While we were worrying about anti-frizz hair treatments and the iPhone 5, an entire type of Tiger has been going extinct. Insult to injury? Unlike a Bengal tiger, the wild Siberian tiger doesn’t even attack/eat humans very often! Guys, we dropped the ball. Luckily, not everyone did.

We know wild Siberian tigers are gorgeous, but did you know they’re almost extinct and almost impossible to find? A new season of Nature on PBS will tell you all about it in “Siberian Tiger Quest.”

The setting: Siberia, Russia (brrr.) The people: Biologist (or bear ecologist and conservationist, if we want to be picky – and I always do) Chris Morgan and dedicated Filmmaker Sooyong Park. The deal: Park has been hanging out for FIVE years, waiting to find these tigers that are almost extinct. He finally found some in 2005, and he captured the footage. What it shows is a story of three generations of tigers. Now, Morgan has joined Park in the hopes that he too might finally see a Siberian tiger in the wild before it’s too late.

The film airs Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). After broadcast, the program will stream at pbs.org/nature.

Via press release, a more detailed description:

Siberian tigers are extremely difficult to find. Their spectacular flame-colored, gold, brown, and white fur illogically helps them to disappear in the forest, blending in with the foliage instead of standing out against the snow. Precious few remain in the wild, each with vast territories that can cover over 1000 miles. Poachers set traps and kill tigers every year, leaving survivors ever more wary and skittish. With only self-taught knowledge to guide him, and no GPS collars to help him, Park followed tiger prey, the call of crows, tiger markings left behind on trees, and tracks in the snow. Learning to read tracks in the snow is known as learning “to read the white book.” It is a skill Park mastered, a skill that finally led him to the tigers. Then he set his cameras and hid himself away to wait. He waited months at a time, over and over again.

The tigers eventually appeared, as if by magic, and over the months and years, Park got to know individuals and their families. The first tiger he was able to film was a dominant male he named King Big. Measuring 10 feet nose to tail and weighing a quarter ton, King Big cautiously approached one camera but left quickly after discovering the hidden device. And then, by the light of a full moon, a female and her three cubs entered the snow-filled clearing in front of him. Park had been tracking her for years without ever actually seeing her. He called her Bloody Mary after her gruesome kill sites, and her cubs he named Sky White, Snow White and Moon White. They would become a kind of second family. But it would not be long before Bloody Mary was killed by a rifle trap set by a poacher.

One of the almost fully-grown cubs, Snow White, disappeared, perhaps searching for her own territory elsewhere. The remaining two, a male and a female, stayed together for some time, sharing their territory along the Pacific cliffs. Though Park hoped the male would replace his father, King Big, as the dominant male in the area, his fate was to die as his mother had before him, killed by a poacher. The remaining female survived through the next year, even producing a cub. But both fell victim to a harsh winter, leaving Park devastated at their loss, but filled with a determination to find the missing female cub, Snow White.

Using his knowledge of the ecosystem he had spent so long observing, so long becoming a part of, he was able to locate Snow White in a forested river valley he had never seen before. But first, he found her two cubs, playing by themselves in a stream. As they were lost and alone in the woods, he named them Hansel and Gretel. He built a tiny platform 15 feet up a tree and spent months again, waiting and watching through an entire winter, until he was rewarded with the appearance of their mother. Without question, Park had found Snow White.

Watch Siberian Tiger Quest Preview on PBS. See more from Nature.

Morgan has the great good fortune to revisit these places with Park, retracing Park’s steps and hearing the stories of his experiences. He learns to think like a tiger, to see the forests with Park’s eyes, to “read the white book.” Then the moment comes when his mentor and guide leaves him to his own private quest, and it is up to Morgan to fulfill his own long-held dream – to find and film a Siberian tiger in the wild. The student sets out to accomplish the virtually impossible task of locating a tiger in just a few weeks. Following tiger tracks and markings, following prey and setting camera traps where tigers would hunt, Morgan watches and waits, hoping against hope. His remarkable result brings an emotional end to his quest, and a rewarding result for Park, as well.

Nature is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET for PBS. Fred Kaufman is executive producer. Siberian Tiger Quest is a Mike Birkhead Associates Production for Terra Mater Factual Studios in co-production with THIRTEEN in association with WNET.

Nature pioneered a television genre that is now widely emulated in the broadcast industry. Throughout its history, Nature has brought the natural world to millions of viewers. The series has been consistently among the most-watched primetime series on public television.

Major corporate support for Nature is provided by Canon U.S.A., Inc. Additional support is provided by the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, the Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the nation’s public television stations.

Wild Siberian Tiger picture: PBS

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Follow TV Critic Jessica Rae on Twitter @ThisJessicaRae.



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