Tyger! Tyger! Part Two

In what distant deeps or skies, Burnt the fire in thine eyes?–William Blake, The Tyger. 

If you follow tiger tracks long enough, you will eventually arrive at a tiger.  Unless the tiger arrives at you first.–John Vaillant, The Tiger

Mindful of the fact that more than one of my friends is planning to read this book, I’ll be cautious in my comments.  I don’t want to reveal more than I have in my first post, or what you might glean from reading the inside of the book cover. 

The hero of the story is a man named Yuri Trush.  He was the head, in this particular part of Primorye, of a local branch of the government agency Inspection Tiger.  Killing or hurting a tiger is a federal crime in Russia.  The team’s mission is to protect tigers, catch poachers, and prevent poaching.  On a day to day basis, they were out doing very routine things–checking hunting and gun licenses.  In other words, they are game wardens, just with a special focus.  The biggest things they did were revoke licenses and seize firearms. 

But then, this particular tiger kills and eats the hunter named Markov.  Now the team is faced with hunting down and killing one of the animals they are sworn to protect, and in fact deeply admire and love.  But who else can do it?  Who knows more about tigers and tiger tracking than they do?  It’s an emotional dilemma.  At first, after finding out more about the circumstances, Trush hopes he won’t have to do this.  He hopes the tiger will kind of melt away into the taiga and never be seen or heard from again.  Then you could say, freak accident, and Markov kind of brought it on himself.  But that isn’t what happens. 

The most famous incident of big cats eating people is the man-eating lions of Tsavo in 1898.  It was speculated in that incident that once the lions had eaten a person, they developed a “taste” for it.  Which is of course utter nonsense.  It has more to do with the availability of prey, the ease of catching it, and the lion’s (or the tiger’s) ability to hunt in its normal manner and to pursue its preferred prey. 

One of the most impressive things about this book is the sense you get of the tiger itself.  Amur tigers weigh between 500 and 600 pounds.  Three men . Horizontally, they can leap 25 feet in one pounce.  From a dead standstill.  My back yard is 40 feet wide, about 1 1/2 pounces, or two, for a tiger.  My yard is 60 feet long.  So three pounces.  The point being, if a tiger is coming at you, you cannot escape.  You have two choices:  hope it doesn’t kill you, or hope it kills you really fast. 

Vertically, from a dead standstill, a tiger can leap 10 feet in the air. 

One of the things this book impressed upon me is the difference betwen “loving” an animal and being stupid.  I really like Rottweilers, and many people consider them scary and dangerous, but the fact is, they are domesticated animals and can be trained (sort of).  Tigers are wild.  Period.  It’s both possible and wise to “love” an animal, while recognizing that you will have to love it from a distance.  Always. 

The people in Primorye don’t make that mistake.  They know how dangerous tigers are.  But some of them, including Markov, made mistakes anyway, of another kind. 

It reminds me of the woman who kept poisonous snakes, and one of them killed her.  The person from the herpetology society she had joined said, She loved snakes; her problem was thinking they loved her back. 

But the main thing is the behavior of this particular tiger. There is simply no way to describe its behavior other than to say it was keenly intelligent, focused, and shockingly emotional.  The tiger had to sustain its rage over long periods of time, which we aren’t used to seeing animals do.  Before reading this book, if you had asked me to name one characteristic all animals share, wild or domestic, I would have said “short memories”.

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11 responses to “Tyger! Tyger! Part Two

  1. What about that whale in the book I couldn’t get into that you liked, whatever the name of it was? The one that rammed the whaling ships? It was sustaining rage over long times, yes?

    Of course, cetaceans are demonstrably intelligent. It’s hard to compare species to species though. Actually it’s hard to compare within species – I may be smart wrt math and science but other folks are smart wrt interpersonal relations and still others lean toward art or music. It’s not a simplistic measure.

    I was just reading a book (damn, which one?) that mentioned how we understand that people have different skills but we give an animal or two a test and suddenly all dolphins are geniuses and all dogs a dumb. Maybe it’s just that that particular dolphin and dog are exceptional, each in it’s own way.

    (Which doesn’t prevent me from thinking that horses are stupid!)

  2. all dogs are dumb

  3. That book was In The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_(whaleship)
    And indeed you are right. That whale had to maintain a certain idea in its head. Never underestimate a whale 🙂 That takes me back to the closing of my original post: what animal, except the lion, the tiger, and the whale, can answer Creation in its own language? I consider that a poetic question, not a religious one.
    You might not like this book for some of the same reasons you didn’t like the whale book. It was completely everything I like in a book, but we know our tastes are not always the same 🙂
    Since I know almost nothing about horses except through you, I’ll have to agree that they are stupid 🙂 But that doesn’t prevent either of us from loving them anyway. And in the wild, horses can be pretty formidable…

  4. Which reminds me that I recently saw a clip of a lioness attacking a zebra. Main food supply and all. She leaps onto the back of the running zebra, who screeches to a halt and bucks, hard, at just the right moment for the lioness to endo over the zebras head, claws just grazing the shoulders. Splat, on her back.

    The clip ends there (rats). Maybe the zebra got away this time. I’ve seen a photo of a lion with a broken jaw courtesy of a zebra who kicked at the right time. The arms race stretches back to antiquity.

  5. I’m not gonna read this yet got distracted by Cleopatra biography.

  6. That sounds rather interesting. My problem is that I’m becoming overwhelmed by the list of books my friends have recommended 🙂

  7. You read so much that a significant backlog could be viewed as an asset!

  8. > the list of books my friends have recommended

    I guess you won’t have time for any of the “self-help” books I mentioned in a recent post? LOL!

    Caught part of a show on Animal Planet about Bengal tigers. Tiger attacks are on the rise in an area of Bengal and he went to check it out.

    Locals wore fmasks of a face on the back of their heads because tigers like to attack from rear. Locals thought masks would make tiger think they could see the tiger. Didn’t work; group he was with (honey collectors) got hit and local man was killed.

  9. I forget which post that was, spencercourt (speaking of short memories)?
    Interesting custom those locals had. A lot of superstition in Primorye too, but there was some slight grounding in truth to theirs and perhaps these people as well…who knows? Maybe all superstitions are grounded in a little grain of truth which gets exaggerated as time passes. But it doesn’t surprise me that the face mask trick didn’t work 🙂 As this book makes very, very clear, tigers don’t care whether you’re looking at them or not. While they may prefer stealth, in the end, they know they are stronger, bigger, and faster, so like the quote said…if you follow tiger tracks long enough…

    • > I forget which post that was

      I think ti was titled “The Non-Reader’s Reading Guide” or something like that. I mentioned a number of “aggressive” and/or “no holds barred” titles, like “What To Do When the Shit Hits the Fan” or “A$$Hole: How I Became a Millionarie Being A Jerk and How You Can too.”

  10. So on another post, spencercourt brought up Fatal Attractions (an Animal Planet program). I just watched this episode where a guy is keeping a full-grown male tiger in an apartment (!) in Harlem. It bites him, and he has to go to the hospital. So nobody else will go in his apartment, and the police lower a sniper on a cable from the apartment above to shoot the tiger with a tranquilizer gun. When he shoots the tiger, it roars, and the officer says it was terrifying. This fits with the book, where people say the tiger’s roar is itself almost paralyzing. It almost seems like genetic memory. Then the tiger throws itself against a wall, and the officer says he can feel the entire building shake. Then the tiger turns and throws itself against the window, and the officer says, That’s when I figured I was going to die today. But miraculously, the window doesn’t break, and the tiger eventually succumbs to the tranquilizer. It was a happy ending…the tiger went to a sanctuary.

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