The Unexpected Beast

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Brown bear. Photograph Ⓒ Jonathan C. Slaght

A few years ago I was helping a colleague track Siberian musk deer in the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve. She was a graduate student studying the behavior of these fascinating, spritely creatures, and was in the middle of a grueling field season collecting reams of movement data from several radio-tagged musk deer.

One afternoon, in the middle of a day hike, we turned up a narrow valley dominated by Korean pine while tracking a male musk deer. This was a lush gorge bisected by a gurgling brook that further masked our footsteps already dampened by the carpet of pine needles. This stealth allowed us to obliviously approach then flush a trio of roe deer then later a sounder of at least a half-dozen wild boar.

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Succumbing to the Storm

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Members of Arsenyev’s 1906 expedition to the southern Russian Far East.

As with the fates of many of the intelligentsia whose lives spanned the Russian Revolution, subsequent Civil War, and Soviet purges, the story of Vladimir Arsenyev is one that did not end particularly well. As a beloved explorer and author whose career bridged Imperial and Soviet Russias, it seemed for a time that Arsenyev and his legacy would survive intact. But according to Ivan Egorchev, an Arsenyev scholar, Arsenyev’s early death from a heart attack in 1930 (at the age of 58) might actually have been a blessing. It meant that Arsenyev did not live to witness his wife accused of espionage and executed in 1937, or his daughter spend nearly twenty years in prison or labor camps for “anti-Soviet statements” and other nebulous charges.

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