Elegy for the Tiger

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside Magazine, February 1995

Elegy for the Tiger
By Larry Burke

One of the ironies brought to light by the crumbling of the Soviet Union was that, in its own way, totalitarianism could be unexpectedly kind to wildlife. Over the past few years, broad stretches of the once tightly controlled Russian interior have been opened to the public, emboldening poachers and trophy hunters as never before. Few animals have been more ravaged by the new freewheeling climate than the Amur tiger, the world's largest cat, a critically endangered species that has prowled the Siberian taiga since the Stone Age. Today, as black-market smugglers, aphrodisiac connoisseurs, and Chinese folk healers covet the animal's pelt and body parts, only 250 Amur tigers remain in the wild.

With the great cat's extinction possibly occurring within the next five years, we decided to send writer Philip Gourevitch to a Russian government wildlife zapovednik deep in the remote Primorye region, along the border with northeastern China. The Russian conservationists who hosted Gourevitch proved to be magnificent stoics lifted straight out of Tolstoy, entrenched in a futile war against the venalities of the tiger trade. Gourevitch soon found himself turning over a deeper existential question: What will it mean, for all of us, to live in a world bereft of tigers? "The extinction of any species is a great loss," says Gourevitch, "but the tiger is one of the most ancient and ubiquitous creatures of the human imagination, a symbol of wildness itself. It lurks in children's stories, is etched on stamps and the emblems of multinational corporations. What will it be like to lose the animal that has inspired all this?" Gourevitch's plangent tale, "No More Tigers," begins on page 34.

Elsewhere in this issue, contributing editor Craig Vetter contemplates the puzzling life of American alpinist and mountaineering writer Marc Twight. An oddly calibrated personality, Twight cultivates a public image that's part Johnny Rotten, part Edgar Allan Poe. Twight recently returned to the States after ten years as an expatriate in France's Chamonix Valley, where he built his reputation as one of the world's boldest practitioners of extreme alpinism. Yet despite his successes, he remains the sport's prodigal son, still rankling sponsors and scrawling poems on such chipper themes as euthanasia, urban terrorism, and flesh-devouring rats. Vetter's darkly amusing profile begins on page 42.

It's commonly thought that the peaks above Chamonix hold title not only to the planet's premier ice-climbing terrain, but also to the most challenging backcountry ski trek, the famed Haute Route. But according to longtime Outside correspondent John Skow, Americans need look no farther than California's Sierra Nevada to find a trek that outclasses anything in Europe. Higher, tougher, and more remote, it's the Sierra High Route, a 40-mile ribbon that winds through sequoia groves and alpine meadows beneath 14,000-foot summits. "The Sierra Seven-Day IQ- Enhancing Ski Tour," which starts on page 54, is both a swan song to the snow season and a practical guide to skiing in John Muir's backyard.

From California's rooftop we take you to the Arctic, where writer Seth Kantner, who was raised in an igloo on the Alaskan tundra, recalls his unusual boyhood friendship with Harry Tickett, the Inupiat mailman. Harry occasionally showed up on the doorstep bearing tidings from the world beyond--and for Kantner he came to embody the raw verities of the bush. As we learn from this vivid reminiscence, which begins on page 62, Harry was, like the Amur tiger, very much a dying breed.

Finally, for those of you afflicted with acute cases of wanderlust: Before you blast off for the antipodes, please turn to page 70 for our special edition of Destinations, "Adventure Travel, 1995." First there's a comprehensive tutorial on the art of planning your next far-flung adventure. Then it's our annual Trip-Finder, a compendium of 163 excursions on seven continents, smartly pulled together by correspondent and seasoned traveler Meg Lukens Noonan. It's all here--the outfitters, the essentials, the options, the risks. All you have to do is get your shots. Bon voyage!

Larry Burke is Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Outside


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