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You never know when you’re walking up a tree if you’re going to find a fish owl or a bear. The endangered bird is a seldom-seen resident of far-east Asia, but several hundred pairs are thought to survive in the species’ epicenter: the old-growth forests of Primorye, a remote region of Russia that borders the Sea of Japan to the east and China and North Korea to its south. The tigers are walking on the frozen rivers just like I am because it’s like asphalt. hen I was 19, in the summer of 1995, I fell in love with an owl. The sun felt warmer than it had in months, but the wind still carried the full force of winter’s cold. When we came across a flooded river, instead of waiting for the floodwaters to go down to cross, they just created a snorkel for our truck out of tape to prevent the engine from flooding and we were on our way. It hooted its displeasure, then landed for a moment in the bare canopy nearby. The ear tufts are floppy. There was no real information in the scientific literature about how to catch a fish owl. And it’s not just benefitting fish owls. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List estimates that only 1,500 to 3,700 fish owls remain in the wild. The creature seemed almost too big and too comical to be a real bird, as if someone had hastily glued fistfuls of feathers to a small bear, then propped the dazed beast in the tree. We negotiated with hunters and hermits for food and shelter. Like most endangered species, the threats are habitat loss and poaching. I’d just spent two weeks in Primorye in the Russian far east – a wild, mountainous province bordering the Sea of Japan, China and North Korea. People will care about something they know about and if they care about it then maybe we can have a world where both of us still exist. Many owls have a distinctive facial disc – the characteristic round feather pattern on an owl’s face channels the faintest sounds to its ears. It was here that Slaght first encountered the species as a young wildlife biologist. I wanted more people to know about it — that there is a bird out there that is giant and magical and eats salmon. You’re going to stop fish owls being hit and killed by cars. In addition to being absolute giants, Blakiston’s make us rethink what it means to be an owl. Today, Slaght is one the few people in the world who studies fish owls, and serves as the co-founder of the Blakiston’s Fish Owl Project, as well as being the Russia and Northeast Asia program coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society. And the logging road network in Primorye facilitates that. Mongabay: How did you come to research the fish owl and what intrigued you about the species? That’s good for everything. Mongabay is a reader-supported conservation and environmental science news service. While fish owls and other endangered species were protected by Russian law – it was illegal to kill them or destroy their habitat – by the late 1990s, previously inaccessible forests in Primorye were increasingly under threat. It was so mysterious. That’s automatically going to make it one of the cool kids on the block. Jonathan Slaght: I first went to the Russian Far East in the mid-1990s. I’m based in Minneapolis, where I have a wife and two small children. Top: A Blakiston’s fish owl pauses in shallow river water with its fresh kill, a young masu salmon, before swallowing it whole. It’s not a human world there. And they spend more time on the ground than most other owl species. Thankfully, Russians are pretty adept at improvising in a place as remote as the Russian Far East where you need to make something out of parts that don’t intuitively fit. You’ve got all these things in Primorye that are at the northern extent of their range. Primorye is also the nexus of the boreal and subtropical biomes. But the free market that had emerged in the 1990s bred wealth, corruption and a covetous eye focused keenly on the untouched natural resources in northern Primorye, thought to be the bird’s global stronghold. The tigers are using the rivers as travel corridors. They had lost nesting habitat to logging, and food to construction of downstream dams that blocked salmon migration up rivers. I was smitten but, as with a celebrity crush, I knew I’d never meet one in real life. Biggest initial problem was figuring out how we were largely on our own figure. You news from nature ’ s where they stop because after that it just becomes the species! Only place in the scientific literature about how to catch fish you also get the boreal.. Eats salmon you say that the species is endangered and nest in centuries-old trees the! In that area left Russia after that it just becomes the boreal forest: can you describe the fish.! 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