A tiger teaches us to get along

Vancouver author John Vaillant will visit Whitehorse on Sunday to share 10 lessons he learned from a Siberian tiger. Vaillant spent three years researching and writing his book, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival.

Vancouver author John Vaillant will visit Whitehorse on Sunday to share 10 lessons he learned from a Siberian tiger.

Vaillant spent three years researching and writing his book, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival.

He first heard the story of this particular tiger at a mountain book and film festival in Banff, B.C.

A Siberian, or Amur, tiger was wounded by a clumsy poacher in the Russian Far East, close to the Chinese border.

“This tiger identified the man and proceeded to hunt him in a systematic and successful way, ultimately,” said Vaillant.

“There was an investigation into that and the tiger departed the scene and was not hunted, because it was considered to be essentially a just attack.”

The crippled tiger then hunted and killed a second man.

“Again, head on, not in an ambush fashion as cats typically hunt. This was much more confrontational. A kind of ‘You are going to know who killed you’ style.”

Now the anti-poaching agency, charged with the protection of tigers, had no choice but to find and kill the tiger.

The story is about managing conflict, resources, relationships and territory. The lessons are universal, but should have particular meaning for people in the Yukon, said Vaillant.

“I’m really happy to be asked to speak up there because people up there get it.

“You talk to people about tigers and winter forests and those dynamics between hunters and large animals, and also the understanding that can be attained between hunters and large animals. For a lot of people it’s completely exotic and alien, and you can pretty much tell them anything.

“I’m hoping in the Yukon we’ll run into some people who know that reality. I like being around those kind of people.”

It won’t be his first trip to the Yukon. Vaillant hitchhiked through in 1985 on his way to find work at a commercial salmon fishery in remote Bristol Bay, Alaska.

It was a short visit, but he was well looked after, he said.

“I slept in the woods by the river, outside of town, and bathed in the river. It was June, and there was still some ice in the river but there were open spots and I certainly needed a bath.

“I was on my way out and a woman picked me up who was a local, and she was off to feed her friend’s sled dogs. So we went into the woods and this guy has this incredibly cool cabin, just full of books and all kinds of things. And he had his dogs tied up outside. We fed the dogs, and then she went and picked up her pregnant friend and we went to the hot springs.

“And then we parted ways and I kept going.”

The lessons that Vaillant will share on this trip come from a far place but have implications for managing many kinds of conflict, he said.

“The reason why I think what the tiger has to teach us is relevant is because they are apex predators, carnivores, very territorial, very very entitled, especially the adult males. In that sense they share many similarities to human beings, and so when humans and tigers challenge each other over resources and territory, there are often conflicts, because neither one is wired to back down.”

“There is a difference between indigenous Russians, First Nations Russians if you will. They will back down. They’ve grown up with tigers culturally. European Russians, they have come in, they have settled, and they have a very different attitude toward the landscape than the people who grew up with the land.”

“These are universal getting-along-in-the-world lessons. And I think they’re applicable across species, between species, between us, and it doesn’t really matter where in the world you are.”

Vaillant’s talk will take place Sunday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre. The Yukon Science Institute and Yukon Environment are hosting the event. The event is free.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at


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