Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Tiger

I love a good thriller and I have to say this work of non-fiction fulfills every thriller requirement there is. The Tiger by John Vaillant takes place in far eastern Russia in the late 1990's. The cast of characters includes the intrepid federal agent, the deceased, the local residents looking for revenge, and the stalker - the tiger.

The area of Russia known as the "taiga" is a harsh land. Cold, desolate, remote and full of animals that think a human is food. Markov was a man who lived, hunted and tried to survive in the area. He was familiar with the harsh living conditions and had a somewhat successful business trapping and selling the skins of various animals. However he ran into an animal that didn't agree with him. Markov as a matter of survival, took some of the meat from a tiger's kill. Not a smart thing to do but if you are starving it makes all the sense in the world. Markov was one man. There were approximately 450 tigers living in the taiga at the time. One of them was not pleased that Markov had taken some of his meat.

A tiger is a huge animal. Hundreds of pounds of muscle and brain that is hungry all the time. Most people attacked by a tiger do not live to tell the tale. The force of an attacking tiger has been compared to having a piano dropped on you from a second story window. Crushing. But a tiger is not just a killing machine. He is smart. He remembers. He is vengeful against those that have hurt him. The people who live in the taiga believe that if they don't harm a tiger it will not harm you.

Deaths in the taiga, especially deaths by tigers are investigated by the Inspection Tiger team. This small group of men are responsible for not only the safety of the taiga land and its human residents but they are responsible for the safety of the tigers. Tiger meat and bones are believed to cure a number of ailments from sore muscles to impotency. But the tigers are protected animals world wide and they cannot be hunted for sport or commerce. The Inspection Tiger team was notified of Markov's death by a local resident. When the team arrived they could not believe what they saw.

There was literally nothing left of Markov. A boot with some bone still in it, various pieces of his clothing and some bone fragments. The tiger had literally eaten almost all of him. And his dog. Trush, the leader of the Inspection Tiger team had seen tiger kills before but nothing like this. An experienced tracker, Trush soon realized that Markov had not died while stalking the tiger, Markov died after the tiger stalked and hunted him.

Trush put together various scenarios by following the tiger's tracks. The tracks were easy to follow. The tiger was injured and had an odd gait. In addition the tiger's paw prints were larger that a man's hand. This was a huge tiger. Large enough to drag a full grown man between his legs (which he did with Markov). Within 2 weeks of Markov's death the tiger struck again. Now the local residents were terrified. They wanted that tiger gone.

Trush's team secured an order to kill the tiger and the hunt began. They followed the tiger for more than 2 weeks before the trackers and the tiger met up in a quiet clearing. It did not remain quiet for long. The tiger attacked Trush and the other hunters attacked the tiger. This time the tiger lost.

This book is fascinating. Not only does it tell the tale of the rogue tiger, it delves into the psychological aspects of both humans who hunt and the animals they hunt. Both human and animal can be in the same physical space but they experience the space differently. Tigers are territorial like humans. They will defend what they perceive to be theirs. The tiger who killed Markov was doing just that.

The psychology of the tiger was interesting and frightening at the same time. The people who occupy the taiga are a breed unto themselves. Trying to move into the 21st century, they still believe in old myths and the old ways. I literally could not put this book down. While I knew how it ended, the story of how the Inspection Tiger team arrived at the ending is well worth the read.

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1 comment:

  1. I also enjoyed this author's previous book The Golden Spruce. It was a good hybrid of environmentalism, biography and history, telling the story of a guy who disappears while trying to protect an old, sacred tree.


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