Tigers in the Snow

Peter Matthiessen, Author, Maurice Hornocker, Photographer, Maurice Hornocker, Introduction by
Peter Matthiessen, Author, Maurice Hornocker, Photographer, Maurice Hornocker, Introduction by North Point Press $27 (185p) ISBN 978-0-86547-576-2
Reviewed on: 01/03/2000
Release date: 01/01/2000
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-0-86547-596-0
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Are tigers doomed? Between 4,600 to 7,700 remain in the wild, but their numbers are dwindling. Matthiessen's eloquent report on the fate of tigers--chiefly in Siberia but also in Indonesia, India, Thailand and China--explains what conservationists and governments are doing to save the tigers; compact reportage and natural history share space with poetic meditation on the significance and majesty of the big cats. To the graceful prose and attentive descriptions that mark his bestselling nonfiction (The Snow Leopard; In the Spirit of Crazy Horse; etc.) and his fiction (Bone by Bone, etc.), Matthiessen's new work adds a sense of urgency: the result is a marvelously effective brief in favor of tigers. Matthiessen begins and ends by recounting his trips to Russia (in 1992 and 1996) in which he sought the Siberian tiger, the largest and most majestic of surviving tiger subspecies. He spoke to Russian villagers, learned about poachers and antipoaching efforts, and watched the rare beasts roam the taiga, take down elk and give birth. The Sikhote-Alin wildlife reserve, an expanse of forested mountains and beaches as big as Yosemite, represents the great hope of Siberian tigers; there, Matthiessen met biologist Hornocker, codirector of the Siberian Tiger Project. The rest of the book surveys tigers elsewhere in Asia. Iranian tigers are already extinct; Thailand, fortunately, maintains a ""system of protected areas, well staffed and funded, where most of its tigers are already sheltered."" As Matthiessen learns from filmmaker and ""tiger partisan"" Belinda Wright, India's efforts to save its tigers have foundered, in part because they fail to solicit, or to reward, indigenous people's assistance; worse yet, Indian authorities can't bring themselves to catch and prosecute poachers, even when Wright goes undercover to nab them. Hornocker--who pioneered radiotelemetry, the practice of tracking big cats via radio collars, on which the Siberian project depends--contributes the volume's 60 spectacular black and white photographs. Some capture the scientists and villagers as they follow tiger prints over thick snow or dig themselves out of a rugged winter. In other shots, the tigers--black and white themselves--pose amid birches, romp across tundra, sniff the air as for prey or lean protectively over a tranquil cub. Invigorated by Matthiessen's potent prose, these photos celebrate the majesty, and highlight the plight, of one of nature's most magnificent beasts. (Feb.)
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