From award-winning poet and Darwin descendant Padel, a remarkable chronicle of a two-year trek across 11 countries to visit wild tigers and observe conservation programs.
Possibly 5,000 of the big cats remain in the wild. The author first journeyed to India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, where she learned of man-eating (rare except where prey is nonexistent) and salt-water–drinking tigers. It will come as no surprise to readers to learn that, as Padel discovered in India, successful conservation programs are those that allow local populations to benefit from tiger tourism. In the northern region of Ranthambhore, for instance, villagers ceded land to a tiger reserve in exchange for new fields, a temple and a school. The author went next to Russia. Although the Amur River bounds the largest continuous habitat of wild tigers in the world, poaching and logging endanger populations there just as they do elsewhere. In China, the cradle of tiger evolution, no South China tigers have been seen by officials in 20 years. Padel continued south, to Laos and Vietnam, where she discovered even less protection and very small populations beset by corruption and a lack of interest in conservation as well as the usual dangers of poaching and logging. The author provides a plethora of facts and figures about the tigers’ plight, reminding us in luminous prose and by evoking the animals and the landscapes they inhabit why this wild world is worth saving: “The red trail shines with puddles, trunks are roan pillars against black velvet, rain is soft Morse on the canopy.” In her conclusion, Padel looks to India for hope. “It saved tigers once,” she writes. “Can’t it do it again?”
Best savored slowly: a skillful blend of natural history and political analysis, sure to incite controversy in conservation circles.