Siberian tiger & Amur leopard safaris

Back in 2006, BBC Planet Earth captured footage of the Amur leopard in Kedrovaya Pad National Park, an astonishing achievement given this is the world’s rarest cat – at the time there were thought to be just 40 individuals left in the wild. Perhaps the ultimate big cat safari then is one that gives you exclusive, 24-hour access to specialist photography hides in Kedrovaya Pad, located close to water features and trees used as a food source by prey species such as wild boar and deer. Here, with the aid of motion-sensitive camera traps, night vision equipment and experienced park rangers, you stand an excellent chance of finding these elusive, endangered and iconic creatures on a completely unique tour.
You might spend up to a week based in the hide to maximise your potential opportunities, with basic but comfortable facilities including a toilet and gas heater (and access to a forest hotel if you do fancy a change of scenery for a while). Meals are brought in or prepared in the hide, and rangers escort you in and out. After a week with the leopards you can take an internal flight to a private forest reserve south of Khabarovsk in Russia’s Far East, an area to which very few tourists venture, to spend a second week in search of another reclusive big cat: the mighty Siberian tiger.

Here you’re likely to rotate between several hides, an option recommended if you’re a photographer as this is where you’re most likely to see the tigers, or you can explore the forest by 4x4, on snowshoes, or snowmobile and even skis. The tigers’ presence in an area can be identified by their tracks, their scent markings and kills, and you may be accompanied by experienced zoologists, local naturalist guides and rangers, and possibly scientists and researchers too. Not only does that mean more pairs of eyes trained on the forest, but also superb levels of interpretation into the cats’ behaviours. On a tiger tracking tour you will be staying in a wooden lodge camp with a traditional Russian banya to keep you warm.

Big cat tourism & conservation
in Russia

Big cat safaris in Russia can have a profound impact on the success of conservation efforts. The presence of outsiders during the winter can put off poachers and illegal loggers; footage recorded during trips is shared, providing a valuable data stream for researchers; and the economic benefits for local communities helps persuade them to protect big cats, and perhaps even inspire people to take up conservation careers themselves. So as you can probably, guess, that’s a big thumbs up from the Responsible Travel team.
As of early 2019, there are at least five known Amur leopards around the hide in Kedrovaya Pad National Park, and some 22 tigers using the forest on a regular basis, so you stand a very good chance of seeing them here. During your stay, you may also visit the Kedrovaya Pad interpretation center to learn about leopard conservation efforts; the Utyos rehabilitation center, to see sick and injured tigers and other wildlife; or visit a local village. Throughout the tour you will be accompanied by park rangers with years of experience to the point that they can recognise some of the big cats by sight.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Big cat safaris or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Russian big cat safari practicalities

Beyond being able to cope with the cold and fairly basic conditions while overnighting in the hides (beds are provided of course) you don’t need to be especially fit for these trips. Very little physical exertion is required beyond walking the 1.5km to the hide over flat ground. Winter temperatures can drift between -5°C and -30°C, with heavy snowfall likely.

These tours are tailor made and can even be designed for just one person. Trips run throughout the winter months from November to March; snowfall makes tracking easier, and means food is scarcer so the cats are likely to be more active. You’ll be based in coastal locations where temperatures are not as severe as in other parts of the Russian Far East, though bringing several layers of warm clothing is essential.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Royle Safaris] [Intro: Tambako The Jaguar] [Big cat tourism & conservation in Russia: Alexander Leisser] [Russian big cat safari practicalities: Derek Ramsey]