There's no tiger without 'taiga': how Russians are fighting the decline of these beautiful cats

In the first of an occasional series, our writer on the eastern fringes of Russia reports on the conservationists who are trying to save the Amur Tiger

Share
Related Topics

The dramatic setting of Vladivostok, Russia’s easternmost major city, is bound to prompt comparisons with other great bayside cities, but it was Nikita Krushchev who really threw down the gauntlet. So impressed was the Soviet leader by San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge when visiting the United States in 1959, that on his way home he stopped off here and exhorted the locals to turn the city into “our San Francisco”.

Over half a century later, ‘Vlad’ finally has its suspension bridge – two, in fact – part of a controversial facelift that saw the city engulfed by a frenzy of construction in preparation for last month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.

Krushchev may well have welcomed the new bridges but I’m doubtful that he would find much else to approve of here. Walking along ul Svetlanskaya, one of the city’s main thoroughfares and still with many of its elegant Tsarist buildings intact, I’m seeing little of the forbidding greyness and uniformity I had been led to expect. The last major Russian city to fall to the Bolsheviks (as late as 1922) and closed to foreigners from 1958 to 1992, Vlad spent much of the last century in a state of suspended animation. Now it’s rushing to join the party and no holds are barred. Yet for every cappuccino on offer in the stylish cafés there’s a pensioner eager to tell me how the new highways have cut her off from the local shops and that she can’t afford to pay her utility bills.

But alongside the brutish capitalism of contemporary Russia have come other developments, among them the glimmers of awareness that perhaps man cannot live by conspicuous consumption alone and that the environment might be worth keeping an eye on. Emblazoned on the city’s coat of arms is a tiger, a symbol of the huge tracts of forest – confusingly (to Anglophone minds, at least) called taiga in Russian – from which Vlad was carved in the 19th century.

The big cats – known locally as Amur tigers – feature prominently in the city’s iconography and as late as the 1980s were still wandering into the suburbs, but the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a big surge in poaching. Tiger numbers fell dramatically and with continuing strong demand for their derivatives in Chinese traditional medicine, they remain under intense pressure here. China is only four hours away by road.

The Russian response to the tiger slaughter in the early 1990s was to set up an impressive network of anti-poaching teams, an approach that has proved largely effective. But the game is now being moved on, thanks to the more environmentally focused among Russia’s rapidly proliferating cadre of NGOs. “There’s no tiger without the taiga”, says Sergei Bereznuk, director of the Phoenix Fund, a small local NGO working to promote a more holistic approach to conservation.

I saw the power of the new attitude yesterday (Sunday 30 September), when Vladivostok’s 13th Tiger Festival brought over 7,000 people to the streets in a parade characterized as much by calls for respect for the taiga ecosystem generally as for the tigers themselves.  Meanwhile, local conservation figures are attracting increased international attention – Bereznuk for example was recognised recently by Rolex, the luxury watch brand, as one of its biennial enterprise laureates. I dread to think what Khrushchev might make of that, but then there’s not much of contemporary Vlad that would fit with his 1959 vision for the city.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

£7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer - 2nd & 3rd Line

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The IT Support Engineer is needed to ass...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Officer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: It's an exciting time for this ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Think I'm living the high life on benefits? Here's what being disabled costs me every day

Hannah Buchanan
 

Like many other black men, I grew up with only women around. Now I'm worried the experience has ‘feminised’ me

Tyrell Williams
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones