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.
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.
A woman from Thailand apparently decided that caging, beating and sedating tigers for selfies wasn’t enough mistreatment for Earth’s critically endangered apex predators. You can always add more insult, just a little icing on the “We Destroyed Your Entire Species” cake, by grabbing a handful of tiger testicles and mean-mugging for a selfie.
Of course the reason the tourist, named Waraschaya Akkarachaiyapas (also referred to as Khun Waraschaya in some media reports), was able to enter the tiger enclosure and pose with the tigers in the first place is because the keepers at Tiger Kingdom zoo in Thailand sedate the animals until they can barely yawn, rendering them incapable of defending their personal space or doing anything other than laying down as tourist after tourist touches them and poses for selfies.
Tiger Kingdom was at the forefront of the so-called “Disneyfied” “zoo experience,” in which the operators rake in millions by breeding tiger cubs like an assembly line and charging tourists to interact and pose for photo with the animals.
The tourists are told comforting lies: Employees of Tiger Kingdom dress like Buddhist monks, spout platitudes about being one with nature, and claim their “humble” operation began when one kindly monk took in an orphaned cub and founded a sanctuary decades ago.
The reason the tigers are so docile, the tourists are told, is because the monks hand-raise them, socializing them with humans from a young age. (Paging Siegfried and Roy, as well as Joe Exotic’s two former employees who lost limbs to hand-reared tigers!)
The comforting fiction allows tourists to justify what they’re doing: When an acquaintance of mine proudly changed her social media profile photo to a shot of herself hugging an adult tiger, she acted as if she was shocked by the suggestion that the tigers were sedated. No, she explained, you don’t understand! These tigers were hand-raised by the monks from the time they were cubs! That’s why they love spending 12 hours a day having their tails pulled and getting mounted by tourists who want to ride them like horses. They love it!
It takes only a few seconds to refute what we’ll gently call that misconception: Articles abound of former employees and conservation experts describing horrific conditions for the animals at Tiger Kingdom. (It’s not the only “zoo” that thrives on selling big cat interactions in Thailand: When the infamous “Tiger Mountain” attraction was raided by authorities in 2016, they found the remains of more than 60 tiger cubs, tiger pelts, and “around 1,500 tiger skin amulets, plus other trinkets apparently made of tiger teeth.”)
The cubs, who would normally spend at least two years with their mothers, are taken away when they’re infants so Tiger Kingdom’s employees can hand-raise them, and not with the care and good intent they claim: The operators want the cubs to be accustomed to being handled and passed around so they don’t protest too much when tourists manhandle them.
The cubs are big money-makers, and tourists will pay a premium to feed them from milk bottles. The baby tigers are fed and fed until they can’t drink anymore, then they’re fed some more, former employees say. The bottle-feeding only stops when the day’s over and there are no more tourists forking over an additional $15 to get “adorable” photos of themselves with the babies.
That’s also the age when the cubs are introduced to the bamboo stick, the primary tool for keeping them in line. A cub who doesn’t want to leave its cage for another day of manhandling and force-feeding is smacked on the nose with a bamboo stick until it complies.
Tiger attractions like the infamous one at Thailand’s Tiger Kingdom have popped up all around the world, with interest fueled by enthusiastic reviews from celebrities like Beyoncé, who shared photos of her visit to an American tiger park with her millions of Instagram followers.
If Queen Bey says it’s okay, then it must be okay. Okay?
Life as a cub at Tiger Kingdom is a walk in the park compared to adulthood. Most of the adults are confined in cages 24 hours a day and are only let out on busy days when the operation swells with visitors who want tiger selfies. (Tiger selfies are extraordinarily popular with men who use them on dating site profiles, and Buddy’s home state of New York went so far as to ban tiger selfies because of their prevalence.)
When you consider the context, it’s really not surprising when someone like Waraschaya Akkarachaiyapas feels perfectly comfortable literally molesting the animals for her amusement.
We’ve poached this species to the brink of extinction and destroyed its habitat. We make rugs of their pelts, mount their taxidermied heads to our walls, sell their claws and teeth as trinkets, and grind their bones into dust for use in elixirs that allegedly cure ailments like baldness and erectile disfunction, according to ridiculous millennia-old folk medicine systems. (Having exhausted their supply of tigers to slaughter for traditional Chinese “medicine,” the Chinese have turned to poaching the Amazon’s jaguars to fuel their insatiable appetite for big cat parts. Jaguar poaching has skyrocketed “200 fold” in the last five years to fuel Chinese demand for animal parts.)
In that context, literally molesting a helpless animal is a drop in the ocean of abuse, decimation and the destruction of the dignity of these amazing animals. We’re supposed to be the intelligent species on this planet, the wise caretakers of the only world that we know of brimming with life. We are failing miserably.
Most people know leopard spots afford the big cats excellent camouflage, but this is ridiculous. There’s a leopard in this photo. Can you see it?
The viral photo has been making the rounds online over the past 24 hours. If you can’t find the leopard, don’t feel bad: I stared at the damn thing for 10 minutes until I cheated and looked up the answer.
Unfortunately it looks like the highest-resolution version of the photo that exists on the web is only 1280×720, so we don’t get the benefit of HD. Either way, this cat has an impressive ability to blend into its surroundings.
A search turns up quite a few similar photos, like this one of a snow leopard:
See it yet?
How about now?
Like all big cats, leopards are disappearing from the wild due to habitat destruction, hunting and cub-poaching.
Gather round, kids, and listen to another tale of how cats always win.
My cousin has been married to her husband, Rob, for more than 25 years, and on one of their early dates he took her to the Bronx Zoo.
These were the days before the famously large tiger enclosure was remodeled into Tiger Mountain. Nowadays a series of huge fiberglass panels separates the tigers from the visitors, meaning there’s no open air between them.
You can probably thank Rob for that.
Back then only a reinforced fence separated the Earth’s biggest cats from people who’d come to gawk at them, and Rob decided he’d get my cousin to laugh by goofing off in front of a tiger.
He started off making a few faces, and the other visitors — kids, their parents, other couples looking at the tiger — found it funny. (At least according to Rob they did.)
Encouraged, Rob stepped up his act, dancing and waving until one tiger in particular took interest.
“What are you going to do, tiger?” he taunted. “That’s right! Nothing! You can’t do anything!”
The tiger roared, and Rob roared back. The huge cat was clearly not amused by a human dancing like a clown, making stupid faces and taunting it with an insulting approximation of a roar.
So the tiger turned around.
“That’s right!” Rob said, declaring premature victory. “Walk away! You can’t do nothin’!”
Oh, but the tiger could.
The annoyed cat raised its tail, backed up a stride and let loose a projectile — “a wad” is how Rob described it — of thick, gooey urine, hitting Rob square in the face.
The tiger had impeccable aim.
“It was enough to fill that,” Rob said, pointing to a large soda bottle. “It was all over me. It was in my mouth!”
Rob staggered back and lost his footing, taking one of the young bystanders with him as he fell. The angry mother stared daggers at him as she yanked her kid away, realizing with horror that he’d suffered collateral damage from the gooey salvo.
As for the tiger, it chuffed and, having proved its point, sauntered away.
Miraculously, my cousin agreed to continue dating Rob. Not that she found the episode flattering.
“That should have been the big warning sign,” she joked.
Today they have two adult daughters. As for Rob, he’s an executive at one of the country’s largest telecommunications companies, but says he has no illusions about his level of maturity.
“The way I was back then is the way I am now,” he told me. “I’m still an idiot.”
He may be an idiot, but he’s not going to mess with any more tigers.
Chronicling the adventures of Buddy the Cat and his various criminal enterprises.