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Hunt for the Russian Tiger

Synopsis

Over five years of loneliness and danger one man waited to glimpse Siberian Tigers, whose intimate private lives had never been filmed before. Finding a Siberian tiger in the wild is a huge challenge. The terrain is tough and their territories are vast, over a thousand square miles. Yet filmmaker Sooyong Park emerged from the frozen forests of Russia’s Far East with a unique record of over one thousand hours of tiger life. Biologist Chris Morgan knows North American carnivores, but the tigers inhabit a lawless land of bears and poachers. Now Chris reveals an amazing story of endurance as Park takes him to search for the elusive big cats.

To succeed, Park went to astonishing extremes. The cameraman left his wife and children behind in Korea. He found the valleys with the most prey and dug a four-foot hole in the ground. Over the five years he watched and waited, existing on three packs of rice a day. He sometimes sat for weeks on end before the first tiger even showed up, and endured temperatures that can freeze eyelids shut. Park never left his hide for months at a time, even to go to the bathroom. His muscles wasted until he could barely walk. And even though his cameras were primitive, his footage of a mother and cubs just inches away is unparalleled.

Park followed three generations of one tiger family. They gave him his greatest moments – and most chilling encounters. One tigress and her cubs attacked his hide. With three tigers on the roof, the planks broke. They could have killed him, but their mother led her young away: she let Park live. He got to know individuals and even gave them names: Snow White, her cubs Hansel and Gretel. Following tracks to the farthest border of the tigers’ domain, Park even got to the Pacific Ocean, where he captured them stalking the cliff-top ridges. The cameraman obtained shots of a tiger scanning the Pacific Coast that had never been seen before. And throughout his final winter, Park was able to film Hansel and Gretel repeatedly as the cubs learned and grew.

To relive Park’s encounters, Chris builds a tree stand deep in the forest. He stays there without Park to really sense what the lone cameraman went through. Copying the Korean’s methods he uses a hot spring as bait for his own camera traps. In his last week, he retraces his steps, collecting the ten he has put out. Finally he starts to grasp what inspired Park – the power of the hope that a tiger would appear. If the cubs Hansel and Gretel have avoided the poachers’ traps, today they would be in their prime. Will they ever be seen again?

Produced by Mike Birkhead Associates for Terra Mater Factual Studios in co-production with Thirteen WNET/New York