International Tiger Day, also known as Global Tiger Day, has been celebrated around the world on July 29 since 2010. This special day was created to help raise awareness for tiger conservation efforts worldwide. Tigers are the largest members of the cat family, and there are nine subspecies of tigers, three of which are already extinct. Bali tigers went extinct in the 1940’s; the Caspian subspecies went extinct in the 1970’s; and the last Javan tiger was seen in the wild in the 1980’s. Tiger numbers have been decreasing in the wild over the last 100 years, with the greatest declines due to human encroachment. The most numerous tiger subspecies is the Bengal tiger with over 2,500 still left in the wild. Bengal tigers are also well-represented in captivity and they carry a recessive gene which results in a striking white coat. While white tigers are occasionally reported in the wild, the majority are seen in captivity where this coat pattern does not put them at risk to poachers and hunters. The largest sized tiger subspecies is the Amur or Siberian tiger at over 10 feet in length and 660 pounds for males. The Sumatran tiger is the smallest, still weighing in at an impressive 310 pounds for adult males of this subspecies.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to help socialize a pair of tiger cubs, born at what was then known as Marine World Africa USA. Socializing those two cubs gave me a healthy appreciation for what tigers can do. They were aggressively playful and their teeth and claws strong even at that young age. Teaching them to enjoy being handled by humans and being walked on a leash – two basic requirements of tigers born at Marine World in those days – was no easy task. By the time I went to work for the San Diego Zoo, all of their tigers were in hands-off, naturalistic habitat style exhibits. One of my favorite exhibits there has you walking through mist, listening to the sounds of waterfalls and strolling along paths lined with tropical plants. When you turn a corner and the mist clears, there are the tigers, some swimming in the water, others hiding in the plants. And some, early in the day before the zoo visitors arrive, will be right up at the glass. Watching you. Breathtaking.
So, let’s celebrate these amazing creatures on social media by sharing their photos, talking about your favorite tiger-themed books, and donating to their conservation efforts. Where you do, be sure to use the hashtag, #ThumbsUpForTigers, and support the global effort to save all tigers from extinction.
Here is my list of favorite tiger-themed books:
1. “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival,” by John Vaillant. This book will haunt you long after you’ve finished it. It is the riveting story of an Amur tiger who goes on a grisly rampage, seemingly as an act of vengeance against a specific human trapper in the frigid Siberian wilderness. It’s hard to know whether to feel sympathy for the humans who get in this tiger’s way, or a sense of awe at the planning and forethought displayed by the tiger hunting down the trapper in a remote, desolate location.
2. “The Jungle Book,” by Rudyard Kipling. Shere Khan is the epitome of the cunning tiger and a captivating read for all ages.
3. “Life of Pi,” by Yann Martel is a spiritually intense, fantasy adventure novel for older readers and adults featuring a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
4. “The Tiger Rising,” by Kate DiCamillo is the story of a young boy who finds a caged tiger in the Florida woods and must decide whether to let the tiger go or not. The consequences of that decision make for an intense tale of morality for middle school aged kids and older readers.
5. For younger readers, pick up a copy of Judith Kerr’s picture book, “The Tiger Who Came to Tea.” This is the story of Sophie and a very special tea-time guest. First published in 1968, this is a classic that should be on every animal-loving child’s bookshelf.
6. “How Tiger Got His Stripes: A Folktale from Vietnam,” by Rob Cleveland is a humorous folktale of the once very proud tiger and how his jealousy resulted in those familiar stripes on his coat. This clever tale is for every tiger-lover, young or old.
7. “Tigers in the Snow,” by Peter Matthiessen is the story of the Amur (Siberian) tigers fighting for survival as their native habitat shrinks and their beautiful coats are sought after by poachers. This is also the story of the wildlife biologists trying to save these creatures from extinction. The photos in this book are stunning.