Tigers are not just an endangered species in India and Thailand and Nepal, writes field naturalist and safari guide Ives. Their goose (so to speak) is pretty much cooked. Tigers are awesome beasts, and for a naturalist such as Ives they are near mythic creatures--ancient, solitary, living on the margins. Ives knew that they once roamed the subcontinent in great numbers. But what was their current lot? Did their protected areas really give them a chance at survival, or were they doomed by circumstance? Ives takes up with three very different souls--a legendary champion of the tiger; a violent, inspiring, globe- trotting naturalist; and a tiger dilettante (like Einstein was a dilettante of physics), all of whom offer Ives little more than a tale of woe for the tiger's chances: Its habitat is too far gone. An American born safari leader, Ives knows the tiger's terrain, and the Western imagination, well enough to convey a landscape rife with dark magic--of Rajput castle, ghost forests, and panoramas of romance and antiquity. He wears his naturalist's training lightly, offering throwaway comments like this one, along a riverbank: ``There are two distinctly different . . . deer hoofmarks, the smaller belonging to chital, the larger either to sambar or to the very rare swamp deer.'' For all the story's subcurrent of despair, Ives has managed to infuse it with a bouncy, adventurous air, full of daring episodes, reckless happenings, even a love story, not to mention run-ins with the big guy himself. Still and all, a sense of doom hovers everywhere. This isn't so much a caution as it is an elegy--beautifully etched, picaresque even, but a sadder song for all that. One just has to trust and respect a guy who lets you know up front that you won't be seeing any tigers on his tiger safaris.