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”.