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Tigers In Red Weather : A Quest for the Last Wild Tigers
Poet, writer, and descendant of Charles Darwin, Ruth Padel set out to visit a tropical jungle and wildlife sanctuary in India-- and her visit turned into a remarkable two-year journey through eleven countries in search of that most elusive and most beautiful animal: the tiger. Armed with her grandmother's opera glasses and Tunisian running shoes, she set off across Asia to ask the question: can the tiger be saved from extinction in the wild?
Tigers are an "umbrella species", they need everything in the forest to work in tandem: they eat deer, the deer need vegetation, the vegetation has to be pollinated by birds, mammals, rodents and butterflies. If you save the tiger, you save everything else. Today, the 5,000 tigers that still survive in the wild live only in Asia and are scattered throughout 14 countries. Padel says that while tigers will never become extinct--they are too popular for that--they may disappear from the wild. There are as many tigers in cages in the US as there are surviving tigers in the wild.
As she travels she meets the defenders of the wild--the heroic scientists, forest guards and conservationists at the frontline, fighting to save tigers and their forests from destruction in the places where poverty threatens to wipe out all wildlife. She also examines her fascination (both as a poet and as the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin) with nature, wildness and survival and in the end, becomes a knowledgeable advocate for the tiger. The result is a beautiful blend of natural history, travel literature and memoir, and a searing, intimate portrait of an animal we have loved and feared almost to extinction.
Padel's memoir of her trips to various parts of the Eastern hemisphere to spot tigers in the wild begins with a string of personal setbacks at home in London, including the dissolution of a long romantic relationship. Although her thoughts return intermittently to this man and his stereotypically insensitive behavior after their breakup, the attempt to inject an emotional undercurrent into the story of her travels is distracting. Fortunately, more of her tale shows a poet's eye for the details of her exotic surroundings and a deep sympathy with the people who serve as her guides (Padel is a poet and chair of U.K.'s Poetry Society; her title is taken from a Wallace Stevens poem). As she hangs out with the scientists and other conservators who work at tiger reserves throughout the Indian subcontinent and Asia, Padel slowly learns that keeping the great beasts from extinction is not a clear-cut issue, as preservationists must also take into account the impact of tiger populations on neighboring communities. "How can you sympathize with tigers when you haven't enough to eat?" she wonders. The indifference of some governments to illegal poaching adds increased difficulties, but despite the many reasons to be pessimistic, Padel still manages to find cause for hope, passing on the names of tiger-focused charities for concerned readers' donations. (Sept.)
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September 17, 2006
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