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John Vaillant, Author of The Tiger Chats with Gracey + Giveaway

Friends, it is my privilege to introduce to you Mr. John Vaillant, the author of The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (Knopf,2010). John’s book is a bestseller in the U.S. and Canada and has won numerous awards, including British Columbia’s National Award for Non-Fiction.  John’s first book, The Golden

Author John Vaillant

John Vaillant, author of The Tiger

Spruce (Norton, 2005), was also an award-winning bestseller. John’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and Outside.

John is giving away a signed copy of his award winning book to one lucky Friend that shares a comment or asks a question in the comment section below this post.


Gracey: Welcome to The Tiniest Tiger’s Conservation Cub Club. I am honored to be interviewing you because your book, The Tiger; A True Story of Vengeance and Survival is my favorite book.

John: Thank you, Gracey.  I’m so glad you like the book!  And I’m happy to be able to talk with you about this tiger, and cats in general.

Gracey: Our community cares for all cats, both big and small. I am one of the smaller cats in the feline family, but the star, I mean the Tiger, in your book is an Amur tiger, which is the largest subspecies of tiger. During your research did you see any Amur tigers in the wild in the Russian Far East?

John: Well . . . I got pretty close.  I saw clawmarks, pugmarks, scat and scent trees (now there is a perfume for you), but I didn’t see any Amur tigers in the wild.  However, I did see some beautiful ones in the snow at a rehabilitation center.

Gracey: All cats are smart, wouldn’t you agree?  But the Tiger in your book is a super genius cat.  This tiger has an incredible memory and is able to stalk and track down the hunter that shot him.

John: Yes, I think for a cat – of any size – to survive in the wild, it has be a master of its environment, and that includes knowing its limitations (especially for the tiny ones!).

Cats are quick studies and memory is as much a survival tool for them as it is for us so I’m not surprised that this tiger was capable of remembering and tracking the man who wounded him.  Honestly, I’m surprised that this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often.

Gracey: Were you surprised that this tiger was carrying out what appeared to be an act of retribution?

John: The idea of retribution or revenge is a human concept, of course, and it is a useful way for humans to describe what this tiger did.  However, if I was a cat trying to explain this tiger’s behavior to you or another cat, I would say that he was removing a threat and competitor from his environment.  This is something dominant cats are pretty good at.  This particular human also provided the tiger a meal into the bargain.

Gracey: Tigers are known to attack their prey from behind, but this tiger attacked the hunters from the front, like they were adversaries. Do you think the Tiger knew when he saw a gun, that the person might be his enemy?

John: I think this tiger had ‘firstpaw’ experience with guns and so would have known their smell and, more importantly, the ‘profile’ of the kind of human who carried them.  For this reason, I think he would have known that people with guns were potentially dangerous.  If I had to guess, I’d say the tiger’s knowledge and behavior was the combined result of prior experience, hunger and injury.  This poor tiger was being pressured from many different directions at once so it would have been a combination of factors.

Gracey: I have been trying to develop my powers of invisibility after reading your book.  This Tiger was able to hide in plain sight, right out in the snow.  Did you uncover any secrets of how an orange and black tiger could become nearly invisible in the white snow?

John: It is truly amazing that such a large animal was able to do this.  The function of any camouflage is to disrupt patterns – in the case of a tiger (or a tabby cat), the stripes disrupt or break up the image of the cat so prey can’t see it as easily.  If you look at pictures of this tiger in the book or on my website, you can see that Amur tigers also have quite a lot of white fur, which can help them to hide in winter.  This tiger’s stripes and coloring, along with its capacity for absolute stillnes, may have been enough to disrupt the ‘tiger pattern’ those men carried in their minds.  Some hunters – Russian and native alike – might also attribute this tiger’s invisibility to its psychic powers.  Either way, it’s pretty amazing!

Gracey: Amur tigers can withstand extremely cold temperatures but this Tiger went inside a cabin and dragged a mattress out into the open so that he would be more comfortable waiting to seek revenge on his assailant, or I should say remove him as a threat from his environment.  Do you think the Tiger’s ability to think and plan was a surprise to the people that have been living with tigers in the Russian Far East?

John: I think the mattress surprised everybody!   That said, people familiar with tigers in the Far East have great respect for their intelligence and resourcefulness. What is most striking to me about this tiger and this series of events is how you can see the tiger learning, modifying his technique from encounter to encounter.  For me, this is one of the most chilling aspects of the story.

Gracey: When I was reading The Tiger, I was struck by the importance of the tiny Korean pine nut to the survival of the Amur tiger.  Everything is connected, even the mighty Amur tiger to the tiny pine nut.  Do you think that humans understand that less forest means fewer tigers?

John: Some humans do, for sure.  Westerners who understand the ecosystem of the Far East have known about this interdependence for decades, and the indigenous people have known for far longer than that.  Many of the people seeking to log in Amur tiger habitat are not local, and have no desire to understand what they destroying.  They have tunnel vision leading directly from the trees to their own pockets.  This makes it all the more important for people who do understand this connection to make their presence known with letters, phonecalls or donations to conservation groups!   Readers can find a list of recommended organizations at the end of this interview.

Gracey: I appreciate that you wrote the story so that the Tiger was not viewed as a “bad guy” but just doing what he needed to do to survive.  Even though you knew how the story ended, did you find yourself rooting for the Tiger?

John: Well, it’s awfully hard to fault a tiger for wanting to settle accounts with the man who shot him.  The real tragedy is that the wound he got was ultimately fatal.  All of the tiger’s subsequent efforts to survive were only delaying the inevitable, and on his way down the tiger ruined a number of innocent people’s lives.  It was a tragic situtation for all involved, and this made it more complicated for me as far as who to root for.

Gracey: Do you share your habitat with any cats?

John: Yes, I do!  A beautiful (neutered) silver tabby who is just under a year old.  I love him dearly and he is wonderful with the children, but recently, he has discovered his hunting side and is turning into a very effective killer of mice and birds.  In this way, he is like Jekyll and Hyde – playful and cuddly in the house and absolutely deadly outside.  This poses a real problem for me as I can’t stand him killing birds.  I need to find a way for him to be outside, and not deplete the local bird population.  Is this possible?  Any advice on how to handle this would be greatly appreciated.

Gracey: I am an indoor only cat.  My parents built me a sunroom and I observe the back yard and chat with my friend Bossy Backyard Blue Jay through the screens.  There are cat enclosures that keep birds safe and also allow your cat to enjoy the grass and the outdoors. Maybe an enclosure would keep everyone happy and relaxed.

Thank you again for taking the time to talk with us here at The Tiniest Tiger.

John: It’s my pleasure, Gracey.  Thank you for reading The Tiger.

For a list of recommended conservation groups, please visist my website: http://www.thetigerbook.com/ And click on the Tiger.

Donations of any size are greatly appreciated

I also have lots of current Tiger info on my Facebook Tigersite: http://www.facebook.com/JohnVaillant

You can can also follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/johnvaillant

If you have a question or a comment for  John, just type it in the comment section below.  One lucky Friend will receive a signed copy of The Tiger!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Angela-DiGeronimo/63400772 Angela DiGeronimo

    Gracey, thank you so much for sharing this interview with us!  After reading this interview I must read the book and learn the story of this amazing tiger.  Thank you for always spreading the word about cat conservation Gracey! ;)

  • Magwhisk

    Wow, I think I am going to have to read that book now, even with my reading handicap ;)   Thanks for the WONDERFUL interview!!!  So nice of Mr John to take time to visit!!!  Thanks!!!

  • Jeanne Owens

    A great interview! Very informative. Sounds like a book I’ll have to look into :)

  • PetsWeekly

    What a wonderfully informative interview,Gracey! You’ve inspired me to order this book! I love tigers and I love reading stories of things that tigers do. I do have three questions for John.
    1. Out of all of the animals you’ve seen in your journey, why did you decide to write about tigers?
    2. Also, I’m not sure if this is a true story (I cant imagine a tiger actually hurting someone) so if it’s fiction, what inspired you to write the book?
    3. Finally, is there a way we can get our books signed if we don’t win a copy?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michele-C-Hollow/1504249976 Michele C. Hollow

    I am ordering the book today. What a wonderful interview. I love how large cats (and small ones too) can hide out in the open. And the story about the mattress is priceless. Thank you for a great article.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BNNZIP3RCYOBSBODPVXBPT6GM4 nomoren2004

    Knowing that tigers are generally carnivorous, what role does the pine nut play in the Amur tiger’s survival?  Does it provide food for prey of the tiger, or simply seed for the tree that provides shade or lodging?  Or is it a bit more complicated?

  • Janellm

    I haven’t read Mr. Valliant’s book yet, so my question might be addressed in the book. If the people in the village had the understanding of how inter-related animals, plants and people are how did the Amur tiger’s stalking of them and the poacher change their view of the tiger’s role in the ecosystem? Did they view it the same way as you talk about the tiger viewing the situation – the poacher disrupted the balance of the environment and to be brought back into balance the poacher had to be removed?

  • Andre

    I would like to thank Mr.Vaillant for creation of an original masterpiece in the modern literature and for statement of a question on destiny of the Amur tigers.Certainly,at me it is a lot of questions to Mr.Vaillant.But probably a main point is this:whether Mr.Vaillant thinks about possibility to resque the remained wild Amur tigers in Russia,knowing a modern situation in the Far East of Russia ?(The vacuum cleaner of Wild Life,poachers,hunters,logging etc)?

  • http://twitter.com/DianeM1966 Diane M

    What a nice interview, Gracey! Very thorough and concise. Tigers are among the most majestic & beautiful animals. In my humble opinion, I think that the tiger population will bloom even more because of the steps humans have taken to protect their habitat.

  • LORRAINE

    Tigers are my favorite of the big cats. It is such a shame that their habitat is being taken away. Thank you so much for bringing attention to the situation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1126605825 Carolyn Schellhardt

    This man is awesome!  Tigers all over the world thank him for his concern.  And so do I.  I simply have to buy this book!!!!!

  • Jerzeecat

    Hello John and Gracey that was an awesome interview and sounds like the book will be just as awesome. I don’t know if this will help you John but when the cats are outdoors I leave a bowl of food on the deck and they seem to not bother the birds. Then when the cats are not eating the food the birds pick at it. The birds can’t wait for the cats to leave so they can eat. As long as the foods there I haven’t had any problems with bird chasing. Have a great evening and thanks to both of you for a very interesting interview.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=613808393 Monica Best

    Being such a remote area, how is it that John became involved with this story? How did he find out about the situation? And has he kept in touch with any of the individuals there? If so, how are things looking for the Amur tigers in Primorye?

  • Robin Ross

    Hi John, I LOVED your book! I purchased a copy for my parents as well. Have you kept in touch with Yuri and the others since the book was published? Also, what is the status of the tiger conservation project in the far eastern part of Russia? Thanks, Robin. P.S. My little tigers, Roger & Rafa, send purrs!

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