Without question, one of the most exquisitely beautiful and powerful animals on this planet is the Malayan Tiger. While I may have nearly been a small supper for one of these critically endangered felines, my adoration and respect does not waver. I was on a substantial hike, alone, in the Taman Negara rainforest in Northeastern Malaysia, approximately 100 miles northeast of Kuala Lumpur. It’s an impressively diverse ecosystem and is considered to be either  the world’s oldest or second oldest tropical rainforest at between 110 – 140 million years old. Many extraordinary species of flora and fauna call Taman Negara home, including the Malayan Tiger. On my third day of trekking, I was following the Tahan river towards my next shelter for the night, taking a few detours at potential wildlife viewing points along the way. I drastically underestimated the distance to my next stop, and also had had a bit of an incident with some leeches that got into my boots and attempted to suck me dry, a time-consuming matter to remove and try to clean-up. So night fell, and I was continuing along the trail slowly by flashlight, when I heard some rustling. This was followed by the most terrifying, bone-trembling sound I had, or have ever, heard. It felt like it was coming from directly next to my left ear, and while the growling lasted for somewhere between 10 and 20 seconds, it felt like an eternity as I stood there frozen. I switched off the flashlight, sat down on the bank of the trail, and awaited the inevitable. I sat there the entire night, and I don’t think I blinked once. Minus the loud roar at the beginning of this audio, something very similar to this sound, to give an idea:
So while I could not see anything, I think I can say with confidence that my companion was one of the 250-350 remaining Malayan Tigers in the world.

“Strong Silence” – Oil on Canvas -Vannessa Circe

These marvelous animals have been poached to near-extinction, not to mention the effects that ecological changes and habitat fragmentation have had on their environments, as well as the loss of much of their food supply due to much-the-same reasons. I’ll address here more the poaching of Tigers overall, as it’s a much more easily identifiable and controllable risk to their extinction than climate-change analysis and the infringement of agricultural lands on former forest and jungle habitats, for example. The commercial poaching (and big game hunting, another useless act of arrogance) of wild animals is a particularly despicable act, but it’s difficult to not place the poaching of Tigers at the top of the egregious list. Tigers are the largest cat species in the world (Malayan Tigers being slightly smaller than their Bengal and Siberian counterparts), can carry up to 1,000 pounds and inflict a bite of 1050 psi on its prey (I’m pretty pleased that I was left alone, that sounds like it hurts…). So needless to say, this silent stalker is one of the strongest animals in the world. But poachers, who use tactics ranging from baiting to impalement, reduce these millions of years of evolution and survival to meals for the gluttonous and superstitious rich, and manufactured Tiger bone, eye and tail medicines. 100 years ago there were approximately 100,000 Tigers living in their natural habitats. Now, there are as few as 3,000 Tigers overall, with some subspecies of Tigers already extinct (the Bali Tiger, the Caspian Tiger [which was principally eliminated by Russian hunters], and the Java Tiger), and others very near extinction, such as the Malayan Tiger, the Siberian Tiger and the Sumatran Tiger. In traditional Chinese “medicine,” Tiger penis is considered to be a strong aphrodisiac and treatment for erectile dysfunction, and the varying ways that it is consumed is astounding. In China, $5,000 may be able to get you a fresh Tiger penis soup, while in Southeast Asia you may be able to find dried Tiger penis wine, or French Cognac with dried Tiger penis and testicles soaked for months. The penis is the most acclaimed and expensive part of the Tiger’s body for cuisine, but the rest of its body, after it is poached and slaughtered, also finds its way onto the gourmet food and traditional medicine markets, especially, but not exclusively, in China. The whiskers are considered a treatment for toothaches, the eyeballs help with convulsions, the tail when mixed with soap helps cure skin cancer and the bones at the tip of that tail help ward off ghosts. These and a range of other unsubstantiated “uses” act as excuses for killing these creatures. Young tigers are also captured to be raised as pets, and to breed future generations of human entertainment. At this point, the vast majority of present-day living Tigers live in captivity, whether as pets and entertainment (many “Zoo’s” included), as future parts for the black market, or as part of more well-intentioned, but often controversial, conservation efforts.   With all the things that my species has done to this strong, silent and in so many ways, superior species, I almost feel like I should have been a Tiger-meal in Taman Negara. Perhaps he wanted me to tell his tale, or more likely I just didn’t smell appealing.