Udege Legend

Almost two years ago, my good friend David Cockerill and I started planning a trip: an extended backpacking trip throughout Southeast Asia and Oceania.

In the beginning, the trip was designed to do just that. We would wander from beach to beach, jungle to beach and beach to beach again. As our planning continued, and the number of days until graduation decreased, somewhere along the way we got some sense knocked back into us, and we realized, if there was any time to stay focused and determined it should be now. 

For me, I didn't want to repeat out loud a line I had said to myself several times…" yeah, travel while you can, and get it out of your system". I did not know what system they, and I, were talking of. For me, visiting new and different places, meeting new people, learning new skills and gaining knowledge is not something you look to as a one time thing, or a period in your life, that you took advantage of, or not. We should do this everyday, at least introduce ourselves to someone new. You don't have to travel to distant lands to do that. 

 David studied wildlife biology, and myself, photography. We wanted to combine those studies and seek out something that would be an extension of our educations and help affirm our reasons for heading in those directions. David started to talk about an area in southeastern Russia called Primorski Krai (Приморский край) or the Maritime Province, which borders China and North Korea to the west and southwest, and the Sea of Japan to the East. A very bio-diverse area, Primorski Krai is home to some amazing wildlife and virtually untouched wilderness. But there are current threats to this sub-siberian wonderland that could change its beauty and turn it into another failed attempt at conservation, which we have seen happen to other places that have something amazing and powerful, of which the rest of the world wants. In Primorski Krai, the threats lie mostly from the poaching of wildlife: the bodies and pelts of Amur Tigers (Siberian), Asian Black Bears and Amur Leopards are sold in China for medicinal use. And there is illegal logging and cutting of tress, which make up the habitat for these large predators. 

Once David introduced me to this amazing place we decided to volunteer our services to whomever may have a place for us. We contacted several organizations with no luck. Then David emailed an organization called the Phoenix Fund, a Russian organization that was created in 1998 as an effort to help aid in the conservation of Russian wildlife, with a specific focus on the Amur Leopard and Tiger. The fund, which supports only five full time staff, has an array of projects to handle:  human-tiger conflicts, ecological education and anti-poaching, among others. Please visit their website (www.fundpheonix.org) and learn more about their very important work, and their success thus far. 

The Director of the Phoenix Fund, Sergei Bereznuk, was very generous to us and put us in contact with a newly formed national park in Primorye, the Udege Legend National Park (Удэгейская легенда Национальный парк). Udege Legend National Park was named after the tribe of people who lived in the region, when Russians settled in the area, in the 19th century.

After several months of planning and numerous visa applications, we are here and have started our work as volunteers. Udege Legend is a small and young park, so our work varies quite a bit. We intend to be here for two months, until December… 




Wallpaper in one of the bedrooms

Bridge suspended over the Ussuri River, and the guideline for the ferry's pulley system.

Victor Vasilievich, a ferry driver, gets paid 200 Rubels (about 6 US dollars) for every trip across the river. When winter comes, the river will freeze several meters deep and motorist will use the ice as a bridge to cross. Until then, Victor and the other ferry drivers will break through the ice that forms. The ferry is the only way to cross the river, other then, the suspension bridge. For the people who live in the small villages of  Dersu and Dal'nekut, and for the park inspectors, it is the only connection to life outside the taiga (boreal forest).

Masha Vyacheslavovna and Victor Vasilievich, on our first trip across the river, and our first visit into the park. Masha is the Deputy Director for the park and was our contact who helped get us into Russia to become the park's first volunteers. Her English is good. Our Russian is not so good. She has been acting as our translator. Without her, we are pretty helpless.

Olga Vasilievna, Communication Specialist for Udege Legend National Park, waving to fisherman on shore.

During one of the last warm weekends, before winter arrives, the park hosts a annual fishing competition. The judges look at each contestants largest catch, smallest catch and the quality. Hunting, along with carrying any firearm, is illegal in the park. So the main sporting event is fishing the rivers abundant resource of Umber, Taimen and Lenok.

Autumn comes and goes quickly in the taiga, with weather systems that bring freezing temperatures from the Siberian North. Temperatures can drop to -40 degrees celsius.

A view of the Ussuri and the ferry, from the suspension bridge, at the end of our first day in the park. The current from the river and the angle the ferry sits in the water is what propels the mostly steel and wooden platform from shore to shore.

Alexey, a park forestry engineer, guides a friend up onto the steel ramp that leads you to shore. There have been situations, were due to icy conditions or negligence, cars have fallen into the river and found several kilometers down stream.

During our first week working, we were shadowed by one of the park inspectors and forestry engineers, Sasha Alexander. We spent most of our days with him. And as he helped us with our Russian, he was able to practice English. In Russian, the word for white is белый (phonetically: Be-a-le). Here,  Alexander is translating White Russia (or Belarus, the small Eastern European contry). This kind of blow my mind, for some  reason. Sasha has a wife and one year old, in Roshino.

The largest threats, to this mostly untouched region of southeastern Russia, are the poaching of large wildlife animals, such as the Amur Tiger (Siberian Tiger), the Asian Black Bear and the Amur Leopard, and  the illegal logging of the forest (тайга́). One of the protected botanical species is the Japanese Yew (тис). Here Sasha Alexander walks around a 2,000 year old specimen.

Victor Alexsage, a park inspector and former veterinarian technician, has been with the park for two years. During our first visit with the rangers he was acting as the cabin caretaker and would monitor the entrance of park and register the visitors.

The Inspector's cabin is a social place, where park guests and fisherman start and finish their day. Sasha (A popular name for Russian men. Dave and I had to start giving them nick names, to seperate them) or "Dancing Sasha" is an engineer from Vladivostok, the capital of Primorye. He comes to the park several times a year to fish and visit with friends.

An official park patrol boat, tethered to the shore while the moon rises over the Ussuri.