When I first got the call to film for Operation Snow Tiger I knew we were in for a challenge. Siberian tigers are something of a wildlife holy grail, as almost no one has filmed them in the wild before.

Often when you think of tigers it conjures up an image of an Indian safari with a tiger basking in the shade of a tree, these days typically surrounded by jeeps full of tourists snapping away on their cameras.

Siberian tigers live in a spectacular and brutal landscape in the Russian Far East

With Siberian tigers it’s a different ball game altogether. They are eking out an existence on the very edge of a tiger range in one of the harshest environments on the planet.

In the Sikhote Alin reserve, 12 hours’ drive north of Vladivostok, temperatures can drop to -40C, which makes filming almost impossible.

We had to keep cameras outside at night so that lenses didn’t fog up and freeze with the temperature change and batteries would last just a matter of minutes unless we kept them warm with heatpacks.

To make matters even more challenging, each tiger can range over an area the size of a small country, and we were trying to keep up on foot so it really was like looking for a needle in a haystack!

You would think that looking for a huge, bright orange cat in the snow would be easy, but I can assure you it is not.

Luckily for me I was teamed up with a crack team of Russian experts - tiger tracker Kolya Rybin and biologist Svetlana Soutyrina.

In a scene you’ll see in episode two, we were soon hot on the trail of one of the last females known to be living in the reserve, who the team had called Varvarra.

Kolya had identified that she was in the area by tracking the radio collar that had been put on her a year previously by the research team. Our mission was to find out whether she had cubs - precious information for this critically endangered species.

Mothers with cubs are even more elusive than usual, as they stay away from major trails and marking trees to keep their cubs safe from potential predators.

After discussing the options with Sveta and Kolya, it seemed that the only chance to get a glimpse into the world of a first-time mum would involve getting a bit too close for comfort - snow-shoeing to within 100m of Varvarra and deploying our camera traps.

Varvarra makes her entrance, caught on the camera traps

The thought of walking up to a mother with cubs, who was more than likely guarding her deer kill, sounded a bit like suicide to me but I was handed a flash flare and told that if a tiger came charging towards me I should light myself up like a Christmas tree and I would be fine.

As we donned our snow shoes and set off into the Sikhote Alin forest I began to try to calculate how long it would actually take for an angry mother to cover 100m, given that tigers are considerably faster than Usain Bolt! 

The second thought that popped into my head was that the only time I had actually deployed a flash flare, the polar bear that I was trying to keep at bay seemed to think that I had put on a quaint indoor fireworks display and continued towards me. 

My third and final thought was the parting words of my mother as I left the UK.

“You’re not going to get too close to those tigers are you?” she asked. 

“No, mum” I replied. “It’s a Siberian tiger, we’ve got no chance of seeing one.”

We were privileged to get a glimpse into the world of these incredible animals by stepping into the lives of some amazing Russian scientists working for the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the AN Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution.

They know the tigers better than anyone else, and they can second-guess what they’re going to do next.

Developing this knowledge takes a lifetime of work, and without people like Sveta and Kolya we would never have got the footage we did.

Max Hug Williams is a camera operator on Operation Snow Tiger.

Operation Snow Tiger begins on Sunday, 9 June at 8pm on BBC Two and BBC Two HD, except in Northern Ireland where it starts at 9pm. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by mike hinks

    on 21 Jun 2013 21:22

    This was amazing, the dedication of those Russians was unbelievable. It doesrestore ones belief in human nature.
    How do the poachers manage to find the tigers though?

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by Scoobysue

    on 19 Jun 2013 19:23

    After watching these 2 episodes I was amazed at what these Russians have to, and want to protect these beautiful animals.

    My question is, where is the DONATE button so we can all try to make a little bit of difference to help them in their quest?

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by YOURS

    on 16 Jun 2013 20:32

    SO ENJOYED THE LAST OF THE 2 PART, GLAD THAT ALL 3 TIGER CUBS WERE RESCUED OK, THE LAST CUB WAS SO THIN. SUCH A BEAUTIFUL SETTING FOR THESE AMAZING ANIMALS. SUCH GOOD PEOPLE TRYING TO SAVE THE TIGER, CAN ANY OF US FOLLOW ANY OF THEM ON TWITTER?

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  • Comment number 14. Posted by karin holloway

    on 16 Jun 2013 20:21

    These two programmes made my heart break for being made aware such beauty is about to become extinct from the entire universe through our actions, and inactions. Bless the people who work so hard, in such cold, to try to change this. Thank you for making me aware of both.

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by julie benn edwards

    on 16 Jun 2013 20:19

    wouldnt have missed this prog for anything,what a fantastic insite into the world of the majestic siberian tiger. i take my hat off to victor and all the other guys trying to save this beautiful creature.
    well done the beeb !

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  • Comment number 12. Posted by Digitalwildcams

    on 11 Jun 2013 15:50

    Great programme and congratulations to all those involved. One thing that surprises me is the obvious use of camera traps with visible infrared. It was obvious that the animals were aware of the IR illumination. In my experience many researchers will only use cameras with "Black IR" capability as many species become IR aware which can change behaviour patterns and at worst cause the animal to avoid the area illuminated by the camera.

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  • Comment number 11. Posted by Carolyn McGregor

    on 10 Jun 2013 21:08

    Thank you, thank you. What an amazing first episode. I cant wait a week for the next programme! My thanks to the research and tracking teams, the camera and production teams.
    What a relief to hear there may just be a small ray of hope in conservation of these most precious creatures. I was on the edge of my seat willing success. I would be there too in snow shoes to help if I could!

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  • Comment number 10. Posted by NL

    on 10 Jun 2013 20:08

    Fabulous topic, good footage, but terrible terrible presenting and commentary by Liz, every line came across staged or loaded and overly emotional like the end of the world was around the corner, brief respite when Max took over thank heavens, but at times Liz was cringeworthy. Max great job, thank you, BBC need to rethink main presenter for future please.

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  • Comment number 9. Posted by grrrr

    on 10 Jun 2013 19:03

    Each to their own Dave but I thought Liz was great. Her enthusiasm was heartfelt and moving. She has scientific expertise on tigers - so very qualified to present this. Also thought she was refreshingly open, even vulnerable in this program.

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  • Comment number 8. Posted by Dave

    on 10 Jun 2013 17:17

    Generally loved the program but found Liz Bonnin annoying with her "Oh my God" type of comments. There must be someone better for these programs.

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