Category: Tigers

Bud’s Book Club: The Man-Eaters of Kumaon & The Game of Rat and Dragon

Welcome to the inaugural post of Buddy’s Book Club, where we’ll read stories about cats and stories involving cats!

We’re going to start things off easy with a classic short story of the cat canon, which is available for free online via Project Gutenberg, and a seminal book about big cats from a man whose name is indelibly linked with them.

The Game of Rat and Dragon (1954) by Cordwainer Smith

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Read it here for free from Project Gutenberg, a collaborative effort to create a digital archive of important cultural literary works that have fallen into the public domain. For those unfamiliar with Project Gutenberg, it’s completely above-board, legal and safe for your devices, and the story opens in plain HTML with illustrations included as image files. You can read the story in a browser or download it onto a reading device, tablet or phone.

The Game of Rat and Dragon first appeared, as so much short fiction of the era did, in a digest. Although Smith had penned it the year before, the story was published in Galaxy Science Fiction’s October 1955 issue and became an instant classic among cat-lovers and science fiction aficionados. (There is considerable overlap between the two, not surprisingly: Introverts whose imaginations run wild when they look to the stars tend to have many of the same personality traits as people who prefer the more sublime antics of cats.)

The Game of Rat and Dragon imagines a far future in which humanity has become a star-faring culture, meaning we’ve conquered interstellar flight and have begun to colonize planets in star systems other than our own.

There is, of course, a problem. The dark, lonely void between stars isn’t as empty as we thought it was, and is inhabited by invisible (to the human eye), inscrutable, inexorable entities eventually dubbed “dragons.”

When dragons attack they leave only death and insanity in their wake, putting the entire idea of interstellar travel at risk. Imagine if there was a not-insignificant chance of your passenger jet being attacked by impervious creatures every time you hopped on a plane. It wouldn’t be long before the entire air industry collapsed and the world suddenly became a much bigger place, with other continents unreachable by air.

Who can help humans with this problem? Cats, of course! To say more would be to spoil the fun. Meow!

Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1944) by Jim Corbett

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Available as an ebook for 99 cents from Barnes and Noble.

Jim Corbett was a sportsman, the son of a government official in the British Raj who was raised in India’s jungles and came to know them intimately. He’s best remembered as the fearless hunter who finally brought down the infamous Champawat tigress, who officially claimed 436 lives over a years-long rampage as a man-eater, and likely many more that went unrecorded.

To understand the gravity of Corbett’s accomplishments, it’s necessary to understand the effect of a man-eater on rural India. The people living in India’s tiny villages are subsistence farmers. If they don’t farm, they don’t eat.

But when a man-eater as dangerous as the Champawat tigress claims an area as its hunting grounds, everything grinds to a halt: Farmers refuse to tend their fields, villagers disappear behind locked doors, and a simple walk to a neighboring village becomes an impossibility unless escorted by a group of two dozen or more armed men. Even then it’s a risk, for as Corbett notes, when tigers become man-eaters they have no fear of humans and will kill people in broad daylight, even when they’re in groups.

And yet for all their power and predatory instincts, tigers are never deliberately cruel and don’t harm humans willingly. Tigers become man-eaters by unfortunate circumstance, usually due to negligence or stupidity on the part of humans.

The Champawat tigress, for example, was like any other big cat until a human hunter took aim and shot her in the mouth, destroying one lower canine completely and shattering another. The tiger could no longer take down her usual prey, or at least not without serious difficulty. At some point — perhaps after encountering the body of a person it did not kill — the tigress realized she could survive on human flesh.

If that hadn’t happened, those 436-plus souls wouldn’t have been lost, an entire region wouldn’t have been brought to its knees, and the tigress would have continued life as normal.

The vast majority of the time, tigers are content to let humans be.

“I think of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who, while working in the forests or cutting grass or collecting dry sticks, pass day after day close to where tigers are lying up and who, when they return safely to their homes, do not even know that they have been under the observation of this so called ‘cruel’ and ‘bloodthirsty’ animal,” Corbett writes.

Despite his reputation as the man to enlist when a man-eater terrorized a region, Corbett saw the way things were trending a century ago, and begged people to let the big cats live undisturbed.

“A tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage,” he wrote, “and that when he is exterminated — as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support — India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna.”

Corbett would undoubtedly be deeply disturbed by the situation today, with only some 4,000 wild tigers remaining in the entire world, and the glorious species mostly reduced to spending life in captivity, constantly sedated so that idiots can pay to take selfies with them.

The Man-Eaters of Kumaon follows Corbett on 10 hunts of man-eating tigers and leopards. It’s also a story of life in the British Raj, rural life in India, Corbett’s jungle adventures, his love for his loyal hunting dog and his turn toward conservation.

Schedule:

We can do the short story in a week, yeah? Let’s shoot for one week for The Game of Rat and Dragon, and two weeks for The Man-Eaters of Kumaon. We’ll adjourn and discuss in follow-up posts. Happy reading!

Now There’s A Mail-In DNA Test For Cats

Ever wonder about your cat’s parentage, breed and potential health problems? A mail-in DNA test for cats promises to fill you in on the details.

Basepaws, a Los Angeles company, offers a kit not much different from the human mail-in DNA tests: You swab the inside of your cat’s mouth for a few seconds, secure it according to the provided instructions, and mail it to the company, which processes the results.

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The basepaws kit.

In four to six weeks you’re notified that your cat’s results are ready, and you’ll get a report with a breakdown of genetic identity, associated breeds and potential health issues to watch out for.

This presents a problem for me, of course. Buddy thinks he’s descended from a long line of legendary warrior felids. I took a regular Q-tip, made a big show of swabbing his cheek for his DNA, and told him I was mailing it away for analysis.

Then I cooked this up:

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Buddy’s fake results.

You’ll notice the results don’t come close to adding up to 100 percent. The company’s founder says that’s because the more people test their cats, the more accurate the results will be, with fewer unknowns as the overall database expands.

Each cat’s report is updated indefinitely as the company continues to test. Checking back over subsequent months and years will yield updated information on your cat, the company says.

All jokes aside, it would be interesting to find out more about the Budster’s background. All I know is that his mom was an indoor cat who wasn’t spayed. She went into heat, she got out, she came back and the rest is history.

Because he’s a big talker, I’ve always wondered if Bud might have a bit of Siamese or one of the other chattier breeds in him. His coat is pretty short, extremely soft and all grey/dark grey in a tabby pattern, except for a single white tuft on his chest.

Interestingly, most of his tabby stripes are unbroken, a trait usually seen in hybrid cats.

He’s comically incapable of certain things, but almost frighteningly intelligent in other respects, and he wears his emotions on his sleeve…er, paw? Maybe there really are secrets to unlock in his DNA.

Cat DNA analysis is in its infancy

On the downside, Basepaws DNA tests don’t come cheap — with two packages priced at $129 and $99 — and, as a review in Wired notes, cat ancestry reports are always going to be more vague than reports on human or dog DNA.

That’s because the practice of dog breeding is a lot older and more common than creating pedigree cat lines, and most cats are not a specific breed. Unlike dogs — whose roles range from hunting and shepherding to assisting the blind and pulling sleds — cats have always had one job, and occasionally two. Kill rodents and snuggle with their humans, cuddly killers that they are.

Historically humans haven’t felt a compelling need to interfere with cat procreation. The last century or so has been an exception, but breeds still represent a small minority of cats.

If you’ve had your cat’s DNA analyzed, we’d love to hear from you about your experience.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to tell a certain Tiger-Manticore-Jaguar about his impressive felid lineage.

Spectacular Tigress Image Wins Wildlife Photo Of The Year

A photo of a tigress hugging a tree in Siberia has won the prestigious Wildlife Photo Of The Year from London’s Natural History Museum.

Photographer Sergey Gorshkov beat out almost 50,000 other entrants with his winning photograph, taken in Land of the Leopard National Park, a large reserve for tigers and leopards in Far East Siberia.

Gorshkov set up his camera facing a tree that already had claw marks, signaling that it’s been used as a territorial marker by at least one of more than 30 adult tigers in the park.

Sure enough, a tigress stopped to claw new marks on the tree and rub her scent on it, which is the same behavior we see with house cats when they rub on objects — and people — in the home. Cats have scent glands on their faces and paws which allow them to mark objects with pheromones. It’s a cat’s way of leaving a “sign” saying “This is mine.”

The photo has an ethereal quality, with the tigress and tree illuminated by shafts of sunlight poking through the canopy of the ancient forest.

Wild and free Siberian Tiger!

An announcement from the park’s staff describes the scene:

The photo titled “Hugs” shows the moment in which the rarest Amur tiger hugs a century-old fir to mark the target tree with its scent. Sergey Gorshkov, with the support of professional guides from Land of the Leopard, took a picture using a professional camera with a motion sensor.

“This is a scene like no other, a unique look at an intimate moment deep in a magical forest,” said Rose Kidman Cox, chairwoman of the contest’s jury.

The photo “inspires hope” for the endangered Amur tiger, Cox said. In addition to the 30-plus tigers, Land of the Leopard National Park is also home to at least 10 tiger cubs and almost 100 leopards.

Gorshkov’s photo wasn’t the only feline winner this year. “When mother says run,” a photograph by China’s Shanyan Li, shows a trio of Pallas’ cubs with their mother “on the remote steppes of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in northwest China.” The photograph won in the mammalian behavior category.

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French Couple Buys ‘Savannah Kitten,’ Gets Tiger Cub Instead

A French couple who answered an online ad to buy a Savannah kitten ended up with a tiger cub instead.

The couple, from Le Havre — a coastal town in Normandy, about 110 miles west of Paris — plunked down $7,000 for the little cat, who they were told was an exotic mix between a Serval and a domestic cat.

After about a week, they realized their “kitten” was a tiger cub and contacted authorities, UPI reported. Specialists from the French Biodiversity Office determined the cub is a Sumatran tiger and are caring for the growing cat.

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That happened back in 2018, and the reason we’re only hearing about it now is because French police have completed their investigation in which they tracked down the seller and arrested nine people on animal trafficking laws.

There are only some 4,000 tigers remaining in the wild in the entire world. Habitat destruction, poaching and the illegal wildlife market are the primary causes pushing the iconic big cats to extinction.

Meanwhile, Buddy the Cat believes he too was born of wild tiger stock and was mistaken for a common kitten when he was adopted by Big Buddy.

“Obviously, they dyed my fur gray,” Buddy said. “But they couldn’t do anything to hide how ripped I am.”

All images via Wikimedia Commons.

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Big Buddy Goes Face To Face With A Tiger

The big cats at the Bronx Zoo have had a rough 2020 too.

First the zoo was shut down — along with thousands of other gathering places — due to the novel Coronavirus.

Then a tiger at the zoo got sick and tested positive for COVID-19, marking the first positive test for an animal in North America and the first recorded instance of human-to-tiger transmission. Seven other big cats at the zoo caught the virus, including four tigers and three lions.

Thankfully they recovered and everything — or almost everything — looked normal when I visited this week.

One of the awesome things about the zoo’s Tiger Mountain is that it has a trio of viewing ports that provide a prime view of a small pond where the tigers drink, swim and nap.

This tiger lounged in the distance for a few minutes, then got up and gave us a show.

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At one point the tiger came right up to the glass and looked at me:

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Standing three feet from a tiger is an experience, glass or no:

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Not as terrifying as Buddy’s visage, of course, but still something to behold.

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The lions were less welcoming. They were clumped up in the shade of an oak tree, snoozing without so much as a tail flick for motion.

Next was a snow leopard. This guy clearly didn’t deal well with a lot of humans gawking at him, and I could only snap a few shots before he retreated back up a hill in his enclosure, where the angle and brush gave him a measure of cover from human eyes.

I also saw him spinning in a circle repeatedly, a sign of zoochosis. I’m not an animal behaviorist and I’m not qualified to judge the work of the Bronx Zoo’s keepers, who obviously care a great deal for their animals. It’s just a reminder that even the best zoos in the world — with entire teams dedicated to things like enrichment and enclosure design — struggle to keep animals healthy and happy in captivity.

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Even though the name of their species sounds like an Italian dessert and they’re often mistaken for baboons, Gelada are old-world monkeys native to the grasslands of Ethiopia.

Geladas are the only primate species that are grazers: Up to 90 percent of their diet consists of grass and grass seeds. They’re easily recognizable by the hourglass-shaped furless patches on their chests, and they’re the only monkeys to form “herds” instead of troops, with an individual herd’s size swelling to more than 1,000 at a time.

When Geladas aren’t eating they’re grooming each other. Allogrooming, or social grooming, doesn’t just help monkeys keep their fur neat and free of parasitic bugs — it’s also a way of maintaining social bonds and reducing tension.

When I visited, I saw a male Gelada grooming a female. Female “heart patches” are usually more pale than their male counterparts, except when they’re in heat. So it’s probable that this scene is a bit of foreplay during mating season:

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A female on the rocks nearby. The enclosure features a series of cliffs surrounding central grassland, closely mimicking the species’ native habitat:

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This bird got within feet of the path adjacent to its exhibit, and its kind seem to have free reign within the park, as I saw another one hanging out in a wooded area earlier.

I have no idea what kind of bird this is, but he was very vocal and insistent about something:

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A group of zebras. I think they were sleeping. These four didn’t move a muscle, and zebras are one of a handful of species who can sleep while standing upright.

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A brown bear enjoys the warm weather, which topped out at almost 80 degrees. Another bear was nearby, taking a dip in the pool.

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And finally, a friendly reminder to the zoo’s visitors: Wear your masks! The zoo enforces an always-on policy for masks, which I think is a reasonable precaution. While masks may not be strictly necessary while strolling down the wide visitor paths of the zoo, viewing spots at popular exhibits can get crowded, and some of them are partially-enclosed.

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