Why would a man leap from a protected monorail into the cage of a 400-lb Siberian tiger, where he was quickly mauled?
Fortunately, the young man survived to tell us. He had "a desire to be one with the tiger," according to a news report. "Mother Earth" was his religion and his Facebook page features photos of lions, tigers and other wildlife.
It turns out this reverence is not that unusual, especially among those who live among Siberian tigers. One summer book I thoroughly enjoyed was The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (2010) by John Vaillant. The book deals with the harrowing true tale of a tiger gone bad, who attacks and kills humans in Russia's Primorye Territory in the Far East near the border with China.
Surprisingly, tigers and indigenous people have co-existed peacefully there for centuries, as long as each treats the other with appropriate respect according to the author. If a tiger kills a prey, humans can take a piece of that for survival, but must leave most for the tiger. There is a "spiritual" harmony of understanding and mutual acceptance. In recent decades, however, poachers have invaded the forest not to coexist but to exploit the high demand for contraband tiger parts in China. Poachers injured this particular tiger and the vengeful tiger stalked and killed the perpetrators.
What surprised me most about this story is how ineffective bullets are at stopping a lunging tiger. Autopsies show tigers sometimes full of old lead. [Spoiler alert: What ultimately brought down this tiger in the tragic but thrilling conclusion were two sub-machine guns firing on automatic with special anti-armor rounds.]
Sadly, there may be only 400 Siberian tigers left in the wild. While zoos have breeding tigers, there is no way zoo-born tigers can be released into the wild. Mother tigers transmit huge amounts of learning to their young needed for survival and hunting. Temperatures in the winter drop to -40 F. While supremely adaptable, young tigers need years of training that humans have no way of providing. Once eradicated, there will be no resuscitation.
The Tiger reads like a "who-done-it" mystery and provides lots of fascinating information about nature and the spiritual explanations for why a young man would jump into a tiger cage. The bottom line is that the leaping man was lucky beyond belief; the tiger did not want to kill him.
[Thanks to Eryka Fiedler for suggesting The Tiger book.]