A memoir from a researcher who tracks rare and elusive wild beasts.
Documentary filmmaker Park has been studying Siberian tigers for more than 20 years, following their traces across nature reserves and spending frigid winter months in underground earthen bunkers, his camera trained on the snow-covered landscape. In evocative prose, the author recounts his search for several of these naturally secretive animals: a female he named Bloody Mary and her cubs, whose territory covered more than 500 square kilometers of treacherous terrain. As he sadly notes, Siberian tigers are threatened with extinction by poachers, who can get more than $30,000 for a wild animal. A population that was once 10,000 is now merely 350; at the same time, the number of indigenous Ussuri also has been reduced from several hundred thousand to 10,000, a woeful decimation of culture. Hunters, fishers, and root-gatherers, the Ussuri, Park writes, “see this world as a place where spirits pass through eternal cycles,” where “everything in the world is a living thing that gives and receives energy.” Their animistic beliefs lead them to feel a special bond with birches and willows and to worship tigers; they call the strongest male tiger the Great King. Tracing prints, claw marks, urine markers, droppings, and the remains of prey, Park closes in on Bloody Mary. But tigers, he knows, are crafty and smart. “They figure out human intentions based on behavior, expressions, and the energy radiated by people and take precautions or even attack accordingly,” he writes. They can distinguish between an herb collector’s satchel and a hunter’s rifle, between the smell of cigarettes or cosmetics. Living in solitary confinement during the brutal winter months, waiting patiently for Bloody Mary to appear, Park felt he had gained access to “the intimate depths of nature,” and he shares this intimacy with readers.
A heartfelt memoir that reflects the author’s respect and love for a wild and pitiless world.