Tag: leopards

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!

Finally, The US Is Poised To Outlaw Big Cat ‘Ownership’

Even though Tiger King, the tawdry Netflix documentary about a redneck and his “zoo” full of tigers, focused more on the eccentric people involved than the plight of the big cats in their “care,” it got people talking about the problem of captive tigers in the US.

In 2020, congress passed a rare bipartisan bill to ban all big cat ownership in the US. The bill stalled when the senate failed to vote on it before the end of the legislative session, but now it’s back — and the recent saga of a confused tiger wandering around Houston may finally provide the nudge for politicians to pass the badly-needed bill.

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After almost exterminating tigers, Chinese poachers have turned to South America, where they’re poaching jaguars at unprecedented rates to feed demand for big cat parts in the traditional Chinese medicine market. Jaguar poaching has increased 200-fold in the past five years to fuel Chinese demand for their body parts.

There are more tigers living in Texas and Florida backyards than there are in the wild, an ignominious fact that says volumes about humanity’s indifference to the plight of the Earth’s most powerful and iconic predators. Devastated by habitat destruction and poaching to feed the bottomless Chinese appetite for tiger parts used in traditional Chinese “medicine,” the worldwide wild tiger population is about 3,900, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

By contrast, there’s an estimated 7,000 tigers kept as “pets” in the US, with as many as 5,000 of them in Texas.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act would ban the private ownership of tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, cougars and cheetahs. It would also outlaw the practice of taking tiger cubs from their mothers so guests can hold them and take selfies with them, which has become an increasingly-popular and controversial feature of “roadside zoos” — unregulated, poorly run, unaccredited facilities — in the US.

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Cheetahs, already critically endangered due to habitat loss, are on the verge of extinction as they’ve become the exotic pet of choice among the wealthy of the UAE and Russia.

The Houston tiger, named India, is one of those unfortunate cubs. While the public freaked out and Houston residents huddled in their homes, hoping to record footage of the wandering tiger, an important fact was often left out of media reports: India is only eight months old. He’s essentially a baby, albeit a 175-pound one, and he had no idea what was happening to him, where he was, how to feed himself, or how to escape the endless sprawl of urban and suburban Texas.

Despite the fact that he was a confused-yet-playful cub, India could have easily been shot by authorities. Thankfully he survived his ordeal, and while his “owner,” Victor Cuevas, is sitting in jail on $300,000 bond, India has been relocated to a sanctuary in northern Texas, where he’ll be looked after and will get to live in the company of other tigers.

In the meantime, we all have an opportunity to lobby our respective senators and demand that they vote for the Big Cat Public Safety Act. You can fire off a letter to your senators and congressional representative in less than two minutes using the Animal Welfare Institute’s site — just punch in your address and the site will draft automated letters to all three, with fields to sign your name and to personalize the letters.

Tell them you support the Big Cat Public Safety Act, and you’ll take their vote into consideration the next time you head to the ballot box.

All images credit Wikimedia Commons.

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In the wild, tigers range more than 50 miles a day. Backyards, no matter how large, are not suitable environments for them.

 

Spectacular Photos Show Big Cats As They’re Meant To Live

One photo shows a melanistic leopard — better known as a black panther — cautiously but curiously poking its head out from behind a tree. Another shows the same cat, tail raised and ready to spring as it stalks prey in the jungle mists.

The photos went viral this week, accumulating millions of views as people hailed the leopard as the second coming of Rudyard Kipling’s Bagheera, the beloved leopard from The Jungle Book.

Both photos come from the lens of Shaaz Jung, known as the “Leopard Man of India” for his astonishing shots of the majestic cats taken deep in the country’s jungles and forests.

“When people see these pictures, they think there are several leopards, but actually there’s just one black panther where we are — one melanistic leopard in the dense forest of Nagerhole. So it was like finding a needle in a haystack,” Jung told BusinessInsider.

The leopard has been named Saya by local wildlife enthusiasts, and he’s a bit out of his element in the deciduous Kabini forest, which is also home to a tiger preserve. Normally, leopards like Saya live in dense jungle, where the thick canopy and lack of light play to their advantage.

Jung patiently followed Saya, snapping photos of the big cat hunting, fighting and courting potential mates.

“He’s not just surviving, he is thriving,” Jung said.

Jung is a wildlife photographer, NatGeo’s director of photography for films and a big cat specialist in his own right. He also photographs India’s tigers, and his shots reveal a connection to — and a deep appreciation of — these regal apex predators who have been pushed back by human development and the resulting habitat loss.

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The man behind the camera: Shaaz Jung.

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Tigers share a quiet moment as they trade scents. Photo: Shaaz Jung

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Leopards are known for their exceptional climbing ability as well as their preternatural hunting skills. Photo: Shaaz Jung

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A leopard enjoys a mid-day respite from the sun — and bothersome rivals — on a broad tree branch. Photo: Shaaz Jung

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A tiger stops for a drink with the water reflecting its wary gaze. Photo: Shaaz Jung

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Tigers are the world’s largest, heaviest cats, the apex predators among apex predators. This close-up is a reminder of how beautiful and regal they are. Photo: Shaaz Jung