The Irkutsk Babr – Irkutsk, Russia - Atlas Obscura
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Irkutsk, Russia

The Irkutsk Babr

Thanks to a spelling mistake this bizarre beaver-tiger hybrid became the symbol of a Siberian town. 

A strange creature lurks within one of Siberia’s biggest cities. The bizarre beast looks like the ludicrous lovechild of a fierce feline and an oversized rodent. It could both pounce on its prey with classic cat-like prowess or thwack it on the head with its flat tail.

The symbol of Irkutsk, Russia, is a mythological monster known as the babr. When the city first created its coat of arms in the 1600s, it used “babr,” an old local word, to describe a Siberian tiger. Sadly, as the years went on, tigers became extirpated and the chosen word fell out of fashion.

In the late 19th century, when officials in Saint Petersburg were tasked with redrawing the city’s coat of arms, they were baffled by the strange, foreign-looking word. Thinking someone had accidentally misspelled bobr (beaver), they took it upon themselves to concoct an entirely new creature.

After years of confusion and contention, the tiger gained a broad, flat tail and strangely webbed paws. It wears a confused look on its face as if it, too, is befuddled by its unconventional anatomy. But true to tradition, it still clutches a sable in its mouth, which represents the region’s role in the medieval Siberian sable fur trade.

The symbol was outlawed during the Soviet era, but it has been restored in modern times, to the delight of locals. Now, there are many depictions of the babr throughout Irkutsk. One of the best is the massive statue in the historical 130th Quarter of the city.