There are five races of tiger on our planet and all but one live in tropical regions: the Siberian Tiger Panthera tigris altaica is the exception. Mysterious and elusive, and with only 350 remaining in the wild, the Siberian tiger remains a complete enigma. One man has set out to change this.
Sooyong Park has spent twenty years tracking and observing these elusive tigers. Each year he spends six months braving sub-zero temperatures, buried in grave-like underground bunkers, fearlessly immersing himself in the lives of Siberian tigers. As he watches the brutal, day-to-day struggle to survive the harsh landscape, threatened by poachers and the disappearance of the pristine habitat, Park becomes emotionally and spiritually attached to these beautiful and deadly predators. No one has ever been this close: as he comes face-to-face with one tiger, Bloody Mary, her fierce determination to protect her cubs nearly results in his own bloody demise.
Poignant, poetic and fiercely compassionate, The Great Soul of Siberia is the incredible story of Park’s unique obsession with these compelling creatures on the very brink of extinction, and his dangerous quest to seek them out to observe and study them. Eloquently told in Park’s distinctive voice, it is a personal account of one of the most extraordinary wildlife studies ever undertaken.
Here, Sooyong Park introduces his book:
“Since 1995, I’ve been researching and observing wild tigers in Manchuria, the North Korean border region, and Ussuri (officially known as Primorsky Krai), which together form the southeastern corner of Siberia. I’ve spent half of each year wandering forests and climbing mountains in search of tracks and the other half in underground bunkers filming tigers in -30°C weather. Twenty years of waiting for tigers that seldom come has been a frustrating and humbling experience, but ultimately a rewarding one that has yielded seven documentaries on Siberian tigers, including Siberian Tiger Quest. When I first began, there was less than an hour’s worth of wild Siberian tiger footage in the world, but twenty years later, I’ve amassed close to one thousand hours of footage. The observations I’ve made with my own eyes are three or four times the length of my recordings.
Blending into nature and staking out for long periods are no small undertakings. When I’m confined to an underground bunker in the wild, I have to take care of everything in that space: go to the bathroom, melt frozen rice balls for meals, and brave the cold Siberian winds. After six months of not being able to shower, shout, or turn on the light, I begin to identify with prisoners in solitary confinement.
When a tiger appears after an interminable wait, it’s as if I’m seeing the face of a lover I’ve been dreaming of. My heart races as I’m overwhelmed with joy, and time stretches on like eternity in those few brief seconds. Then, suddenly, joy is replaced by terror. The tiger notices something is out of place and heads straight toward me, its eyes burning blue in the dark. Footsteps approach, snow crunching under the tiger’s paws. The sound stops. I feel the tiger’s hot breath on my face. The fragile pendulum of existence swings between life and death before my eyes.
But in the end, it isn’t the fear of my physical reality in the wild—the cold, the beasts—but an absolute sense of aloneness that freezes me to the bone in the bunker. As I tremble in the two-square-meter space like someone having an attack of claustrophobia, I realize that, unlike tigers, humans are a species meant to live alongside others.”
The Great Soul of Siberia
Published 14th January 2016