In June 2006 I was asked to help find a dead tiger.
At the time, I knew almost nothing about those beasts. All of my prior research had been focused on birds—mostly songbirds—and I was frankly a little cowed by tigers. This is, I’m sure, a sentiment shared by many non-carnivore researchers: there’s something intimidating about massive, toothy predators that like to hide from things then later jump out and kill those things. Even the transition to Blakiston’s fish owls from songbirds had made me a little nervous—fish owls are big and have talons: talons can pierce your skin! But a tiger…a tiger can gnaw its way right through you.
I had been a friend of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Siberian Tiger Project for about six years at that point but had not taken part in many of their activities. Over evening beers I’d hear the experiences of those biologists—about the roaring but unseen tigers in the dense brush, the charges by incensed brown bears, and tales of rappelling out of helicopters to reach the tigers they’d just darted in the forest below. It’s one thing to walk through the woods knowing with certainty that tigers are nearby—I was at peace with that—but to purposefully seek them out seemed a little…reckless.
So when John Goodrich, then the field coordinator for the Siberian Tiger Project, asked me to help him find a dead tiger, I figured it was a fairly safe introduction to that world.