I saw the pictures just 17 minutes after they were posted on BBC Earth’s official website, under the heading “Rare Siberian tiger ‘selfie’ pictures are released.” A camera trap recorded the images of big cats at play in Russia’s remote Far East, in Russia’s somewhat prosaically named Land of the Leopard National Park.
The park, 262,000 hectares (650,000 acres) of untrammelled wilderness in one of the most remote corners of the world’s largest country, was established in 2012, thanks to the merger of Russia’s Kedrovaya Pad Reserve, Barsovy Federal Wildlife Refuge and Borisovkoya Plateau Regional Wildlife Refuge. The newly created park was named for the Amur leopard, officially labelled the “world’s rarest cat” by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The Amur tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger, is doing little better, though recent surveys suggest their numbers have increased slightly in recent years, thanks in no small part to Russia’s renewed focus on big-cat conservation and habitat preservation in the remote Primorsky Krai region of Russia, which borders China in the southeast.
Population surveys are one thing. Actual photographic evidence is quite another. Seeing is believing, after all.
No more than two dozen tigers are said to be roaming in the park, but two dozen is better than none, especially when the species itself is facing extinction.
The new images are particularly striking because they show a young family at play — a sight rarely seen by human eyes, let alone photographed. The Amur tiger may be nature’s largest big cat by size, but they’re reclusive and rarely seen.
The advent of camera traps, which can be set up well in advance and eliminate the need for any human-animal interaction, have had a profound influence on both wildlife photography and conservation studies in recent years.
Russian scientists are taking a strictly objective approach in their tiger studies. There’s no room for sentiment here, no Bambi-style anthropomorphization with cuddly, human-sounding names.
The mother tiger featured in the photos is known as T7F. She was first photographed in 2014. She had three cubs at the time two of which have grown and are now believed to be across the border in China.
China has also taken a more protective attitude toward its remaining wild tiger population, which had been heavily poached for its fur and so-called medicinal properties.
If nothing else, the pictures prove one thing: Where there’s life, there’s still light at the end of the tunnel.