thegunpowder, which allowed for only a single shot at suicidally close range.As one historian put it, “Those who missed … rarely lived to regret it.”7When they weren’t defending their king, members of the guild pursuedman-eaters and other troublesome tigers and leopards. Their devotion tothe practice was almost cultlike, one of their prime objectives being toacquire a cat’s potency and courage through the act of killing andconsuming it (though, when they could, they sold body parts to theChinese as well). Yuri Yankovsky, a famous Russian tiger hunter,reportedly witnessed one of these rituals sometime around 1930: “Beforelong we came upon a startling scene.8 A Korean wearing the conical bluefelt hat of the Tiger Hunters’ Guild was leaning against a tree, holding inhis hand an old-fashioned matchlock.… [Another] was kneeling on theground, drinking blood from a bowl which he held against the throat of adead tiger.”This notion of self-enhancement by consumption cut both ways,however, and it was believed that a tiger could also make itself strongerby devouring both body and soul of a human being. Once consumed, thevictim’s soul would become a kind of captive guide, aiding the tiger in itssearch for more human victims. As fanciful as such reasoning may sound,there is no question that the strength and knowledge gained from eatinghumans will inform and influence a man-eater’s subsequent behavior.Relatively speaking, the tigers’ appetite for us pales before our appetitefor them. Humans have hunted tigers by various means for millennia, butnot long ago there was a strange and heated moment in our venerablerelationship with these animals that has been echoed repeatedly in ourrelations with other species. It bears some resemblance to what wolves do
when they get into a sheep pen: they slaughter simply because they canand, in the case of humans, until a profit can no longer be turned. For thesea otter, this moment occurred between 1790 and 1830; for theAmerican bison, it happened between 1850 and 1880; for the Atlanticcod, it lasted for centuries, ending only in 1990. These mass slaughtershave their analogue in the financial markets to which they are often tied,and they end the same way every time. The Canadian poet Eric Millersummed up the mind-set driving these binges better than just aboutanyone:A cornucopia!10Bliss of killing without ever seeming to subtract from the tasty sum of infinity!But infinity is a man-made construct that has no relevance in thenatural world. In nature, everything is finite, especially carnivores. Theorder Carnivora (meat-eating mammals) represents approximately 10percent of all mammal species, but only 2 percent of the total mammalianbiomass. Apex predators like big cats represent a tiny fraction of thisalready small percentage and, between 1860 and 1960, big game huntersmade it smaller still. In December of 1911, the freshly crowned KingGeorge V went on an elephant-borne shikar to Nepal, during which heand his retinue killed thirty-nine tigers in ten days. But they wereamateurs compared to Colonel Geoffrey Nightingale, who, prior to hissudden death while attempting to spear a panther from horseback, shotmore than three hundred tigers in India’s former Hyderabad state. TheMaharaja of Udaipur claimed to have shot “at least” a thousand tigers by1959. In a letter to the biologist George Schaller, the Maharaja of Surgujawrote: “My total bag of Tigers is 1150 (one thousand one hundred fiftyonly).”11
When Russians like the Yankovskys went hunting for tigers at the turn ofthe last century, they would plan to be away for weeks at a time, coveringten to twenty miles a day through mountainous country. In Russia, atleast as far back as the late nineteenth century, four men have beenconsidered the minimum for a tiger hunting expedition. The same wentfor tiger catching, a seemingly lunatic enterprise, which fell out of favoronly in the early 1990s. Tiger catchers, equipped with little more thanhunting dogs, tree branches, and rope, would track down and capture liveAmur tigers, usually for zoos and circuses. For obvious reasons, theypreferred to go after cubs, but full-grown tigers have also been caughtthis way. Needless to say, these men were largely self-taught, and thelearning curve would have been unforgiving in the extreme. Theircourage inspired one tiger biologist to write, “No, the bogatyri [mythicRussian heroes] have not died out in Russia.”12One of the last and most famous of the tiger catchers was VladimirKruglov, who learned the trade from an Old Believer named AverianCherepanov. Cherepanov’s method capitalized on one of the tiger’sgreatest weaknesses: its low endurance at speed. A tiger can walk fordays, but it can only run for short distances. For this reason, tigercatching was always done in the winter, preferably in deep snow, whichshortened the chase dramatically. Once the dogs scented a tiger, theywould be set loose to chase it until, too tired to run further, the animalwould turn and fight. With the dogs holding the tiger at bay, the menwould approach with long, forked tree branches and—somehow—pin theanimal down. Then, in a quick and carefully choreographed operation,they would immobilize the tiger’s paws and head, hog-tie it, and stuff itin a sack. This, of course, is easier said than done. Nonetheless, in 1978,Kruglov used the stick and rope method to—literally—bag a tigressweighing more than three hundred pounds. He is one of the only humanbeings in the history of the species to grab wild tigers by the earsrepeatedly and live to tell about it. “I have never let anyone else handlethe ears,” he explained to Dale Miquelle in 2001. “You know, the ears areher steering wheel. You can turn off her teeth with the ears.”
Kruglov died in a freak accident in 2005. After surviving more thanforty live tiger captures, not to mention the gauntlet of other hazards thattake Russian men before their time, Kruglov was killed at the age ofsixty-four when a tree fell on him. His legacy lives on in the form of thethirteen-thousand-acre Utyos Rehabilitation Center for Wild Animals insouthern Khabarovsk Territory, which he founded in 1996, and which isnow managed by his son and daughter. Few foreigners have attempted tobag live game in the Far East—for good reason—but a British explorerand sinophile named Arthur de Carle Sowerby recounted the followinglive capture in his five-volume opus, The Naturalist in Manchuria(1922): “When I got it it was in a paroxysm of rage, snapping furiously,biting itself and everything that came within reach of its sharp teeth,” hewrote without a trace of irony.13 “I have always found this the case withmoles.”In 1925, Nikolai Baikov calculated that roughly a hundred tigers werebeing taken out of greater Manchuria annually (including Primorye andthe Korean Peninsula)—virtually all of them bound for the Chinesemarket. “There were cases in [mating season],” he wrote, “when acourageous hunter would meet a group of five or six tigers, and kill themone by one, where he stood.”14Between trophy hunters, tiger catchers, gun traps, pit traps, snares, andbait laced with strychnine and bite-sensitive bombs, these animals werebeing besieged from all sides. Even as Baikov’s monograph was going topress, his “Manchurian Tiger” was in imminent danger of joining thewoolly mammoth and the cave bear in the past tense. Midway through the1930s, a handful of men saw this coming, and began to wonder just whatit was they stood to lose.One of them was Lev Kaplanov. Born in Moscow in 1910, he was ageneration younger than Arseniev, but cut from similar cloth. In a letterto a close friend, Kaplanov wrote that, as a boy in European Russia, he
had dreamed of hunting a tiger one day, but when he found his calling inthe Far East, he realized that bloodless pursuit, though less exciting,would be of greater benefit to tigers and to science. This was an unusualway to be thinking in the 1930s, when tiger research consisted solely ofwhat might best be described as “gunbarrel zoology.” With the exceptionof the pioneering wildlife photographer (and former tiger hunter)Frederick Champion, Kaplanov was the first person ever to write anaccount of tracking tigers with no intention of killing them once he foundthem. This was, in its way, a truly radical act—all the more so because itoccurred in a remote corner of a traumatized country with restrictedaccess to the outside world. While the notion of conservation and nationalparks was not new, the idea of focusing specifically on a nongamespecies, and a dangerous one at that, was unheard of. But Kaplanov couldnot have done it without the counsel and support of Konstantin Abramov,the founding director of Primorye’s largest biosphere reserve, theSikhote-Alin Zapovednik (“forbidden zone”), and Yuri Salmin, a giftedzoologist and zapovednik cofounder.There is a famous quote: “You can’t understand Russia with yourmind,” and the zapovednik is a case in point. In spite of the contemptuousattitude the Soviets had toward nature, they also allowed for some of themost stringent conservation practices in the world. A zapovednik is awildlife refuge into which no one but guards and scientists are allowed—period. The only exceptions are guests—typically fellow scientists—withwritten permission from the zapovednik’s director. There are scores ofthese reserves scattered across Russia, ranging in size from more thansixteen thousand square miles down to a dozen square miles. TheSikhote-Alin Zapovednik was established in 1935 to promote therestoration of the sable population, which had nearly been wiped out inthe Kremlin’s eagerness to capitalize on the formerly booming U.S. furmarket. Since then, the role of this and other zapovedniks has expandedto include the preservation of noncommercial animals and plants.This holistic approach to conservation has coexisted in the Russianscientific consciousness alongside more utilitarian views of nature sinceit was first imported from the West in the 1860s. At its root is a
deceptively simple idea: don’t just preserve the species, preserve theentire system in which the species occurs, and do so by sealing it off fromhuman interference and allowing nature to do its work. It is, essentially, afederal policy of enforced non-management directly contradicting thecommunist notion that nature is an outmoded machine in need of a totaloverhaul. Paradoxically, the idea not only survived but, in some cases,flourished under the Soviets: by the late 1970s, nearly 80 percent of thezapovednik sites originally recommended by the Russian GeographicalSociety’s permanent conservation commission in 1917 had beenprotected (though many have been reduced in size over the years).In Kaplanov’s day, the Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik covered about seventhousand square miles of pristine temperate forest—the heart ofPrimorye. That there were tigers in there at all became evident only whenguards and scientists noticed their tracks while trying to assess morecommercially relevant populations of sable and deer. It was here thatAbramov, Salmin, and Kaplanov conceived and conducted the firstsystematic tiger census ever undertaken anywhere. Kaplanov, a skilledhunter and the youngest and strongest of the three, did the legwork.During the winters of 1939 and 1940, he logged close to a thousand milescrisscrossing the Sikhote-Alin range as he tracked tigers throughblizzards and paralyzing cold, sleeping rough, and feeding himself fromtiger kills. His findings were alarming: along with two forest guards whohelped him with tracking, estimates, and interviews with hunters acrossPrimorye, Kaplanov concluded that no more than thirty Amur tigersremained in Russian Manchuria. In the Bikin valley, he found no tigers atall. With barely a dozen breeding females left in Russia, the subspeciesnow known as Panthera tigris altaica was a handful of bullets and a fewhard winters away from extinction.Despite the fact that local opinion and state ideology were weightedheavily against tigers at the time, these men understood that tigers werean integral part of the taiga picture, regardless of whether Marxists saw arole for them in the transformation of society. Given the mood of thetime, this was an almost treasonous line of thinking, and it is what makes
this collaborative effort so remarkable: as dangerous as it was to be atiger, it had become just as dangerous to be a Russian.Following the Revolution of 1917, the former “Far East Republic” wasthe last place in Russia to fall to the Bolsheviks, and it did so only after avicious civil war that dragged on until 1923. Initially, the conflictinvolved a veritable bazaar of nations, including Czech, Ukrainian,Korean, Cossack, Canadian, Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, British,and American troops, along with assorted foreign advisors. However, asthe embattled region grew more and more to resemble a vast anddangerous open-air asylum, most of the foreigners abandoned the cause.By 1920, three armies—the Bolshevik Reds, the anti-Bolshevik Whites,and the Japanese—had been left to fight it out on their own. Next to theRussians, the infamously brutal Japanese looked like models of restraint.In the spring of 1920, after a particularly gratuitous massacre in whichthe Bolsheviks slaughtered thousands of White Russians and hundreds ofJapanese, and burned their homes to the ground, the Whites managed tocapture the Bolshevik commander of military operations in the Far East.After stuffing him into a mail sack, his captors took him to a station onthe Trans-Siberian where they delivered him into the hands of asympathetic Cossack named Bochkarev. Bochkarev commandeered alocomotive and burned his captive alive in the engine’s firebox, alongwith two high-ranking associates (the latter, also delivered in mail sacks,were shot first).Even after the Bolsheviks took control of the region, there was nopeace, only a series of increasingly savage repressions by the victors.Some of Russia’s most notorious gulags, including the Kolyma goldfields, were located in the Far East and throughout the 1920s and 1930stheir populations swelled steadily, as did their cemeteries. Alreadybattered by what Alec Nove, an expert on the Soviet economy, describedas “the most precipitous peacetime decline in living standards known in
recorded history,” Russian citizens in the late 1930s were now beingarrested and executed on a quota system.15 It was an absolutely terrifyingtime: Russia was Wonderland, Stalin was the Queen of Hearts, andanyone could be Alice.By 1937, the purges were peaking nationwide, and no one was safe:peasants, teachers, scientists, indigenous people, Old Believers, Koreans,Chinese, Finns, Lithuanians, Party members—it didn’t seem to matter aslong as the quota was met. The invented charge in Primorye was,typically, spying for Japan, but it could be almost anything. Torture wasroutine. At the height of the purges, roughly a thousand people werebeing murdered every day. In 1939, Russia went to war (on severalfronts), and this obviated the need for purging—just send them to thefront. By one estimate, 90 percent of draft-age Nanai and Udeghe malesdied in military service. The rest were forced onto collective farms, andmillions more Russians of all ethnicities were banished to the gulag.Under Stalin, science was a prisoner, too—bound and gagged by aparticularly rigid brand of Marxist ideology, which declared, in short,that in order for Mankind to realize His destiny as a superhuman, super-rational master of all, Mother Nature must be forced to bow and, in theprocess, be radically transformed. By the mid-1930s, most advocates ofenvironmental protection had been silenced one way or another, and theirideas replaced by slogans like “We cannot expect charity from nature.16We must tear it from her.” In 1926, Vladimir Zazubrin, the first head ofthe Union of Siberian Writers, delivered a lecture in which heproclaimed,Let the fragile green breast of Siberia be dressed in the cementarmour of cities, armed with the stone muzzles of factory chimneys,and girded with iron belts of railroads.17 Let the taiga be burned andfelled, let the steppes be trampled.… Only in cement and iron can thefraternal union of all peoples, the iron brotherhood of all mankind, beforged.*
Some hard-line Marxists sincerely believed that plants and animalsunable to prove their usefulness to mankind should simply beexterminated. In the face of such hostile dogma, the tiger didn’t stand achance. Falling squarely into the category of “harmful fauna,” it hadbecome a kind of fur-bearing Enemy of the State. Those stripes might aswell have been bull’s-eyes. There was no formal edict or bounty, butanyone was free to shoot tigers on sight (they were highly prized by armyand navy officers stationed in Primorye), and there was a ready marketacross the border. Given this, and given the death toll among people whoso much as looked sideways at the regime, it is incredible that anyonedared advocate for tigers at all. Nonetheless, Lev Kaplanov’s landmarkstudy, “The Tiger in the Sikhote-Alin,” was completed in 1941, and in ithe recommended an immediate five-year moratorium on tiger hunting.†That same year, Kaplanov’s colleague Yuri Salmin would go a stepfurther: in a national magazine, he made an urgent plea for a total ban ontiger hunting in the Russian Far East. This was the first time in recordedhistory that anyone, anywhere, had made a public call for restraint withregard to the killing of these animals.World War II, and the fact that it removed so many armed and able-bodied men from the forest, was a critical factor in turning the tide forthe Amur tiger, but it took a heavy toll on the tiger’s champions. OnlyAbramov survived; a longtime apparatchik, he was able to mediate thedeadly tensions between progressive science and Party membership. YuriSalmin, however, was sent to the front, and he never returned. In 1943, atthe age of thirty-three, Lev Kaplanov was murdered by poachers insouthern Primorye where he had recently been promoted to director of thesmall but important Lazovski Zapovednik. His body wasn’t found for twoweeks and, because it lay deep in the forest, it had to be carried out byhand. In order to do this, a litter was fashioned from cherry boughs; itwas May so the trees were in flower, and the men who carried himrecalled the blossoms on the branches around his body. Since then,Kaplanov has become a kind of local martyr to the cause of the Amurtiger.
There was an investigation into Kaplanov’s death, but there were alsocomplications, made worse by a puzzling lack of interest on the part ofthe investigator who had come all the way from Moscow. As a result,people who are still alive and intimate with the case’s details feel quitesure that the wrong man went to jail and that Kaplanov’s murderer, whowas well known around the town of Lazo, lived out his days a free man.Wisely, perhaps, he relocated to a small river town about twelve milesaway. Looming over the floodplain there is an exposed ridge studded witheruptions of stone that form the enormous and unmistakable lower jaw ofa tiger. The fang alone is more than a hundred feet high.Today, “The Tiger in the Sikhote-Alin” remains a milestone in thefield of tiger research, and was a first step in the pivotal transformationof the Amur tiger—and the species as a whole—from trophy-vermin tocelebrated icon. In 1947, Russia became the first country in the world torecognize the tiger as a protected species. However, active protection wassporadic at best, and poaching and live capture continued. In spite of this,the Amur tiger population has rebounded to a sustainable level over thepast sixty years, a recovery unmatched by any other subspecies of tiger.Even with the upsurge in poaching over the past fifteen years, the Amurtiger has, for now, been able to hold its own.There have been some hidden costs. Since the Amur tiger’s populationcrash, these animals no longer seem to grow as large as they once did. Itwouldn’t be the first time this kind of anthropogenic selection hasoccurred: the moose of eastern North America went through a similarprocess of “trophy engineering” at roughly the same time. Sport hunterswanted bull moose with big antlers, and local guides were eager toaccommodate them. Thus, the moose with the biggest racks weresystematically removed from the gene pool while the smaller-antleredbulls were left to pass on their more modest genes, year after year.Scientists have speculated that something similar may have happened tothe Amur tiger, with one result being that postwar specimens no longerseem to be much larger than their Bengal counterparts. In Primorye todayone would be hard pressed to find an Amur tiger weighing more than fivehundred pounds, but that is still a huge cat by any era’s measure. The
tiger that killed Vladimir Markov was never weighed, but when herecalled it later, Trush’s number two, Sasha Lazurenko, said, “As long asI’ve worked here, I’ve never seen a tiger as big as that one.”* Apparently, this is a timeless impulse: in the U.S. National Archives isa photograph of Marine Sergeant M. L. Larkins presenting the heart of anIndochinese tiger he has just killed to his commanding officer, LieutenantColonel W. C. Drumwright, May 25, 1970.9* As of 1997, the zapovednik has a much reduced area of about 1,500square miles.* Zazubrin was arrested and shot sometime in 1937–1938. Fifty yearslater, in 1988, the Kremlin’s chief ideologist, Vadim A. Medvedev,finally conceded that “ ‘universal values’ such as avoiding war andecological catastrophe must outweigh the idea of a struggle between theclasses.”18† The study was not published until 1948 when it was included in hisgroundbreaking book, Tigr, izyubr, los (“Tiger, Red Deer, Moose”).
9Men carry their superiority inside; animals outside.Russian ProverbFOLLOWING THE DISCOVERY OF MARKOV’S REMAINS,INSPECTION TIGER conducted a series of interviews with the lastpeople to see him alive. There were about a half dozen all told and,despite the fact that they lived a considerable distance from one another—some with no road access whatsoever—each of them claimed to haveseen Markov within hours of his death. Not surprisingly, all of them weremen: ethnic Russian loggers and native hunters, and one of them—thekey witness, as it were—was Ivan Dunkai.Dunkai was a Nanai elder from the native village of Krasny Yar (“RedBank”), which lies fifteen miles downstream from Sobolonye. Situated onthe left bank of the Bikin, it had no road access until a bridge was built inthe 1990s. About six hundred Udeghe and Nanai residents live in thevillage, along with a handful of ethnic Russian* spouses, officials, andother transplants. Arseniev and Dersu are reported to have passed throughthe area in 1908 and, were they to return there today, they wouldn’t besurprised by what they found. Dugout canoes and slender, piroguelikeomorochkas line the riverbank, livestock roam the tidy dirt streets, andvirtually every structure, fence, and walkway is made of wood. Firewoodis delivered in the form of a tree trunk, from which logs are sawed off andsplit as needed. Save for the predominance of Asiatic faces, Krasny Yarcould be mistaken for the shtetl in Fiddler on the Roof. The only obviousdifferences between then and now are the electric lights, a handful of carsand snowmobiles, and several fanciful houses designed by a Ukrainianartist, one of which looks like a snarling tiger.
Ivan Dunkai, it is fair to say, was a latter-day Dersu Uzala—a last linkto a time when the native inhabitants of this region saw the tiger as thetrue lord of the forest. Dunkai died in 2006. In life he was a twinkly-eyed,elfin man who evoked a gentleness and wisdom that seemed from anotherage. He was a gifted woodsman of the old school, known and respectedthroughout the middle Bikin. He had a nickname that translates to “In theWorld of the Animals.” For Ivan Dunkai, the taiga was the source of allthings, in which the tiger occupied a place of honor. In 2004, whenDunkai was about seventy-five years old, he was interviewed by a Britishdocumentary filmmaker named Sasha Snow. “The tiger is a sly butmerciful creature,” Dunkai explained to Snow. “You know that he isthere, but you cannot see him. He hides so well that one starts thinking heis invisible, like a god. Russians say, ‘Trust in God, but keep your eyesopen.’ We [Nanai] rely on ourselves, but pray for Tiger to help us. Weworship his strength.”As a senior hunter in Krasny Yar, Dunkai oversaw a large huntingterritory, which overlapped with an area known as the Panchelaza. Thename is a holdover from the days of Chinese possession, and it refers to atract of choice game habitat about one hundred miles square. Almost box-shaped, the Panchelaza is framed by three rivers—the Amba to the east,the Takhalo to the west, and the Bikin to the south. According to anUdeghe scholar named Alexander Konchuga, one of only two men toauthor books in the Udeghe language, the names of these rivers translate,respectively, to Devil, Fire, and Joy. The first two are tributaries of thelatter. Well before Markov arrived, this beautiful and dangeroussanctuary had been identified, at least in name, as a kind of empyreanfrontier, a threshold between Heaven and Hell. The concept of Amba—the same word Dersu uses to indicate “tiger”—refers both to the animaland to a malevolent spirit—a devil—and not simply because the tiger canbe dangerous as hell.The spirit worlds of the Nanai, the Udeghe, and their northernneighbors, the Orochi, are hierarchal (like those of most cultures), and theAmba inhabits one of the lower, earthier tiers. Should one have themisfortune to attract an Amba’s attention, it will tend to manifest itself at
the interpersonal level, as opposed to the communal or the cosmic. Often,it will take the form of a tiger. So closely are these two beings associatedthat, in Primorye today, “Amba” serves as a synonym for tiger, evenamong those who have no awareness of its other meaning.* For somereason, probably because of its intactness, the area surrounding thePanchelaza supports an unusually high density of tigers. It was within thiswaterbound enclave, just west of the Amba River, that Markov had placedhis hunting barracks with Ivan Dunkai’s blessing.At the time, Dunkai was living in a cabin of his own about four milesto the southeast, at the boggy, braided confluence of the Amba and theBikin. After his second wife died, Dunkai left his home in Krasny Yarand gave himself over to the taiga almost full time, much as Dersu haddone after losing his family to smallpox. Because his hunting territorywas far more than one man needed (one local Russian waggishlycompared it to France), Dunkai shared it with his sons, one of whom—Mikhail—had a cabin right on the Amba, northeast of Markov. NeitherMikhail nor his brother, Vasily, who hunted further east, seemed to havea problem with Markov’s presence in their father’s hunting territory. Asthey saw it, Markov was just another tayozhnik trying to make a living;by their estimation, he was normalny—a regular guy, nothing out of theordinary.The details of their arrangement—if there were any beyond a requestand a nod—were known only to Dunkai and Markov. They were botheasygoing, personable men who knew and loved the taiga and wereengaged in similar pursuits. They were also good friends: when Markovwas first getting to know the Panchelaza, Dunkai had allowed Markov tostay with him for weeks at a time. Theirs was a close but casualfriendship: if one needed a cup of tea, the loan of some supplies, or aplace to stay for a while, the other would oblige. Like most forestencounters, their meetings were spontaneous affairs: there was no need tocall ahead, nor was there the means to. For Ivan Dunkai, Markov was afamiliar presence in the forest the same way the local tigers were:occasionally, he would run into him; more often, he would just take note
of the tracks and factor them into the grand schematic in his head. “Youcan read the taiga as a book,” he explained. “The twig is bent—why?What animal has passed here? The twig is broken—this means that aperson has passed. It is interesting! If an animal stops paying attention toyou, maybe it sees another animal. So, you should find out what causesthis attention. That is how we were taught, and that is how I teach mysons.”On a sunny winter afternoon at the Far Eastern Institute of Geography,outside Vladivostok, a tiger biologist named Dmitri Pikunov told a storyabout Ivan Dunkai that could have been taken from the pages of Dersuthe Trapper. Pikunov is a ruddy, robust man in his early seventies withpiercing blue eyes and a dwindling silver crew cut, and he has spentdecades studying and writing about tigers in the Bikin valley. It was hewho first chronicled the Markov incident in 1998, in a local naturemagazine called Zov Taigi (“Call of the Taiga”). Like Dunkai, Pikunov isa throwback to the old school and, like most early tiger advocates, hecame to conservation through hunting. An expert marksman, he earnedthe rank of Master of Sports in skeet shooting and was invited to joinRussia’s national shooting team, which he did. “I am incredibly goodwith guns,” he says, seeing no need for false modesty.However, Pikunov’s father, a highly regarded metallurgist in a tankfactory, had other plans and urged his son to follow him into the industry.Had Pikunov done so it would have all but guaranteed him a secure andprivileged life, but he found shooting and the hunt so compelling that heapplied to the Irkutsk Institute’s hunting management program instead.Tuition was free in those days, so the competition was fierce, but Pikunovexcelled. Once out of school, he was hired to manage the Pacific Fleet’sfive-thousand-member hunting association in Primorye. From there, hewas invited to join the Far East Division of the Environmental ProtectionDepartment as a researcher. “I was spending six months a year in thetaiga then,” explained Pikunov in a battered office with a commandingview of the ice-covered Amur Bay. “Even when I was on vacation, Iwould get a rifle, sign a contract to hunt for boar or deer, and sell themeat.”
In an effort to express the depth of his obsession, Pikunov cited aRussian proverb usually reserved for wolves: “No matter how much youfeed him, he keeps looking at the forest.” Nonetheless, it would be tenyears before Pikunov laid eyes on a tiger. When he finally did it was on ariverbank, by flashlight. “His eyes were fiery—greenish white,” Pikunovrecalled. “He was huge, but not aggressive at all. He just stood there, hiseyes on fire the whole time.”One of Pikunov’s responsibilities was to gather census data on gameanimals, a task most easily accomplished in winter when the tracks areeasy to follow and count. Of course, tigers and leopards were followingthese tracks, too, and this is how Pikunov discovered what would becomea lifelong fascination. Starting in 1977, he began tracking tigers cross-country over extended periods in order to determine how many kills theywere making—crucial information for agencies trying to manage habitat,game species, and hunters. “Whenever I do field work, I always have agun on me,” Pikunov explained. “It makes me feel more secure,psychologically. But I have a subconscious feeling that if I have not hurta tiger, he will not be aggressive toward me.” Once, Pikunov tracked asingle tiger continuously for six weeks, literally sleeping in its tracks,just as Kaplanov had done forty years earlier. “Even when I was on tigertracks all the time,” he explained, “and scavenging meat from their kills,none of those tigers demonstrated aggressive behavior toward me.”Today, even after a serious heart attack, Pikunov still has surprisinglypowerful hands—and opinions to match. Among his colleagues, he elicitsno neutral feelings, but his chin-first demeanor softens when he recallsthe man he knew as “Vanya” Dunkai. Pikunov speaks of him with thesame respect and affection Arseniev did of Dersu, and for many of thesame reasons. Over the course of thirty years, the two men spent manymonths together in the taiga, tracking big game, and Pikunov paid closeattention. To this day, tayozhniks typically go into the winter forest withvery basic equipment consisting of felt-soled, wool-lined boots, woolenpants, jacket, and mittens. Incidentals are carried in a floppy canvasrucksack; if they know they’ll be packing something heavy, like meat,they might mount it on a bentwood maple pack frame, Udeghe-style.