The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival



The Pequod Review:

John Vaillant's The Tiger is a thrilling non-fiction account of Siberian tigers, the largest predators on earth, along with a good dose of Russian history/culture. Here Vaillant introduces the Siberian tiger:

To properly appreciate such an animal, it is most instructive to start at the beginning: picture the grotesquely muscled head of a pit bull and then imagine how it might look if the pit bull weighed a quarter of a ton. Add to this fangs the length of a finger back up by rows of slicing teeth capable of cutting through the heaviest bone. Consider then the claws: a hybrid of meat hook and stiletto that can attain four inches along the outer curve, a length comparable to the talons on a velociraptor. Now, imagine the vehicle for all of this: nine feet or more from nose to tail, and three and a half feet high at the shoulder. Finally, emblazon this beast with a primordial calligraphy: black brushstrokes on a field of russet and cream, and wonder at our strange fortune to coexist with such a creature. (The tiger is, literally, tattooed: if you were to shave one bald, its stripes would still be visible, integral to its skin.) Able to swim for miles and kill an animal many times its size, the tiger also possesses the brute strength to drag an awkward, thousand-pound carcass through the forest for fifty or a hundred yards before consuming it.

And here he recounts tigers’ capacity for holding grudges:

Chris Schneider, an American veterinarian based in Washington state, has had personal experience with the tiger’s capacity for holding a grudge. Over the course of his career, Schneider has treated many circus animals, including tigers, sometimes giving them sedatives in the form of a painful shot in the rump. A year might go by before these tigers passed through town again; nonetheless, the moment he showed up, their eyes would lock on him. “I’d wear different hats; I’d try to disguise myself,” Schneider explained, “but when I’d walk into the room, the cat would just start following me, turning as I walked around them. It was uncanny.” He described the impact of these tigers’ gaze as “piercing.” “They looked right through you: a very focused predator. I think most of those cats would have nailed me if they could have.”