Dawn, and mist holds the forest. Only a short stretch of red dirt track can be seen. Suddenly—emerging from the red-gold haze of dust and misted light—a tigress ambles into view. First she stops to rub her right-side whiskers against a roadside tree. Then she crosses the road and rubs her left-side whiskers. Then she turns to regard us with a look of infinite and bored indifference.
And then, as if relenting, she reaches up the tree to claw the bark, turning her profile to us, and with it the full impact of her tigerness—the improbable, the gorgeous, the iconographic and visibly powerful flanks.
The tiger. Panthera tigris, largest of all the big cats, to which even biological terminology defers with awed expressions like "apex predator," "charismatic megafauna," "umbrella species." One of the most formidable carnivores on the planet, and yet, amber-coated and patterned with black flames, one of the most beautiful of creatures.