The Current

ENCORE: Researcher tracks Siberian tigers for months crouched in freezing hole

In remote Siberia, ecologist Chris Morgan joined renowned tiger researcher Sooyong Park to document his methods, a man observing three generations of tigers in the harsh Siberian landscape. Chris Morgan comes out of the cold to share his experience.
Sooyong Park, a filmmaker and researcher has dedicated much of his life to tracking the endangered Siberian Tiger. He has lived in this hole in the ground for months on end. (Courtesy of Chris Morgan)

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Filmmaker and researcher, Sooyong Park has dedicated much of his life tracking the endangered Siberian tiger. His methods are somewhat unconventional — among other things, he spends months at a time, crouched in a hole in the Siberian wilderness, alone. His patience waiting for one of the elusive tigers to appear has been described by Chris Morgan as "almost unimaginable."

Filmmaker Sooyong Park captures footage of wild Siberian tiger

Morgan spent a month with Park working on a documentary film, Siberian Tiger Quest. Park wasn't comfortable with his English to do an interview but Morgan spoke to The Current's Anna Maria in November and shared what it was like to meet Park for the first time.

"We thought he was going to be some kind of half-crazed guy but … he was the most zen, tuned-in, levelheaded, calm person you can imagine — I think years perhaps because he'd spent so much time in a hole in the ground fighting for a tiger to walk by."

Ecologist Chris Morgan says Sooyong Park has an almost 'spiritual feeling of family with tigers.' (Courtesy of Chris Morgan)

Morgan says Park's passion for Siberian tigers shows in his unique relationship with them.

"There's something quite special about them. He gets that. He has a very personal relationship with individual tigers," says Morgan.

In the documentary, Morgan goes through Park's living conditions where Park survives eating rice twice a day, waiting in a hole in the ground at a temperature of -30 degrees.

"What amazed me most was not that he would spend six months in total, or seven months... but that he would wait sometimes two or three months before he saw his first tiger."

Only 350 adult Siberian tigers are left in the wild, their population decimated by poachers, habitat lost and human conflict. (Courtesy of PBS)

"These are the shyest tigers. You do feel like they're watching you but you'll never see them," says Morgan.

Morgan tells Tremonti he can't imagine a world without the Siberian tiger but is concerned they will one day cease to exist. In 1900, there were about 100,000 tigers and now Morgan says there are just over 3000.

"We've lost 93 per cent of the tigers in the last 100 years."

Morgan goes on to say that he feels it's important people realize how valuable Siberian tigers are to this planet and how few remain.

'If we can't save an animal like the Siberian tiger on this tiny planet we share then [there's] perhaps not much hope for any of us,' says Ecologist Chris Morgan. (Courtesy of PBS)

"Just bringing these tigers into people's living rooms and homes… through Park's book and the film… is really an essential step in having people understand just how precious these cats are."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath.