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Freed to Be Wild

The endangered animals of Russia and the dedicated people who save them

Chukotka region is a land of ineffable natural beauty and home to mighty and rare animal species. In recent years, a remote village here called Ryrkaypiy has been overrun by dozens of polar bears. The fearsome predators come seeking to dine on the hundreds, and sometimes thousands of Pacific walruses lounging on the nearby coastline. These tusky creatures have been spending more and more time on the mainland as temperatures rise and their natural habitat in the sea-ice slowly disappears.

With animal encounters and poaching on the rise, local wildlife lover Tatyana Minenko has organized special ‘bear patrols’ that keep watch over the situation, protecting humans from animals and vice versa. Equipped only with a long, pointed stick and a flare gun, the mother of five has no fear of predators or poachers. She’s only afraid of losing her native land at the world’s edge.

The film then takes us from Russia’s rugged Arctic coast to the snowy taiga in the country’s Far East, where Amur tigers and leopards live. While the big cats are the undisputed rulers of the wilderness, their numbers are pitifully small. Indeed, rampant poaching and habitat loss almost wiped them from the face of the earth not long ago. There are only around 600 Amur tigers and just over a hundred Amur leopards left in the world today.

Pavel Fomenko, the head of WWF Russia’s rare species conservation branch, has been committed to protecting tigers for 25 years now. He was even attacked by a tiger once, when it crashed through a chain-link fence. Despite the disfiguring scars he still bears on his face and shoulder, the conservationist remains undeterred and is determined to continue his work until he and his colleagues “secure the predator’s survival.”

In Southern Siberia, ornithologist and WWF expert Igor Karyakin is battling to save the Saker falcon from Middle Eastern poachers. He is in charge of a unique project to restore the raptor’s gene pool. The feisty birds’ population has plummeted over the past 20 years as the predators are poached and illegally sold to Gulf State sheiks for big bucks.

Karyakin takes chicks hatched in captivity and searches for wild parents to place them within the wild. He spends most of the year looking for suitable nests across the steppes and plains of Southern Siberia, accompanied by his wife and daughter.

This documentary is a joint project of RT Documentary and the World Wildlife Fund marking 25 years since the WWF began operations in Russia. It’s dedicated to WWF members like Tatyana Minenko, Pavel Fomenko, and Igor Karyakin who put their hearts and souls into wildlife conservation. Much of the progress in environmental protection in Russia can be attributed to the dedication of people like them, who demonstrate why wildlife protection should be a personal matter for everyone.



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