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…