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31 août 2012 5 31 /08 /août /2012 09:38

Le plus grand tueur de tigres coréens (considéré même comme le plus grand chasseur de tigres au monde) a probablement été Youri Yankovsky (entre 1922 et 1945). 

John Vaillant a évoqué son parcours dans son livre "Tiger. A story of vengeance and survival 2009 (Edition française 2011).

Il avait 98 ans en 2009. Il était alors considéré comme l'un des derniers survivants des camps aurifères de la Kolyma.


Ses mémoires ont été publiées en anglais sous le titre "From crusades to Gulag and beyond" (336 pages, 80 photographies).




Korea has long been famed for its tiger hunters but did you know that arguably one of the greatest tiger hunters in Korean history was not a Korean but a Russian by the name of Yuri (George) M. Yankovsky? Yuri and his family fled Russia just after the Russian Revolution and settled on the east coast of modern North Korea where they built an enclave of hunters known as Novina – “The New Place.”

Novina and the Yankovsky family were bigger than life – their exploits legendary and, to some degree, exaggerated.

The family was rumored to live on nothing more than “tiger steaks and vodka” and that Yuri had “saved his wife’s life by cutting out her appendix with his hunting-knife.” Even their home was surrounded by fantastic legends. Some claimed that they lived in a castle perched on the edge of a deep chasm – only a single tree kept their abode from falling into the abyss – and kept a dragon locked up in its tower.

We do know that the Yankovskys established orchards, fields of vegetables, raised deer and supplemented their diet with the abundance of the wildlife around Novina. Hunting that was the main source of their income and their greatest joy. According to historian, Donald N. Clark, shortly after they arrived in Korea, Yuri managed to secure a contract with the Japanese government to supply their military with fresh meat. It was this steady income that enabled the family to build and expand their hunting enclave.

By the 1930s Novina had become quite popular with Russian tourists who made excursions to nearby Mt. Baekdu during the summer and hunted during the fall and winter. Visitors’ accounts and photographs attest to the abundance of birds, deer, boars, bears and leopards in the region but it was the Manchurian tiger that reigned with a mixture of awe and fear. Like the Yankovsky name, the Manchurian tiger’s predation upon man became legendary.

The great Manchurian tigers, according to Yuri, owed their existence to a Mongol emperor who had imported tigers from India and created a sanctuary for them in the region where the Chinese, Russian and North Korean borders meet. Although the Mongol empire eventually fell, the tigers flourished and each of them bore on their foreheads the Chinese character “king.” These monarchs of the northern forests exacted a huge toll upon their human subjects – taking their livestock and often their lives.

Yuri first felt the urge to hunt tigers at the tender age of six when his favorite pony fell victim to one of these great beasts. It may have started as childish revenge but tiger hunting soon became his passion and he was so successful that he became known as “Asia’s Mighty Tiger Hunter.”

Although Yuri deplored consigning wild animals to a life of imprisonment in zoos, in the late 1930s or early 1940s he was forced by financial needs to provide two live tiger cubs to the zoo in Seoul. For this betrayal of his soul he was paid some 1,000 dollars by the Japanese government.

But money couldn’t force the Yankovskys to betray their adopted country. Allegedly, in 1941, Yuri’s son, Valery, was offered 10,000 yen by the Japanese government if he would hunt down the “tiger” known as Kin Ichi Sei.

Valery turned down the offer claiming the Yankovsky family “only hunts four-legged predators!”

The “tiger” was a young Korean freedom fighter that had harassed the Japanese military in the Mt. Baekdu region. The Yankovskys, at least in spirit, supported the Koreans’ fight for independence and were unwilling to assist the Japanese – especially if it meant killing one of the movement’s leaders.

Who was Kin Ichi Sei? According to Valery, he was the man now known as Kim Il-sung.





Tiger killed by Boydell, circa 1914
Robert Neff Nodaji Collection – courtesy of Justine Tweed



Life at the Western gold mines in northern Korea was dangerous both inside and out in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These mines were generally located in sparsely populated mountainous regions and were the favored haunts of Korea’s big cats – Siberian tigers and leopards.

Tiger and, to a lesser degree, leopard attacks were so common in Korea that in 1889, an American newspaper reported:

“So many persons annually disappear in Corea from the ravages of tigers that hopeless debtors and defaulters take advantage of the presumption thus created in case of a mission person to leave their torn garments at the border of some wood and privately decamp. ‘Caught by a tiger’ has come to be equivalent to in Corea to our American phrase ‘escaped to Canada.’”


There are many anecdotes of western miners encountering these feline predators. Justine Tweed, who was born at the French gold mining concession near the Yalu River in the 1930s, recalls that her own father, Guy B. Boydell, nearly met his end this way. It was in 1914, on an intensely cold night, that Boydell was trudging through the deep snow on his way to his quarters when he suddenly felt that he was no longer alone.

“He half expected to feel the tap of a [worker’s]hand upon his shoulder, soliciting monetary help, perhaps for an ailing wife, or sick child, but then the slow but strong sound of breathing warned him not of  human interception, but of something far more sinister. He quickened his step, at the same time swinging his lantern behind him. He dared not run. At last, [he reached] the final bend in the path and there ahead a shaft of light from the mess hall [beckoned him] like a welcome beacon.”


Boydell quickly made his way to the building and the following morning organized a search party. They discovered the large Siberian tiger sunning itself on a large rock. With a single shot, Boydell killed the tiger. As evidenced by the photograph, the tiger was transported back to the camp on a sled – the corpse frozen in a standing position.

Boydell was fortunate enough to have reached the sanctuary before the tiger could attack but many miners were not. In the same region, a few years earlier, the “fresh-picked bones of three Korean wayfarers” – victims of a tiger attack – were discovered by Japanese guards at the mine. They had reported seeing five tigers stalking the area.

In the 1930s, John Blain, the son of a gold miner at the American gold mines at Unsan, recalled that searches were made “on several occasions when word came back that one of the miners going home after work form the mine had not shown up.”

“They [the searchers] would go looking for him and they would just find a spot on the trail where there had been a scuffle and I can remember on one occasion when all they found was a hand. In these cases they having [sic] been attacked by tigers. More than likely ones that gotten old and were not able to catch game so the best game they could find was some man that was walking home at night…”


Perhaps one of the best hunters at the gold mines was American Frank A. Smith. Smith claimed to have killed more than 25 tigers and served as guide for Kermit Roosevelt (President Theodore Roosevelt’s son) during his hunting expedition in Korea during the 1920s.

Hunted extensively, the tigers had disappeared from most of Korea by the mid 1930s. Although rumors persist that tigers still haunt the DMZ or the slopes of Mount Paekdu, it is more than likely that the only tigers remaining in Korea today are those found in zoos or in the hearts and memories of the elderly.

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