Thursday 25 July 2013

Siberian Tigers

I'm a fearful and conservative TV watcher. Strange, but true. I actually don't like trying out new shows, watching new movies, or checking out channels I don't know. Instead I will watch the same shows for decades - old faithfuls like Friends, Frasier, Dexter, Criminal Minds, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory. Two and a Half Men. Downton Abbey.

I like seeing familiar faces every day, they seem like old friends to me.
Is that weird?
(Don't answer that.)

But thankfully, I have an adventurous husband. He loves his TV. As much as he likes being outdoors, he just as much (or a bit more?) loves couch-time in front of the tube. And he is an enthusiastic, non-judgmental, open-for-everything TV watcher. At least when he sees something for the first time. (After that he's as judgmental and scathing as the rest of us, thank gawd!)

So last night I watched my usual (Men, HIMYM, 2 Big Bangs) and then I didn't pay attention for a second and he captured the remote. Hrumph.

And we watched something truly amazing.

It was called "Siberian Tiger Quest" and was about, you guessed it, tigers in Siberia. Which is in North-East Russia where it's winter all year round. Tigers in frozen forests? Who knew!

I have a love-hate relationship to animal documentaries: I love seeing them in their natural environment, learning about their ways, watching the absolutely stunning videography. I'm always in awe of the talented people who have the patience and ability to make these amazing films.
But it always, always has sad aspects to it: The young get injured, left behind and die; their environment is shrinking or disappearing; and the worst of it, we humans seem to manage to destroy everything. These tigers are almost extinct; more live in captivity than in the wild.

But I don't wanna bring you down right now, I wanna tell you about this amazing documentary.

Let me introduce you to the most patient man on the planet:

Sooyong Park. 

He is the first person ever to film Siberian tigers in the wild. In order to accomplish that he spent a total of 5 years tracking and filming these shy, majestic animals in Russia. Doesn't sound like that big of a deal, right? Lots of those wildlife photographers and filmmakers do that. 

Oh you don't know the half of it.
He would spent months at a time in the tiniest little hides you can imagine. One was 4x4 feet in size. Way smaller than a standard prison cell which is 6x8 feet (don't worry, I don't have first-hand experience, I googled it). 
Wouldn't even go to the bathroom (he used ziplock bags). His daily food was cooked rice, a bit of salt, and some nuts. That's it. Twice a day, every day, for 3 months at a time. His muscles wasted away. It was -30 degrees Celsius. Your eyelids can freeze shut at that temperature.

He was just lying there, camera at the ready, waiting for his elusive tigers to appear. No human contact. No distractions. No walking around, stretching your legs. It's totally nuts!
Images found here; edited by me

Sometimes 80 days would go by with no tiger appearance. He was waiting and waiting, "like the winter waits for spring".

And he is the nicest guy. Park is gentle, wise, has an easy laugh, and a beautiful way with words. He speaks English in a slow, measured way. No unnecessary gabbling, every word counts. I was mesmerized.

During the show he is a mentor to Ecologist Chris Morgan and takes him on a tour through the forest where he filmed the tigers and had his hideouts.

It's insanely difficult. These tigers have huge territories. Humongous. Over a thousand square miles. They may come to one stop and not return for months.
Park would track them in the snow, thinking "where would I go if I was a tiger?", learning to "read the white book" (snow). Then he put up a ton of motion detector cameras, dug his hideout and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.
source (not Park's tigers)
But he managed the impossible: He filmed over a 1000 hours of footage during these 5 years. Park gave "his" tigers names and followed 3 generations of the same family: Bloody Mary (named so for her gruesome kills), her 3 cubs Snow White, Moon White (and another one that I forgot).
Two cubs are killed by poachers (so sad, Park said it was like seeing your baby dead, I cried when he said that), but Snow White becomes a mother to two babies: Hansel and Gretel.

It is so beautiful. I kept thinking about it all day today.

Parks's passion, endurance, determination and love for these animals are incredible. I have huge respect for this man. Not many could have done what he did.

If you are interested, here are a few links:

PBS Sooyong Park Biography
Hunt for the Russian Tiger

xoxo Miriam

1 comment

  1. That sounds like a cool documentary, and one dedicated guy. I end up watching interesting things because of my husband sometimes too. Actually there was one he watched on Russia's prisons. I think it was this one:


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