A True Story of Vengeance and Survival
Publisher: Knopf Canada
ISBN: 978-0-307-37527-8 (0-307-37527-7)
Pub Date: August 24, 2010
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It's December 1997 and a man-eating tiger is on the prowl outside a remote village in Russia's Far East. The tiger isn't just killing people, it's annihilating them, and a team of men and their dogs must hunt it on foot through the forest in the brutal cold. To their horrified astonishment it emerges that the attacks are not random: the tiger is engaged in a vendetta. Injured and starving, it must be found before it strikes again, and the story becomes a battle for survival between the two main characters: Yuri Trush, the lead tracker, and the tiger itself.
As John Vaillant vividly recreates the extraordinary events of that winter, he also gives us an unforgettable portrait of a spectacularly beautiful region where plants and animals exist that are found nowhere else on earth, and where the once great Siberian Tiger - the largest of its species, which can weigh over 600 lbs at more than 10 feet long - ranges daily over vast territories of forest and mountain, its numbers diminished to a fraction of what they once were. We meet the native tribes who for centuries have worshipped and lived alongside tigers - even sharing their kills with them - in a natural balance. We witness the first arrival of settlers, soldiers and hunters in the tiger's territory in the 19th century and 20th century, many fleeing Stalinism. And we come to know the Russians of today - such as the poacher Vladimir Markov - who, crushed by poverty, have turned to poaching for the corrupt, high-paying Chinese markets. Throughout we encounter surprising theories of how humans and tigers may have evolved to coexist, how we may have developed as scavengers rather than hunters and how early Homo sapiens may have once fit seamlessly into the tiger's ecosystem.
Above all, we come to understand the endangered Siberian tiger, a highly intelligent super-predator, and the grave threat it faces as logging and poaching reduce its habitat and numbers - and force it to turn at bay.
Beautifully written and deeply informative, The Tiger is a gripping tale of man and nature in collision, that leads inexorably to a final showdown in a clearing deep in the Siberian forest.
From the Hardcover edition.
WINNER 2011 - British Columbia's National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
FINALIST 2010 - Banff Mountain Book Festival Award
Vladimir Schetinin, the former head of Inspection Tiger, and an expert on Amur tiger attacks, has accumulated a number of stories like this over the past thirty years. “There are at least eight cases that my teams and I investigated,” he said in March of 2007, “and we all arrived at the same conclusion: if a hunter fired a shot at a tiger, that tiger would track him down, even if it took him two or three months. It is obvious that tigers will sit and wait specifically for the hunter who has fired shots at them.”
The caveat here is that each of these eight cases met the following conditions: namely, that the tiger was able to identify its attacker, had the opportunity to hunt him, and was temperamentally disposed to do so. In its brief reference to tiger attacks on humans, Mammals of the Soviet Union states that “Usually animals shot and wounded or chased by hunters attacked, and only very rarely did an attack occur without provocation.” Such responses are, in themselves, examples of abstract thinking: tigers evolved to respond to direct physical attacks from other animals; they did not evolve to respond to remote threats like guns. Nor do they innately understand what guns are or how they work. So to be able to make the multistep connection between a random explosion in the air, a pain it can feel but often cannot see, and a human who may be dozens of yards away is, almost by definition, an abstraction. While many higher animals are capable of making this association, very few will respond like a tiger. If you combine this with a long memory, you can have a serious problem on your hands.
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.”
From the Hardcover edition.
#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
A Globe and Mail Best Book
“Remarkable. . . . A book that manages to be at once exciting, memorable — and perfectly, impeccably right. . . . Recounts with power and excitement the true story of a titanic confrontation. . . . [Vaillant] has told a tale of astonishing power and vigour.”
— Simon Winchester in The Globe and Mail
“Suspenseful and majestically narrated. . . . Vaillant has written a mighty elegy that leads readers into the lair of the tiger and into the heart of the Kremlin.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A savage banquet. . . . Riveting.”
— Annie Proulx in The Guardian
“A hair-raising tale. . . . Vaillant’s portrayal of the tiger as a creature capable of revenge is both terrifying and fascinating. . . . It is ultimately Vaillant’s superbly crafted story of a tiger and two men that keeps us glued to the page, from the introduction right through to the thrilling denouement.”
— The Gazette
“A compelling tragedy. . . . [Vaillant] introduces the reader to a rich cast of real-life characters and provides elegant insights into our relationship with nature.”
— Calgary Herald
“Riveting story. . . Vaillant’s book teaches a lesson that humankind desperately needs to remember: When you murder a tiger, you not only kill a strong and beautiful beast, you extinguish a passionate soul.”
— The Washington Post
“A truly extraordinary read: dark, thrilling and utterly compelling, which conveys the terrible might of nature like no other book I’ve come across.”
— The Bookseller (UK)
"The Tiger is the sort of book I very much like and rarely find. . . . This is a book not only for adventure buffs, but for all of us interested in wildlife habitat preservation."
— Annie Proulx
"This elegant work of narrative non-fiction has it all - beauty, intrigue, a primeval locale, fully realized characters, and a conflict that speaks to the state of our world. Obsessively well-researched and artfully written, The Tiger takes us on a journey to the raw edge of civilization, to a world of vengeful cats and venal men, a world that, in Vaillant's brilliant telling, is simultaneously haunting and enchanting."
— Hampton Sides, author of Ghost Soldiers
"Magnificent, surely the best chronicle ever published of the wild Amur tigers in Russia's Far East. . . . To call this book a page-turner is an understatement. It's riveting."
— Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs
"This book must be read by everybody who is interested in the conservation of wildlife. It takes you to the Russian wilderness to meet face-to-face with the Siberian tiger."
— Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human
"The Tiger offers a richly textured, compelling story of Nature and Man at odds - and at risk - in Russia's Far East. Grounded in meticulous research and informed by extensive field work, the narrative graphically conveys the fragility of life in the unforgiving taiga, where a single misstep can turn hunter into quarry."
— John J. Stephan, author of The Russian Far East: A History
— George Schaller, Wildlife Conservation Society senior conservationist; NBA winner The Serengeti Lion
From the Hardcover edition.
Table of Contents
Part One | Markov |
Part Two | Pochepnya |
Part Three | Trush |
A Note on Translation
From the Hardcover edition. About this Author
JOHN VAILLANT's first book was the national bestseller The Golden Spruce, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction, as well as several other awards. He has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Outside, National Geographic and The Walrus, among other publications. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife and children.
From the Hardcover edition.
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