It is a sign of the brilliance and doggedness – or should I say tigerishness – of Ruth Padel that in this book about her two-year investigation of the planet's 5,000 surviving wild tigers she seems to have seen just two in the true wild, but keeps our attention all the way. Like hers, my first-ever tiger book was Jim Corbett's Man-eaters of Kumaon (1944), which persuaded me through its gripping pages (I was twelve) that tigers were damn dangerous, clever and bloodthirsty, and that the great Corbett was a hero for having shot one. Nowadays Padel, poet, classicist and descendant of Charles Darwin, is convinced that man-eating tigers are very rare, except among the variety found in the Indian Sundarbans in the Bay of Bengal, who, so to speak, like us; they may kill 150 humans annually. Most tigers, I learn in my post-Corbett phase, kill us only when there is nothing better to eat or we surprise them – so they shouldn't be killed.
As it is, tigers, like sharks, are far more in danger from us (and largely for the same reason: the Chinese) than the other way round. They survive wild, the last 5,000 of them, only in fourteen countries in Asia. Why are they vanishing so fast that by the end