The world of wild animals by Andrey Gudkov

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Primorie Pearl


(To the memory of Vadim Pererva — chief security officer of FESSR , killed on duty)

He was laconic, serious and as it seemed to me, overmuch severe. “Aye”, — I thought, "people of this kind do not contact willingly, and I will have to drag information by ticks. hat was my first impression of acquaintance to Vadim Pererva — chief security officer of the Far Easter State Sea Reserve. Yet in Vladivostok, director of FESSR warned, that if I would manage to get him to talk, I would dig out information for not a single article. Indeed Pererva has been in reserve for four years. Each poacher knows him there. If he goes to patrol, than it is done. Easy all. Yet in Moscow in editors’ office of the magazine, while discussing the future trip to the reserve, we tried to designate frameworks of the future story. Many questions arose: how to show work of inspectors, whether we will be lucky with the weather? And certainly we did not assume that we would have to participate directly in detention of poachers. But reporter’s fate was favourable.


After lunch we arrived at security cordon of the eastern site of the Far Eastern State Sea Reserve. In the city local drivers refused to go when got to know a final point of destination, referring to inaccessibility and bad road. "To go there means to lose suspension bracket. There are practically no roads there. Everything is bumped.

As a result, after long discussions they accepted to drive us to the point specified by us on a map, having claimed the price — one dollar for one kilometer. After short tenders we agreed on 200 dollars. We understood from resolute faces of drivers, that any further tenders were useless.

The road from Vladivostok to reserve “Rescue” bay took more than six hours. For 260 kilometers we were shivering and jumping up on potholes on worse for wear “Toyota” on hills and passes of the south of the Primorie Territory and Gammov peninsula.

Storm warning was transmitted by radio and the driver hurried up back. He should manage to return before rain, otherwise the semblance of road which is even without that bumped by military tractors will be washed away and he will have to wait a few days while the dirty porridge will dry up.

The cordon turned out to be the two-storeyed wooden house which consists of several rooms for protection inspectors, a room for radio communication, kitchen and a pair of guest rooms. Nearby there was a small bath, diesel house and a few metal hangars for different equipment. There was smell of dampness and trees in the house. We were picked up by two inspectors and already elderly man who carried out duties of carpenter, builder, and in general, jack-of-all-trades. They checked up the admittance ticket. After some formalities we, at last, settled down in one of guest rooms on the second floor of the house. As soon as the car disappeared behind a hill, it became deathly silent. Quietness is broken by glib wave splashes and grasses rustle only. Near to the coast, the red metal tablet is embedded: “FESSR. Entrance is forbidden”. It is absolutely wild place. It emerged that there is no light at the cordon. The diesel generator failed. Absence of electricity adds some romanticism.

— And where is the chief officer? — I asked.

— He should come soon. He never points out precise time and also does not name dates. He comes when he comes. He has his own schedule.

I was a bit confused with such an answer. So we could do nothing but wait. It drizzled by the evening. It seemed, that rain was being sifted through a sieve. Heavens become grey with dense low clouds of lead color. The wind amplified and began to howl. It darkened quickly. The drizzle turned to the downpour. Not drops anymore, but streams of rain overflowed windows in our room by howls of the wind. One from inspectors says: “Well, it is for a long while now”. The weather gives the first unpleasant surprise and at once changes the mood. That was how the first night passed and all next day.


The Far Eastern State Sea Reserve was created on March, 24th, 1978. It is the unique sea reserve out of 93 natural reserves existing in Russia today. It is the standard of comparison of the seaside nature, islands and shelf of the Primorie Territory. It is paradise for photographers-naturalists, for amateurs to see corners of our planet yet untouched by the civilization. The freakish relief of the underwater rocks, natural grottoes, sandy banks, failures up to forty meters depth — all this is grouped with crystal-clear water up to 12–16 meters of depth. The total area of the reserve is over 64 thousand hectares — it is about 10 % of all area of Peter the Great Bay. The reserve consists of four sites — northern, southern, eastern and western.

Islands occupy 2% of the reserve area. There are 11 islands and islets in the reserve. The largest of them is Big Pelis of 380 hectares. The total area of islands is 1100 hectares. On islands you can see rocks, sandy beaches, subtropical woods, steppes, bogs, stale streams and stale lakes. Here there are colonies of sea birds and almost 900 kinds of plants. Only in the reserve rookeries and “maternity hospitals” of bay seals are still kept, which have almost completely disappeared earlier in the southern Primorie Territory. The most numerous populations of these animals lives in the reserve across all Peter the Great Bay.

About 360 kinds of birds, 80 of which nest, are registered on the islands. There is no such variety anywhere in Russia, even in Volga delta! In the reserve there are Japanese and Daur cranes, black vulture, see white-rudder eagle, golden eagle and peregrine falcon. All these birds are listed in the International Red book and in the National Red books. Colonies of sea birds on island Furughelma are especially beautiful and numerous. Here there are the largest of nowadays known in the world colonies of the Japanese cormorant and black-rudder seagull. Sea colonial birds alone here gather in amounts of up to 100 thousand zooids.

Uniqueness of the reserve is also in meeting of two streams in its waters — cold Primorskoe, bringing with itself representatives of sea fauna of the cold seas and warm Zusimskoe which brings tropical sea animals. Here in different years representatives of tropical fauna — sword-fish, tuna, a bi-coloured flounder and tiger shark have been caught. There are sea snakes. Black killer whale and dolphins-dolphins come into waters of the reserve. On depth during spring and autumn time it is possible to meet octopuses. On a sandy ground you can see dark red, grey flat and heart-shaped sea hedgehogs, bright starfishes.

And a bit more about uniqueness. Yellow-nib heron nests on reserved islands. This is very rare bird. All over the world there remain hardly more than 600 zooids. And 40 out of them have chosen FESSR.


By evening of the second day the rain stops and the wind abates. One more day is lost. At night a military “GAZ-66” dropped in on a cordon. Three men go in the house. 15–20 minutes pass and voices cease. “Finally we have tarried for. Well here, I think, we shall get acquainted in the morning”.

In the morning I figured out there were no night visitors on the cordon.

— And there is Pererva? — I ask an inspector.

— They left to the sea yet last night. Night is their full pride of work. At nights poachers lose alertness, and here comes Pererva to catch them.

— And when they will be back?

— He does not report. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow.

— Is it possible to contact him somehow?

— No. He contacts us by himself when necessary.

By twelve o’clock sound of boat motor is heard. A boat appears from behind the island.

— And there goes Pererva with his fighters, — one of inspectors shows to the side of the island. — They are somewhat early today.

In 5 more minutes the boat nestled against bay sand. Three men jump out of the boat. They are two fighters of Vladivostok OMON fully equipped and the chief of reserve protection Vadim Pererva.

— You are the one from Moscow, aren’t you? — a middle-aged man in a form of inspector of wildlife management holds out a hand. — I was informed in Vladivostok about your arrival. I hope you have well arranged here.

I get acquainted with OMON men. One of the fighters carries large bucket full with still alive big shrimps, in size of a palm. In the Far East they are called lings.

— Here is, we have taken these away from woe-tourists on the way to the cordon. They gave back everything as soon as they had seen the armed men. They didn’t resist or try to prove anything. And they know, devilry, that are in the reserve and capture of any alive animal s is prohibited. But no, they just must poach. Everyone hopes not to be seen. And one more thing. If you make photos, do not shoot our faces and warn about shooting.

Everybody looked a little bit tired. We settled down outside, at the table under sprawling hazel grove. We continue conversation during breakfast.

— Last night we nicked up a poach trawler, says Vadim Pererva. — Tried to intercept it. But apparently, they noticed us also and tailed off. We had to make some precautionary shots. It left beyond waters of reserve and stayed there all the night long. As though they were waiting while we would leave. Didn’t appear till the morning. We were twisting around it and that’s all.

— And what poachers catch now? — I wonder.

— Mainly — crab. Put crab traps and lift them after a while. King crab, snow crab and hair crab comes across. And it is not compulsory for a trawler to come into port with the caught crab. At a certain moment another, more high-speed boat approaches to a vessel and takes away all fare. There may be a few such intakes. A trawler works further. Practically all caught crab is taken away to Japan. Japanese give good money for it. Prices are negotiable on a case-by-case basis. It is difficult to notice such transfers but if it turns out then guys “fly” at the full program.

— And what means “the full program”? — I ask.

— Large fines are drawn, licenses are cancelled, and criminal cases are started. The maximal terms of punishment for such affairs is up to 2 years in prison. We have too soft legislation.

— There is less and less crab now, — continues Pererva, — that is why they creep to the reserve. Recently we have engaged OMON to our raids. You feel more confident with them, in case of necessity they can even use a weapon. By the way, I think, the trawler has had time to set traps for. And now it will need to take them all away. Thus it will for sure come to the reserve to get them. That’s where we will straddle it, — Pererva summarizes with satisfaction, having struck table by the sharp of the hand. Dangerous gleam revealed in the eyes. One of OMON-men nodded assent.

Evidently, they all have been waiting for this moment. Night raid should bring its fruits.

— And do you often have to use weapon?

— Unfortunately, more often than I would like. Sometimes poachers also pepper away at us. Last year an inspector stopped poacher boat. So guys fired him off from no big thing. Good is that only a hand was raked. And in April of this year on Big Pelis island an inspector noticed two poacher boats. There was one inspector and eight poachers. As soon as they saw him, added gas and went ramming. They gave the stem of inspection’ boat from two boards. But failed to sink it. The hole happened to be above a waterline. So we are here as on war. By the way there was also an amusing case this winter. We left once on inspection. In some time mentioned poacher boat. Well, put on gas and rush to it. But guys do not run away, but on the contrary, turned around and give her gun to our side. Like that we fly against each other. A few meters remain. The deuce, I think, there will be a collision right now. And suddenly the boat sharply turns around and flies away from us. We have caught it up, and ask, blokes, what for have you been playing heroes. And they answer, that have mixed us with competitors. Thought to grapple with. And when they have understood that have fallen across protections, it was already too late.

— And what were they fishing?

— We were getting trepang. It is one more illegal business. Have taken them, as the saying is, red-handed: both trepang and aqualungs. A trepang is in the Red Book. Chinese give very good money for it. Dry it and transport illegally to China. A trepang is collected at the depth of from 10 up to 30 meters. A skin-diver can get up to 50 kg of an alive trepang at one dip. This equals to 5 kg of dried. One kg of dried trepang costs 100$ on the black market. In China it is much more expensive. For one “working” day one person gets up to 150–200 kg of this delicacy. Poachers’ trade season begins in September and comes to an end in May only. They poach by brigades of several persons. Here you can calculate the price of the question and what we protect here. A crab and a trepang are not unique objects of cropping. They also take seaside comb and sea hedgehogs, more precisely, caviar of sea hedgehogs.

— And how many people are busy with protection?

— Only 7 cordons and 17 inspectors. Part of them patrol water area by motor boats, others keep coastline. Every day patrol goes around bays of the reserve.

The inspector rushes out of radio cabin.

— Vadim, lookout post reports your night trawler is in the reserve already. Have to take it while it’s hot.

Everyone come off places just as scalded. On the move Pererva offers: if you want to shoot this concert, you’ve got three minutes to pack. Jump to the boat and let’s go.

In three minutes the protection boat departs from coast. OMON fighters dress masks. Pererva tries to constrain emotions, but everything is evident in this eyes. We turn on radar. On the sly, as if stealthily — we move crawling along picturesque bays. But anybody as if does not notice the beauty. I prepare the camera and hold it in the hand. Waves amplify noticeably. Ahead there is a silhouette of a fishing trawler. We look at radar. The trawler point is motionless.

— They began to intake traps. — Pererva says. — Now we will approach it as near as only possible, crawling, and as soon as they mention us, turn tail and run, and that’s it, it will not escape. We will be inobservable for the trawler as long as we can. That is why we try not to get on for a radio contact, do not disclose our radio call. Everything is for masking.

— The Flying Dutchman tactics. — I clarify. Pererva smiles and nods.

The motor boat is painted grey and this camouflages it perfectly. It fades with grey sea and becomes practically invisible.

— Ok, they got us, — says Pererva. — Everybody get ready. Hang on.

Speed control handle pressed home. The 90-powers engine moved and the motor boat flied, jumping from a wave on a wave. The trawler is closer and close. Silhouettes of people on a deck are already visible. It can be seen that work boils there. We fly up almost back to back. The trawler team lifts crab traps feverishly. Pererva orders to the captain to snag and stop. We bypass the trawler on a circle several times. On poachers faces we can see they have not expected protection to appear, moreover with armed OMON. We approach to the board of the trawler. On the sly someone from the team tries to dump the caught crab overboard.

— Stay cool man, — one of OMON men throws up his gun, — step lively back.

The team does not resist and becomes lamblike. The crab is again on the deck. A rope gangway is given. OMON fighters are first to debark on the vessel. Behind them I clamber also on the gangway. Everything happens very quickly. Capture of the vessel has taken just a few minutes.

— Shoot all the process, you’ll get material for … and Pererva makes a gesture above the head. — I shall stay on the boat. We will now call to frontier guards, to Economical Crimes Department and Office of Public Prosecutor.

Everyone on the trawler is in some confusion. Noticeably some confusion presents. Probably we have surprised the team in the very heat of work. Nobody obviously expected OMON to occur onboard, and especially, a person with a camera. Some people hide the faces. Crab traps are moved aboard. Crab is sorted ready at hand there and put in baskets. The filled baskets are sent to holds, to special tanks. Someone prepares killers for traps.

— Everybody finishes work now, — one of OMON fighters orders.

Another one rises on the command bridge and examines documents. The complete set of vessel’s documents is given to Pererva. We counted up, that in the hold there is already about 1600 caught Kamchatka crabs and about 400 of hair crabs. Work is stopped. Traps are collected by accurate lines on the forage.

— Nothing remains now but waits until representatives of law-enforcement structures come. We will hand the trawler and the tame over to them. Here our job ends, — says of OMON fighters.

We were waiting for about three hours. A military boat came from Vladivostok. The second group of people embarks aboard the trawler. We pass again to the motor boat to Pererva. He is talking to a man civilian clothes who has come with the second group and we head for the cordon, to “Rescue” bay. All of us are happy with the work done. It’s raining again. But this time it does not influence the mood.

— Tonight we head to Furughelma Island, says Pererva. — This is at the southern site. We have not been there for a long while. We mush be evident and knock them for a loop. After such raids, poachers will not go to the sea for a long time. If you want, you can join us.

— Why at midnight? — I ask.

— Because nobody expects us to appear at night. We will come upon all of a sudden. By the way, such tactics gives its fruits. FESSR holds the third place in Russia by the amount of fines paid. Last year a number of detentions exceeded 100. This means 8–9 detentions per day in general.

Already in twilight we approach “Rescue”. Clothes are wet. Need to change it and have supper. Ahead there is a night hunt in the company of “Flying Dutch”. In an hour, the motor boat of FESSR chief of protection dissolves in the September night sea. Already after our expedition it became known, that that night on a southern site four poacher boats were detained with complete sets of underwater equipment prepared for trepang fishing. This time, it went without shooting. No trepang fell to Chinese.

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