Cats are adorable little serial killers, as The Oatmeal would say. What if the cat in question were about fifty times bigger, and actually did decide to turn its predatory instincts on humans? It does happen, occasionally, that a big cat decides to put soylent green on the menu, and go hunting for long pork.
There have been other books about tigers, lions, leopards, and even lots of other non-cats that eat people. We have told stories of predators eating people for as long as stories have been told. Below: mammoth ivory carving of a cave lion, Panthera leo spelea, about 40,000 years old, from Vogelherd Cave. This is literally one of the oldest works known to be from our own species.With head reattached to the recently-recovered body: By the late 19th Century, the stories people told were different: dangerous big cats were obstacles in the way of progress, and tigers were treated as vermin to be exterminated, prizes to be shot and counted.
As human settlement encroached on tiger territory, and old patterns of human and tiger behavior that kept both insulated changed, tigers came into increasing conflict with people. In this context, professional hunter Jim Corbett wrote the landmark book Man-Eaters of Kumaon, detailing why – in his experience – big cats became predators on humans, and that humanity and Earth would lose a part of their heritage and soul if they were to become extinct. Nature’s reserves were not infinite, and could be hunted to exhaustion.
The Tiger by John Vailiant adds to this robust body of literature, and, as it is written in the shadow of Corbett, far from being a straightforward “hunter vs man-eater” tale, touches on the instinct, myth, religion, and folklore of feline predators. Although in the main, this doesn’t go beyond a means to build up the beast into an almost supernatural force of vengeance, and ultimately it feels incomplete, as if in fleshing out this killer tiger tale with these details, there is another, more academic treatment that goes down to the bone marrow waiting to be made into its own book. Overall, while it left me hungry for more, this read is more modern, nuanced, and substantial than the earlier hunter-savior-proto-conservationist genre, epitomized by Jim Corbett’s Maneaters of Kumaon.
— Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch