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George Schaller on Saving the Species

The things we can never replace —not in a million years — are the species we are wiping out. Protecting the future means taking action now

by John Stein


George Schaller doing fieldwork
George Schaller at work in the field
Photo by Kay Schaller. Used by permission of Panthera.


Exit, pursued by a bear. This famous Shakespearean stage direction has at times been a reality in the life of field zoologist George Schaller. In Schaller’s case the pursuers have also included a gorilla, a lion, a tiger, and many other wild beasts. It’s all in a day’s work for one of the world’s most renowned zoologists. An award-winning writer on wildlife, Schaller has studied birds in Alaska, gorillas in Zaire, tigers in Nepal, jaguars in Brazil, and more recently giant pandas in China. Schaller’s research has gained him great respect in the scientific community, but his ultimate goal is to protect the animals he studies from the droning roll call of extinction.

To his role as a scientist, therefore, Schaller must add the responsibility of being an educator and lobbyist for conservation. For his conservation efforts he has received many national and international awards, including the World Wildlife Fund’s Gold Medal, that group’s highest recognition for strides in conservation. Schaller shrugs off the acclaim, preferring to talk about endangered animals and the people who inspire and encourage his work, like his wife, Kay.

Although Schaller’s work as a field zoologist is confined to strict scientific methodologies, his writing reveals a dimension of deeper understanding, a feeling of kinship with the animals he observes. His Serengeti Lion received the National Book Award in 1973, and Stones of Silence (1980), about wildlife in the Himalayas, attests to his skills as a writer as well as a naturalist. His latest book, published in 2012, is Tibet Wild: A Naturalist’s Journeys on the Roof of the World.

Because of his wish to communicate the urgent consequences of species annihilation, Schaller granted this rare interview. But during the course of the long conversation, the storyteller emerged, and his meticulous attention to detail and vivid recollection of events allowed the listener to feel as if he too were sitting side by side with a cheetah, or had glimpsed a young male panda, partially obscured by fog, high in a spruce tree.

Perhaps it is the sense of identity that comes from sharing space with animals during the long, solitary months in the field that inspires Schaller’s dedication to conservation. After talking with him in his rural Connecticut home, Stein could not help feeling that Schaller’s dedication was something almost visceral; that after too many months away from the open terrain Schaller himself may experience a sense of being caged. And that his obsession comes from having seen his own reflection in the eyes of so many animals endangered by man. Since the day in 1983 when Stein interviewed Schaller for OMNI, the zoologist, then a major force in his position at the Animal Research and Conservation Center (ARC) at the New York Zoological Society — the Bronx Zoo — in New York City, has barely slowed down. He currently serves as vice president of Panthera, a global organization devoted to saving the big cats.


OMNI

How did you originally become interested in the work you do?

Schaller

I find this a difficult question to answer, for the simple reason that, as far as I know, it’s the only thing I’ve ever been interested in. I started out in wildlife management. But wildlife management consists mainly of raising more animals for hunters to shoot. That did not appeal to me. But then the whole field of behavioral ecology — studying the relationships between animals’ behavior and the environment — became prominent, and that is basically what I’ve been doing. My activities include a very strong conservation component — that is essential these days. Many animals are disappearing so fast that if you don’t conserve them, you soon won’t have any left to study. At best, you’ll have some fine obituaries.

Explaining why you are doing something involves your whole psychological basis, your whole being. If you really like observing things alone for hours and days and months and years, your personality has to be such that you basically enjoy being alone. You have to be fairly self-contained.

OMNI

If you had to pick one favorite spot in the world, where would that be?

Schaller

For living conditions, range of wildlife, and beautiful climate, it’s difficult to find a place better than the Serengeti National Park, in Tanzania. You have endless space, millions of animals. If you’re looking for another kind of beauty, you can go to the Virunga volcanoes, where I studied mountain gorillas. That’s on the border of Zaire [now the Democratic Republic of the Congo], Rwanda, and Uganda. The scenery is spectacular; there are forests, plains, active volcanoes — and you have the gorillas, which are among our closest living relatives. But the weather in the mountains may be rather grim.

It’s very difficult to say “This is the place I’m going to stay.” Obviously I haven’t found it, because I keep searching all over the world. For just what, I do not know.

Any remote area will tend to give you a feeling of peace. You may have a lot of problems, but you live from day to day, an existence very different from our modern hassle here, where you are tense from things that happened in the past, that are happening now, and that you are worried about in the future. When you are in the field, when you go camping, it takes you a while to shed some of the tension.

OMNI

How many species are there in the world?

Schaller

Nobody knows. Certainly five million to ten million. Most have never been scientifically described. The ones that are described are often the big ones that you can see. But there are millions of others — insects, worms, microbes — small ones that are still unknown. The same applies to plants. Yet, they’re disappearing at a tremendous rate, because their habitats are being destroyed by human population growth.

OMNI

How fast is this extinction process?

Schaller

It is estimated that thirty-five to fifty acres of rain forest are chopped down every minute. People will still say, “So what? We don’t need them.” But if you took all the major environmental issues that we have today — overpopulation; depletion of minerals, particularly depletion of oil; soil erosion; turning pastures into desert — these are really, in the end, all secondary, because we can solve them. If we don’t have oil anymore, I think our technology will find some alternative. But the things we can never replace — not in a million years — are the species we are wiping out. There will be no opportunity to correct mistakes.

OMNI

That is quite a finality.

Schaller

Exactly. If we wipe out a species, then we’re simply wiping out all our options for the future. Among those plants we’re wiping out, there are going to be species that could well be critical food sources. Hundreds and hundreds of drugs yet to be discovered can be derived from plants and animals. Take, for example, hibernating black bears. Their bile juice contains a substance that, if injected into humans, dissolves gallstones. Also, when a bear hibernates, he lives off his fat. His cholesterol levels are tremendously high, but he doesn’t have heart attacks. Why not? So from a hibernating black bear you’ve got two medical phenomena with direct applications to humans. Then there’s the capybara — an oversized guinea pig — which has an antileukemia factor in its blood. Sharks are remarkably resistant to cancer. Just about any creature may ultimately benefit humankind.

OMNI

What effectively generates this kind of pressure in the United States?

Schaller

One thing that makes conservation at all successful in this country is the work of all the private conservation organizations — Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and others — that put pressure on the government. And God knows this government needs all the pressure that can get put on it.

I read a frightening statistic the other day: 40 percent of Americans don’t see the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation. Obviously, many Americans remain ecological illiterates. Look at Saudi Arabia. Superwealthy people at play in the world’s largest sandbox. But based on what? On a nonrenewable resource. Once the oil is gone, there is little but sand.

It’s the same here. Once our resources are depleted and the environment is degraded, there’s no way we’ll be able to maintain the American lifestyle. The wealth of nations lies in their soil, and countries are beginning to realize that. They are learning that they can greatly modify their environment only at the risk of their own survival.

Still, they permit multinational corporations to operate with few restrictions — converting forests, stripping minerals, depriving their people of a future — because of sheer avarice. The multinational companies have a moral obligation to establish conservation programs in the countries whose resources they take. They operate on a principle of short-term gain, however, even if this ultimately will cause their demise. For their own long-term survival, corporations must help preserve the resources of developing countries. In their own jargon, they are using the capital of finite resources rather than the interest.

A good current example is the California sea otter. There are approximately eleven hundred sea otters left in California. [Today, thanks to conservation efforts, the population has risen to near 3,000.] Because they happen to eat abalone, the shell fishermen shoot them. But sea otters also eat sea urchins, which in turn eat kelp. In areas where there are no sea otters, sea urchins have eaten so much kelp that the kelp beds are virtually gone. This is ruining the kelp industry. Additionally, the kelp provides protection for fish. Consequently, sport fishing has gone into decline. The knowledge needed to solve the dilemma is available. It only needs to be applied in an ecological and social context.

Look at Japan’s international image because of whaling, as another example. The behavior of the Japanese as well as the Russians and Norwegians in this matter is disgusting. For what are the whales being killed? For a few hundred jobs and products that are not needed, since there are cheap substitutes. If this continues, it will be the end of living and the beginning of survival. The world is being totaled. Only internal pressure by the people, by everyone, can change such an attitude.

OMNI

What will the United States look like in the future?

Schaller

The future is here. Just look around and see what has happened in other countries. Areas in Pakistan that are now utter deserts had forests with lots of wildlife some two thousand years ago. But people chopped down the forests. They put little, ephemeral fields into areas where wind blew the soil away. Now there is nothing.

In a hundred and fifty years the United States has lost one third of its topsoil. And I think about two hundred fifty million acres are turning into desert because of overgrazing and other mismanagement. In the West the water table is dropping so fast that the big worry for survival will be water. The facts are known. What we need now are administrative visionaries who see beyond today’s crises, who work with a broad perspective, drawing lessons from the past and applying them to the future.

OMNI

What are your views on the triage system, which proposes we should help only those animals with the best chance of survival?

Schaller

I think the idea of triage is utterly ridiculous. The fact that you ask the question indicates the downward trajectory of our thoughts regarding our ecological future. Who is to judge what to save and what not to save? And on what basis are we going to make those judgments? What we consider inconsequential now may be critically important when that animal is analyzed in terms of its role in environment or the drugs it produces. Therefore, we must fight for everything.

OMNI

If by some divine decree you were allowed to save one particular species forever, which one would you choose?

Schaller

Well, for selfish reasons, I’d say man. But this automatically dooms many other species.

OMNI

Are there any specific consumer goods threatening various animals’ existence?

Schaller

The biggest consumer problem in the United States is the pet trade — importation of wild animals as pets. Tropical fish, turtles, butterflies, songbirds — it sounds trivial, but you are dealing with millions of animals. For example, at least a hundred million tropical fish are imported every year, most of them from certain coastal areas. Parrots, brought in by the thousands, are popular because they live a long time and are colorful. Some of these parrots may cost more than $5,000 apiece. At such extreme market values you can be sure local people out in the bush are going to catch and sell as many as possible.

OMNI

The smuggling of exotic birds has become like the drug trade, with boats, drop-off points, and the escalation of prices.

Schaller

As far as I’m concerned, the import of all exotic animals and plants should be banned, except for those needed by educational and scientific institutions. If the dealers want to breed their own for the pet trade, great. As it is, the suffering of most pets is tragic. Turtles and lizards and snakes usually die a slow death: they’re maintained at improper temperatures and often die of starvation. Large mammals — where do they end up? People desperately try to give them to zoos which can’t keep them at all.

OMNI

How have zoos fared in trying to preserve various species?

Schaller

For years many species in zoos have simply died out for no obvious reason. The fact is that inbreeding — constantly mating father to daughter, and so forth — decreases the viability of the young. Many of them are born dead or die soon after birth. This can be resolved to some extent by keeping larger herds, but it’s better accomplished by exchanging animals to increase genetic variability. We just shipped three Siberian tigers to China to add some new blood to their tigers there.

Zoos now also keep stud books for their rare species. Each mating and each offspring is recorded so that you can take care as much as possible not to mate relatives. One aim of keeping large herds of endangered species in captivity is that the animals can perhaps be returned to the wild some day. For some of the hoofed animals it’s certainly possible. The New York Zoological Society did that with the buffalo early in the last century, and it has recently been attempted with the Arabian oryx. [The attempt was successful; by 2011, there were enough Arabian oryx in the wild that the species’ status was upgraded from endangered to vulnerable.]

Reintroductions of big cats, however, are unlikely. People fear them. They may agree that a tiger has a right to exist, but they will object to its practicing that right in their neighborhood. And if the population has been inbred too much over the years, it may have lost some of its genetic variability. This may not hurt the survival of the young directly, but it may prevent their successful adaptation to the wild.

OMNI

The bigger the herd, the better the chance of preserving genetic variability. Is the same true with managing preserves in the wild?

Schaller

Yes. Let’s say you have a relatively small reserve that has only ten tigers. Well, the chances are that those will ultimately die out on their own, anyway. The population is simply too small. Islands, whether real ones or islands of habitat, have a smaller variety of animals than expected. That is very important to remember when establishing parks, which must be as large and as ecologically varied as possible. But at this stage one is glad for any new national park, no matter how small, to serve as a genetic reservoir for at least some species.

OMNI

What about genetic engineering with regard to protection from extinction?

Schaller

Zoos are now taking the first step to freeze semen. The Bronx Zoo did an interesting experiment two years ago, and other zoos are now following. They took the fertilized egg from one species, in this case a gaur [a species of wild cattle from India], transferred it into a domestic cow, and let her carry it to term. By such a method you can raise more animals in a year than you could normally. But that’s not really genetic engineering as such.

OMNI

It’s embryo transfer.

Schaller

Yes. That has a future. But then, on the other hand, you have to worry about what future most species have in captivity. Zoos can only keep a very, very small number, and the costs are tremendous. There are about 750 Siberian tigers in captivity. That’s far more than there are in the wild. Now, let’s just say conservatively that it costs $5.00 a day to take care of one tiger. Multiply that and see how much it costs to feed those 750 per year — over a million dollars. Then you can see the kind of investment zoos have in endangered species. One can preserve a few species in captivity, but for the great majority, there’s no hope.

OMNI

Is it possible to take a piece of genetic code and store it so that if a species dies out in the wild, it can be re-created and bred anew?

Schaller

To accomplish that we would have to learn how to preserve the material so that we could use it if it was needed again. That is still very difficult. We don’t even know how to freeze the sperm of some species and maintain its viability. The ovum is even more difficult. Ultimately there will be better ways, but those are of secondary importance at present. The effort should be made to keep animals in the wild. If you have a tiger only in captivity, is that really a tiger, or is it just a reminder of a better past?

OMNI

It’s amazing that India, for example, has been able to keep its tigers.

Schaller

Indeed. Tigers wander through some villages at night, and they’ll kill a cow or buffalo. One has to admire such tolerance. Can you imagine even the harmless mountain lion showing up in the suburbs here? People would have the militia out. There’d be panic. For a lot of these species, there’s no real future unless you fight to save them in the wild.

OMNI

Your main area of study right now is the panda. Would you give us some background?

Schaller

The pandas are, of course, completely Chinese animals. They have always existed only in China, except during the Pleistocene Age, when a few of them were in Burma. The panda depends almost completely on bamboo. Bamboo has a peculiar lifecycle, in that it usually sends up vegetative shoots, and then these grow into a stem. But at long intervals — and the interval can be 15 to 60 or even 120 years — the bamboo, instead of sending up shoots, sends forth flowers and seeds. Then that plant dies. Later the seeds send up a second generation. So virtually all the bamboo on one whole mountain range will bloom and die at the same time. If your main food is bamboo, you’ve got it tough indeed. Suddenly all your food is gone. In the past, most areas have had a couple species of bamboo, but people moved into many of the valleys and cut down all the bamboo at the lower altitudes, leaving only one species high up. So now, in some large areas, if the bamboo blooms and dies there is no alternative food source for the panda. They starve, as happened in the mid-seventies. Nobody knows how many pandas starved then, but 138 bodies were found. That’s an animal of which there are only about a thousand left. The Chinese were very concerned, and they invited the World Wildlife Fund to collaborate on a panda study and prepare a management plan for the conservation of the pandas.

OMNI

A panda has a friendly appearance, yet in one encounter you were chased up a tree. Are they generally aggressive?

Schaller

They are generally very nonaggressive and self-contained. It’s very difficult to know what a panda is thinking. If you have a cat or dog at home, you usually know what the animal is feeling by its facial expressions and its ear and lip positions. The panda has very little facial expression. Most of the time it has a very placid demeanor. But if something triggers attack, a panda can be rather dangerous. There have been two serious injuries in the Chicago and London zoos. In China people think a panda is so cuddly that they can just go into a cage and give it a big hug.

OMNI

You mentioned facial expression. Do you think an animal’s facial expressions accurately depict its emotions or thoughts?

Schaller

They certainly depict emotions.

You have to learn each species’ expressions. Its expressions are not necessarily similar to our expressions. The smile of an animal can mean any number of things, depending on the kind of smile. The inward smile of an alligator is fixed, meaningless as an expression. Baring of teeth can mean aggression in baboons. Or an animal can draw its lips back, which in cats and dogs indicates fearfulness. For example, you usually see stuffed tigers with a big snarl. Basically, that’s a fearful response. When a tiger is attacking seriously you don’t see the teeth; the lips are way forward. So hunters who have their trophy skins mounted with mouths in a big, fearful grimace — I don’t think that’s what they intended to convey. Certainly an animal like a gorilla conveys a tremendous amount of information through its eyes. They are subtle and silent mirrors of the mind, reflecting a changing pattern of emotion.

One time I watched a male lion die after a fight with another male, and I saw the amber fires fade from his eyes. It was sad and deeply moving. It’s hard to know, however, whether what you actually perceive is happening or if you are merely projecting your emotions and knowledge into the scene. That has come to be recognized as a very basic problem in our so-called objective science. You’ve no doubt read about a similar problem in physics. The very fact that you are looking at something and are interpreting it changes the incident in line with your preconceptions. A person from a different culture may perceive something very different, yet it may be just as true. A person raised in the aggressive West, with its Judeo-Christian culture, where dominance and struggle is a sanctioned concept, may see or watch a society of animals in terms of dominance — and I do. Whereas a person who is raised in an environment based on cooperation and altruism is going to perceive a very different society, because the focus is different.

OMNI

In working with the Chinese in the panda study, have you found concepts or techniques in their scientific methodology and research that differ from yours?

Schaller

The basic approach is the same. The one advantage I have is that China has had so much political turmoil in the past thirty to forty years that the scientists have had difficulty gaining access to literature and just getting together with others arid chatting about their work. They have excellent biologists in China, and I depend on them for many things, from botanical identification to complete collaboration in gathering panda data.

OMNI

Is the Chinese concern for the panda emblematic of a slightly better defined national political policy on endangered species than we have in the West?

Schaller

Well, until liberation, when the Communists took over in 1949, there was really no policy. Then China was just beginning to get things in order when the Cultural Revolution came. The Cultural Revolution set everything back ten years. But since the mid-seventies, the Chinese have focused on environmental problems. They realize the mistakes they made in their agricultural practices — the denuding of watersheds and so forth. They are now setting up more reserves per year than any country in the world; more than seventy exist so far. So conservation is a great force right now, but it’s still in its developmental phase. Of course, the Chinese are extremely proud of the panda. It’s a national treasure.

OMNI

Speaking of Asia, there was a tiger known as the son of Chuchuchi. In Nepal he killed a couple of people. The researchers were very concerned that this young tiger, having once tasted human flesh, might turn into a man-eater. Is there any validity to that?

Schaller

It’s not the kind of subject for which one has valid statistics. Animals in general are rather conservative in the foods they eat. If a mother raises her cubs on human flesh, I think the chances are very good that they will also take to man-eating.

OMNI

A large cat is an amazingly effective hunter.

Schaller

You could walk from my office to the house and you would never see the tiger lying underneath that spruce tree, they hide so well. He would make one leap, and he’d be down on you. So there’s no way you could escape. But the fact is, you can walk with perfect impunity in the densest tiger forest, and you don’t have to worry, unless there’s an animal that is known to be a man-eater.

OMNI

What other reasons cause some animals to become man-eaters?

Schaller

Sometimes they’ve been injured and can’t hunt effectively. They’ve become desperate. But in Tanzania we traced the development of a man-eater, a young male lion that I watched grow up from a cub. He apparently saw drunks walking home at night down the village road, and he started picking them off. The unsteady walk of the drunks perhaps triggered attacks. When a lion hunts he will pinpoint a sick animal stumbling, and he’ll go after it. There’s no easier prey in the world than man, if he doesn’t have a gun. He’s so easy to catch and has absolutely no defense. Therefore, it’s amazing that so few big cats take to eating humans.

OMNI

Describe your best days.

Schaller

The best kind of days for me, I think, are those when an animal seems to accept my presence. We have expelled ourselves from the Garden of Eden — humankind has become an outsider. Nearly all animals are afraid of us, and that needn’t be, because it is well known that if animals are not disturbed in an area, they don’t have much fear. The lions in the Gir forest of India, for example, hang around the villages, where they catch cows. You can walk to within ten feet of some of those lions if you care to. They don’t run away; they just look at you.

Near one national park in Canada, bighorn sheep come into town and wander around the streets, because they’re not bothered by people. This can be the case with virtually all animals, if they are not hunted. So when I get into a situation where an animal accepts me, I get a tremendous pleasure.

OMNI

What are some instances where you’ve felt welcome in the animal kingdom?

Schaller

I was studying mountain gorillas, which for years were thought to be rather ferocious. One day not too long after I started, I was sitting on a low branch of a tree. The gorillas were curious about me, and one of them climbed up into the tree and sat on the same branch with me to look me over. Well, I had a great feeling of elation that an animal was willing to give me that much of a chance, to reach out for me.

Another similar instance happened in the Serengeti Park. I was walking across the plain in the middle of nowhere, and I saw a cheetah. I just quietly walked toward it. I got down on my hands and knees to lower my silhouette and crawled closer, and it just kept looking at me. I then sat down quietly within six feet — the distance between you and me. And we stayed there side by side. Certainly that cheetah had never had a person on foot that close.

Such encounters are exhilarating. At another level there are meetings with rare and secretive animals in the wild, whether it’s sleeping on a mountainside close by a snow leopard that stays near a kill or seeing a panda for the first time.

OMNI

How long did it take for you to see your first panda in the wild?

Schaller

I was in the forest every day — cold, wet. Finally, after two months, I saw my first panda, a youngster who’d been chased up a tree by an adult who still waited below.

After you work very hard for something, you are obviously very pleased when your efforts are finally rewarded. That’s especially true when something is rare and beautiful like a panda, which no Westerners had seen in the wild since the thirties. At that time Westerners were there not to admire and learn, but to kill and capture, which, to our modern sensibilities, sounds revolting. The young panda high up in the spruce that day sent long, drawn hoots of distress across the silent and snowbound hills. Fog sometimes obscured him. Although no detail seemed to escape me, it was hard to believe that the creature really existed.

OMNI

Have you ever had a close call with an animal in the field?

Schaller

Oh, I’ve been in difficult situations, but only because of carelessness. One time in India I was walking through the forest and stopped at a big rock. And I had this very strong feeling that something was wrong — I’m not talking about extrasensory perception. It may he that I smelled something or heard something subliminally. Then I looked around, and just at that moment, a tiger looked over the top of the rock. Our faces were about two to three feet apart. The animal had been asleep on the sloping rock facing away. But animals can sense your lack of aggression. So I quickly backed off and went up a tree. The tiger just came out and sat underneath the tree, sort of looking at me out of curiosity. After a few minutes I clapped my hands and said, “Go away, tiger, go away,” and the tiger got up like a big Saint Bernard and walked off.

The same with the gorilla. I remember one rainy evening I was hurrying home. Before I knew it, I was right in the middle of a gorilla group. They all were sitting quietly underneath the trees in the rain, and there I was among them. They just looked up. I backed off the way I came, and not a gorilla moved or made a sound. Again, they seemed to know that I was not dangerous. If you carried a gun, it would be a very different matter. Carrying a gun gives you a cocky demeanor that animals certainly can sense.

OMNI

What is the craziest or wildest thing you have ever done?

Schaller

If you were to ask me what is the best thing I’ve ever done, I would say it is marrying my wife, Kay. She has followed me all over the world and has been an indispensable helper. In fact, she has been the one stable thing around which everything has revolved.

But the craziest thing? I should have her here to remind me of the crazy things I’ve done. My life may sound romantic to some people, but basically it’s very mundane, except that it’s led me to exotic places with exotic animals. I get letters from people saying, “I think it’s just wonderful for you to go out and study animals, and I want to do that, too.” But anyone soon finds out that most of the work is rather prosaic and uncomfortable. You’re usually in a country where you’re not really wanted — a foreigner, always the outsider. You can never become a part of the local culture. For that matter, if you are studying animals, you are usually as far from people as possible. And what does an animal do most of the day? It eats or sleeps, and more often than not it does so where you can’t observe it. Still, I would not trade this free and lonely life for any other.

OMNI

But I can imagine that somewhere along the line you must have departed from a well-thought-out, conservative approach and put yourself in jeopardy for purposes of better observation. I can just see you doing that. The lions are feeding. They’ve killed a bunch of animals, and maybe you’ve gotten too close.

Schaller

Oh, well, we are interpreting that differently, which is an indication of my personality. When I work, I don’t think, “This is exciting.” I work. Sure, I’ve been in situations that in retrospect I should perhaps not have been in. But at the time, I needed certain information and took calculated risks to get it.

Take an example: you have some high grass, some bushes, and some jungle crows sitting silently in the bushes, waiting. The chances are good that a tiger has killed something there. Now, you want to know what species the tiger has killed, and you want to determine the age and sex of the kill; you want to collect droppings of the tiger, and you want to identify the tiger itself if possible. What should you do? Should you come back in a couple of days when the hyenas may have carried off the remains, or do you check on the site now? The crows in the bushes may mean that the tiger is still there.

You sit there for an hour, quietly listening, hoping you’ll hear something. Nothing happens. So you very carefully go in. Sometimes the tiger is gone. Sometimes it isn’t. Usually the tiger has heard you and crouches down and waits, judging your actions. You don’t even know the animal is there, until it suddenly rises, some fifteen feet away, and walks off. It is a rather tense situation, but it’s part of the job. You can magnify such an incident to any level you want, especially if the tiger growls, as it may do. The glimpse of the tiger moving away on silent paws through golden grass is, to me, the vision that lingers. To someone else such an encounter may become the highpoint of a book, an illustration of life among dangerous beasts. It’s all a matter of perception.

[end]


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This article copyright © 1983 by John Stein. Used by permission. Photo illustration copyright © by Henry Bacon. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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