The Tiger, by John Vaillant, is a true story of a tiger attack in the Far East of Russia and the following pursuit by a team of hunters to try and kill the man-eating tiger. The story is beautifully written as it slips in and out of the past lives of the characters involved, as well as the history of the region, and the fight for ecological sustainability. It is a multi-layered story with many themes and facts interwoven between a gripping mystery.
For most of us, Siberia is a place of the mind, almost mythical in stature. Much like Timbuktu, Siberia is surrounded by a stereotype of the collective consciousness. But in fact, it is anything but what we think it is. It is a sub-continent with a complex eco-culture that makes up 77 % of Russia. It provides the world with a third of all its forest and for that reason is an important ecological region of the world, sucking in much of the world’s carbon-dioxide back into oxygen. The forests of Siberia, however, are quickly disappearing mainly due to illegal logging and poachers.
The story John Vaillant weaves is an amazing and fascinating one, but one that couldn’t have happened without a few journalists in the early nineties – the most prominent was a woman named Suzanne Possehl who wrote an article for the environmental section of the New York Times about the disappearing Siberian – or Amur Tiger as it is sometimes known from poachers who sell much of its remains to China.
The stir caused by Possehl’s article, according to Vaillant in his book, galvanised several activists and non-profit organizations including The World Wildlife Fund to give international aid to help stop poachers from killing the tigers. The money went to training and arming a few brigades of men with weapons, fuel and vehicles to intercept poachers. This movement, funded completely by donations from foreign non-profit organizations, was called Operation Tiger and helped to stabilize the Siberian Tiger population in the Far East. John Vaillant’s novel tells the story of one of these men, who stalks the man-eating tiger throughout the novel.
All the novel makes many points about the importance of saving the Siberian Tiger, I want to stop a moment, and point out how much of the effort to save the tiger – still in effect today – wouldn’t have been possible without the articles of a few journalists. Although stories about dying populations seem to rarely make any dent in the world, this is one that did and has continued to do so as the Siberian Tiger struggles for its existence. Now John Vaillant’s novel has continued where Possehl’s article left off as an important environmental journalistic narrative. We need journalists like Vaillant and Possehl to report back on parts of the world that we may never see, but are as important as us our own backyard.
Please visit www.thetigerbook.com for more information on how you can help save the Siberian Tiger from extinction and please support John Vaillant by buying his book.