Young Pioneer Tours

The Babr: how a weird beaver-tiger thing became the mascot of Irkutsk

Irkutsk is, much like Ulan-Ude on the other side of Lake Baikal, a charming departure from the more European vibe of Moscow. And much like Ulan-Ude, it oozes an idiosyncratic Siberian vibe that you just don’t get on the other side of the Urals – quirky architecture, fantastic Buryat food and, most interestingly, a bizarre mascot that arose as the result of a Trans-Siberian communication breakdown. Ladies and gents, we give you the Babr.

What’s a Babr?

Several tourists stand in front of the Babr statue.
The Babr, noted for its uncanny ability to attract Chinese tourists.

Originally, a ‘Babr’ was a tiger.

When Irkutsk first decided on its coat of arms – all the way back in the 1600s – they decided on the Siberian tiger. The local word for the beast was ‘babr’. However, as the animal was slowly extirpated, so too was the colloquial word used to describe it.

So where do beavers come into it?

In the late 19th century, St. Petersburg officials were tasked with redesigning the city’s coat of arms (a job that we can’t help but feel might have been better allocated to a local). Puzzled by the alien-sounding ‘babr’, they couldn’t figure out what those wacky Siberians were trying to get at, and decided that it must have been a misspelling of the word bobr (‘beaver’).

So the Babr isn’t real?

Only as real as a griffon or a wendigo, sadly. That said, the hybridised animal caught the imagination of locals, and it has since evolved into a flat-tailed felid with webbed paws, sort of like a Siberian duck-billed platypus. And nobody thought the platypus was real either. Coincidence?

Yes, it’s a coincidence. But the Babr is still pretty cool and you should go and see it.

Where can I gawk at this monstrously unnatural freak of nature?

There’s only one place in the world to see the Babr, and that’s by visiting Irkutsk. You can do this by joining us on our next Lake Baikal tour!

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