NEXT March, trade in your quest for some winter sun for an unforgettable (if rather chilly) experience.
A new tour will be making for Siberia in a month when daytime temperatures in the desolate Russian province range from a slightly nippy -15C to a borderline balmy 0C.
Why March? Because that’s the best time to track and, hopefully, see the region’s elusive and endangered Siberian — or Amur — tigers, as they leave tracks in the snow.
The location chosen by Naturetrek for its eight-night small-group tour is the remote Durminskoye Forest Reserve in eastern Russia. A seven-and-a-half hour flight from Moscow, Durminskoye is part of the vast ‘taiga’ — an environment characterised by dense conifer forests.
Travelling by four-wheel drive, snowmobile and on foot, the group will look for tracks and other evidence of the world’s largest cat, and install and regularly check movement-sensitive camera traps with the aim of capturing images of the incredible tiger.
Ben Chapple, operations manager at Naturetrek, estimates the chances of a sighting at around ten to 20 per cent.
‘It requires a great deal of luck,’ he says. ‘Even around Durminskoye, which has one of Russia’s highest concentrations, there is only one individual per 40 square miles. However, camera traps are almost certain to capture images.’
To further improve the odds, Naturetrek’s guides will draw on the knowledge of Alexander Batalov, Durminskoye Forest Reserve’s director and a renowned tiger conservationist. And with five animals recorded in the vicinity of the Durminskoye camp, where the group stays, there really is nowhere better to look.
Other wildlife that may be encountered include Siberian roe deer, wild boar, sable and white-tailed eagles. Yet there’s no doubting the headline attraction — an iconic big cat you’ll be helping directly on the tour.
‘Alexander’s conservation work is only part-funded by Russia’s government so he relies heavily on tourism,’ says Chapple.
Funds pay for camera traps and other survey methods to assess the tiger population and pay for crucial anti-poaching patrols. The tour is expensive but necessarily so.
‘A number of factors contribute to the cost,’ says Chapple. ‘Internal flights to this part of Russia are very dear, there is limited accommodation in Durminskoye’s camp and fuel prices for the large 4×4 vehicles are high.’
A dedicated cook is also required and many supplies have to be imported. So there’s a high cost and a high chill factor — yet the magic of laying eyes on a Siberian tiger will prove utterly worth it.
■ From £5,895pp full board, departing February 29, 2020, including flights, transfers, permits, cold-weather clothing and guiding, naturetrek.co.uk