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Tiger, Burning Bright

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hangin' in there, in our endless winter idyll in snowbound Whipple. Everyone else is well now. I plan to cough for oh, another week, then abruptly stop this tiresome pursuit of stuffing all my pockets with Puffs against the time when I will need to gag up another particolored bit of lung. Remains to be seen whether the kids will go back to school on Monday. Why break tradition?

Illness aside, we have had a wonderful time with our big bunch of friends, watching movies and hurtling down the snowy cowpasture abyss on plastic sleds. We've tested ten different sled types and the $6.00 neon-green plastic toboggan from K-mart wins over the saucers and inflatables and even the $120 fancy foam one with the Gore-tex handles. We could do a Consumer Reports on toboggans. We have found that spraying the undersides with cooking oil makes for a lot more screaming. And we've all gotten good at bailing before we hit the bobwire at the bottom of the Bowl. Bbbbbb. But enough about us and how we have passed our schoolless days. On to Siberia!

Surely one of the most beautiful animals on earth is the tiger. On this crisp winter day, the Columbus Zoo's endangered Amur tiger (also known as the Siberian tiger) was feeling frisky. It seemed that the weather suited him fine. I would imagine that Amur tigers are not huge fans of our close, humid Ohio summers. Native to far eastern Russia, Amur tigers are no strangers to cold.

It has always seemed odd to me that such a colorful, exotic-looking cat should live in snowy, wintry climes amidst pine, oak and spruce; prey on red deer, elk, moose and wild boar, but they do. This is a cold-adapted animal. The Amur is the largest tiger, and thus the largest felid, in the world. Still, you'd think they'd evolve away from that gaudy orange coat, turn industrial gray or something, to live in Siberia. Just another thing to be thankful for.

I pictured myself standing before a ledge that was above my head, arms stretched out. Could I leap to the top? Could I do anything but look around for help? Nope. Enh. Enh.

Imagine the power it takes to hoist 380 pounds to above head height from a standing start.

Not a problem for this spring-loaded beast.

He padded around his rocky enclosure, seemingly looking for something.

We drank in his beauty

and delighted to see him flop down right below us.

Who scrawled such patterns on his cheeks, dipping the brush in ink, flattening it, pulling up for a thin line, dropping a dot?

Who decided where the dits and dashes go?

What hand, what eye made this perfect animal?

The best human efforts, a crude imitation of his elegance.

Zoos are the keepers of rare animals, rare genes. We need them for so many reasons. With perhaps 500 Amur tigers surviving in Siberia, each one is as precious as a Faberge egg.

There are 421 Amur tigers in captivity.

The genetic diversity of wild Amur tigers has been so reduced by their dwindling numbers that the captive population actually has greater genetic diversity than does the wild group. In fact, the Amur tiger's genetic diversity is so low that it has an effective wild population of only 35. (This is a slightly complex concept; I encourage you to read more at this link). Selective breeding for rare genotypes is ongoing in captive situations, with the possibility of introducing animals with these genes back into wild populations in the future. Man has hunted and poached the Amur tiger almost out of existence, feeding the sick and indefensible animal-parts trade in the Far East. And zoos hold the key to the Amur tiger's genetic health going forward. It's us, destroying; us, rebuilding.

Still hate zoos? Think again.

Tiger, tiger, still, somehow, burning bright.


Absolutely GORGEOUS!

"What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearul symmetry" is the best near-rhyme in the history of poetry.

Thanks for the cool post and pics.

Every year I bring my family to the back scene tour at HD Zoo in Omaha. The best part is the labs and knowing we have a "frozen zoo" here. The sci-fi geek in me hopes that this would be a priority to be saved, and may some day be of use if we lift off-planet!
Kim J

Your photos are beautiful. Why is it that a striped TIGER looks so darn huggable and sweet? I adore zoos. You have reminded me to find one.

Also, I agree heartily with Corey.

Such a magnificent animal ! The genetic diversity link and the concept of effective numbers in an endangered population is very interesting.

Speaking of genes, seems that Liam has inherited wonderful humor and a bit of theater. What a cool kid !

Okay, you nearly had me in tears on this one! Beautiful photos and beautiful sentiments. But what's beauty to a group of men convince that without dried tiger privates, they wouldn't be manly? Don't get me started. I still have nightmares over a TV show I saw on all the cruel ways that animals are used and abused in the name of the animal parts trade in the Far East.

Have you read "Last Chance to See" by the late Douglas Adams? It made me laugh and cry at the same time. I highly recommend it. Who else but a humorous science fiction writer to drive the point about extinction home?


My English Lit prof held that Blake had been reading Chaucer the night before. Much precedent in English for pronouncing "eye" as "ye."

And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye

But Julie, thy poetry requires no rhyme at all, save that of the soul.

Sorry to hear about your lungs. Yay for Puffs, though! Or a soft, not quite worn out flannel hankie.
I love your idea about the cooking spray on the toboggan! Way faster than wax. To put on, at least! Boyoboy do I wish I were one of your kids!

I can't say I LOVE zoos. I used to. Now I have such mixed emotions. I know they do (most of 'em) good in education, preservation, breeding programs etc. And that's a plus. I love looking at animals I may never have had a chance to see, right there in FRONT of me.

But seeing a lion, or tiger or elephant, pacing, pacing, pacing, in an enclosure. When it should have miles upon miles to roam, hunt, fight, breed, laze. Zoos have improved a great deal, no doubt about it. But seeing these magnificent wild animals captive hurts my heart, no matter how well the captive surroundings are done.

By far one of my favorite animals. When I first started doing any serious artwork, in high school, it was the big cats that captivated me. Still do. Thanks for the gorgeous pics.

"The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction." Wm. Blake

Oh Julie! Your Tiger shots are fantastic! LOVE the "action shots" of the tiger going up and over the rock wall.
Sue Roberts

Posted by Anonymous January 11, 2010 at 7:13 AM

Nice surprise to find you back bloogin'. Columbus Zoo rocks.

Posted by Carolyn Wulfhorst January 11, 2010 at 11:58 AM

Terrific pix, and wonderful, bittersweet post, especially since it coincides with the UN's Year of Biodiversity. I adore cats, especially big ones, which is probably why I tend to adopt gigantic long-haired felines. If it weren't for the Philadelphia Zoo, I'd never've heard a tiger purr.

As for the feline ability to leap well above head-height -- my fat girl Trixie demonstrates it regularly, when hauls her considerable girth up onto the breakfast bar to gobble up the dish of dry food I fool myself into thinking she can't get at. It's not for nothin' her nickname's Tubetta.

Your posts are such a welcome reminder, Julie, that the zoos of the 21st century are less about bars and enclosures--all the things that were previously oriented to our protection, entertainment and amusement and, now, more about protecting the species from us--with the hope that, in time, the wild will be again wild enough.

WOW indeed; as gorgeous as he is on a computer screen, can only imagine how "drink-in" stunning he must be in full 3-dimensional encounter.

It always amazes me when I watch a lion or a tiger (at our very good zoo in Toronto) and I see in it my lithe, muscular, and proud (if compeletely wimpy) male cat. Stretching to judge the amount of energy required for that vertical leap. Tail straight up as a stabilizer. Casting his eyes around lazily but catching the movemtn of the tiniest dustball. Opening his mouth to smell everything. Domestication only goes so far. Thankfully.

Fantastic post. I always try to visit the zoo when I go to a new city. Last year we were able to hit the Omaha Zoo for the first time -- a great place.

It's hard not to feel the poignancy of the magnificent wild creatures confined for our viewing pleasure, but you did a great job pointing out the real benefits of zoos, far beyond entertaiment.

Posted by Anonymous January 12, 2010 at 7:57 AM

A bittersweet post. How sad that we humans have impacted the tiger's habitat so much that it has lost most of its genetic diversity. How good that we have had at least minimal forethought to preserve the diversity.

Now how about protecting the wildlands that are left and reintroducing some of the tigers or their descendants that are held in zoos?

Julie, your writing is gorgeous, as is the tiger. Thanks for this spot of beauty in my day.

Posted by Gina Goodwin January 12, 2010 at 4:27 PM

I used to carry Puffs home to MD on train from MC - my mother would say we have kleenex - to which I'd reply - there're not PUFFS!!! Cann't find where I read your musing re feeding wildlife but I feel somewhat the same at times - interfering with nature? BUT as I have just carried out 4 buckets of corn and birdseed as it was COLD again last night and Henrietta and OLD white headed turkey came running to me - she ate for 1/2 hr. dodging deer and finally finding her pan I hide behind a planter!! I get too much satisfaction watching God's creatures and I figure He's put them here for me to enjoy and help out in tough times....Love your photos!!

For great delightful reading, read Monkeys on the Interstate by Jack Hanna. He tells of his beginnings at the Columbus zoo.

Posted by Anonymous January 13, 2010 at 10:34 AM

Hi there,

Awesome pictures! Regarding the tiger's coat, I have done volunteer work at a small zoo near where I live, and I've seen tigers in all weather conditions. It's amazing how their coats (especially the stripes) help them disappear into the background, especially on sunny days. Even in snowy environments (and it's not always snowy in Siberia, where tigers evolved), the shadows from trees and other foliage help tigers camouflage themselves. On a sunny day, you can look right at a tiger under the shade of a tree and literally not see him there. Also remember, most of their prey animals see in shades of grey, so the orange coat is less of a factor -- more a mater of tone than hue.

Thanks for the pictures!


all your nature photographs on the entire blog are simply brilliant and excellent quality!!

compliments from India

Posted by india awake January 20, 2010 at 9:03 AM

What a beautiful creature and description, nearly had a tear in my eye!
I also recommend Jack Hanna's book. It was a true delight to read!

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