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Of Tigers & Men

Entering the Age of Extinction

by Richard Ives

304 pages, hardback, Doubleday, 1996

Of Tigers & Men is an account of Richard Ives' journeys to India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia to find out if wild tigers still exist in those countries. The interviews presented in the book offer a valuable non-Western perspective on extinction issues. A particularly interesting section of the book is a history of tigers in relation to mankind taken from a manuscript written by a man Ives calls his "informant".

Praise for Of Tigers & Men

Of Tigers and Men is a masterful book. I could not put it down. I have never been to India, nor seen a wild tiger, yet now I can almost believe that I have done both, so vivid and vibrantly alive is Richard Ives' account of his journey. He takes us from the lush beauty of the last great forests of Asia to the barren and poverty stricken landscape that now hems them in: from tranquillity to sudden savage violence; and from the best and most noble to the worst and most selfish traits of our own species. And now that I have read this moving, thought- provoking and often exhilarating book, I shall forever be haunted by images, now gentle, now fierce, of the mysterious, beautiful, and magnificent tiger who, unless some miracle occurs, will soon be extinct." -- Jane Goodall

"Of Tigers and Men is both epic and anti-epic--it is the only kind of classic adventure that an honest man can write at the end of the twentieth century. Richard Ives takes us on a trek beyond illusion." --Bill McKibben

"Richard Ives steps down from the trash heap of primitivism erected by Rousseau and Thoreau and takes a close and honest look at man's relationship to nature. It's a sad story and a powerful book, one that avoids platitudes and romantic cant to deliver its bracing insights." --P. J. O'Rourke

Quotes from Of Tigers & Men

" 'Hope is something that people are very reluctant to give up-- even those who ought to know better. Take your own countrymen, for example. For most Americans, I suspect, it is nearly impossible to imagine that there are--how shall I put it?-- situations in the world for which no rational solutions will ever be found. But such situations do exist. In regard to the forests of Asia, in regard to forests everywhere, we are now entering a sort of threshold era. Once that final threshold has been crossed, everything will be different.'


'Meaning, simply, that when the last tree is felled, when the last wild place is finally conquered, it will become obvious for the first time in the history of our planet what the human species really amounts to.' "

. . .

" 'Though tigers and human beings have been antagonists from the dawn of humankind, there always existed a balance of power between them which persisted until quite recently. Only at the beginning of the nineteenth century did the rising human tide, abetted by European adventurism, begin to penetrate areas of wilderness heretofore ruled by the tiger alone. The inevitable result of these penetrations was a dramatically heightened level of conflict between the two species. No better example of the nature of this conflict can be found that that which characterized the early colonial history of Singapore. . . . Following the establishment of a British trading post in 1819, plantations began to blossom in the dense pristine forests of the island's interior. According to E. C. Turnbull in his History of Singapore, there were no problems with tigers to speak of until 1831, when two Chinese laborers were attacked just outside the limits of Singapore town. As more and more of the forest was cleared to make room for plantations, the number of tiger attacks began to mount alarmingly. Before long, not merely dozens but hundreds of plantation workers were being killed by tigers every year By the mid-1840s it was rumored that tigers were carrying off an average of one Chinese laborer a day. . . .

" ' Among the British rulers of southern Asia, the hunting down and shooting of tigers, those alleged to be man-eaters especially, soon came to be viewed not only as great sport but an activity that demonstrated a keen sense of public service. . . . Indian naturalist Kailash Sankhala found that during the seven-year period 1821-28, for example, villagers in the Indian state of Maharashtra shot, trapped, and poisoned over a thousand tigers. During a four-year period in the 1850s a certain Colonel William Rice bagged no fewer than ninety-three tigers . . . . But to blame the tiger's rapid decline on hunting alone would miss the point entirely. Hunters like Colonel Rice and the villager who trapped and poisoned the tiger to protect his family and livestock had a great deal more in common than may be supposed. From the standpoint of late twentieth-century science it would seem that each was in the unconscious thrall of genetic instructions that require all human beings to act in such a way as to insure the reproductive future of the human group. In carrying out such instructions human beings characteristically subdue any species that opposes human interests in any significant way. History has taught us that species that cannot be subdued are invariably destroyed Such was the case with the tiger.

" ' The most striking result of this genocidal campaign was that while the tiger began a headlong decline, the human population of southern Asia soared. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the human population of India stood at about 131 million. By the end of the century that figure had more than doubled, standing at about 284 million in 1901. In the ninety-plus years that have passed since then, the 1901 figure has nearly quadrupled, leaving India with a population of nearly 1 billion human beings. Such extraordinary rates of growth have by no means been confined to India. China and Indonesia have demonstrated similar demographic patterns in which booming populations have resulted in the devastation of natural habitats and the ongoing destruction of entire ecosystems.' "

The above passages are from the manuscript by Ives' "informant".

. . .

"Since 1990, nearly half the surviving tigers in Siberia have been slaughtered, poached for their body parts, and sold to Chinese merchants who turn virtually every square inch of the tiger carcass into "medicines" that can be bought over the counter in Chinatowns in cities the world over. A compelling fund of evidence now suggests that most of the tigers killed in the wilds of Asia eventually end up in Chinese hands. Though it may seem like science fiction, the Chinese lust for tiger parts is so acute that with the extinction of wild tigers now in view, farms designed to raise tigers for slaughter are already operating in Taiwan. The discovery of such farms on the Chinese mainland itself would come as a surprise to no one.

"Elsewhere in east Asia the outlook for the tiger is just as bleak. Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, reaping enormous profits while ignoring pleas from concerned conservationists the world over, continue their genocidal war against the world's oldest forests. Openly supported by corporations and financial institutions in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Europe, and the United States, Asia's new economic powerhouses have the stated aim of destroying within the next decade all but token fragments of the forests under their control--a goal that now seems easily within their reach.

"Nowhere in Asia, however, has the precipitous decline of the tiger been more striking than in India, a country that just a few years ago was considered by many the tiger's last, best refuge. An apathetic government in thrall to the new capitalist orthodoxy, which tolerates corruption at the highest levels, has essentially abandoned the country's parks and refuges to the winds of fate. Because of this, the ultimate destruction of the Indian tiger is now entering its final stages. In 1992 over half the tigers found in Bandhavgarh National Park and Ranthambor National Park--scores of tigers in all--fell to poachers. In the same year, tiger-poaching bandits overran Manas National Park in Assam state, killing not only an unknown number of tigers but several guards."

Table of Contents of Of Tigers & Men

  1. Prologue
  2. Initiation
  3. A Tiger in His Den
  4. An Informant at Home and Elsewhere
  5. The Shadow-Line
  6. Forests of the Night
  7. Epilogue

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