Year of the Tiger: Legend and reality


Lion.jpgONCE a upon a time, the lion was one of the occupants of the Chinese Zodiac. Now, the lion was very cruel. So the king of heaven wanted to replace the lion with another. However, the king did not know of a suitable alternative because there was none so fierce as the lion who was the king of all animals.

NOTE: Some literary licence has been exercised to re-tell this story.


Enter the tiger

In the beginning, the tiger was like all great warriors - insignificant to begin with. But after he acquired fighting skills from his teacher (the cat), the tiger became a mighty warrior, beating all the other animals on earth. Upon being summoned to heaven, he also overcame the challenges of the king's warriors. And so it was that he became part of the king's warriors.


Tiger's three rewards

Back on earth, the other animals started to attack humans. The king of heaven then sent tiger as his emissary to protect the humans. In return for each battle won, the tiger requested a reward from the king who agreed.

When the tiger arrived on earth, he learned that the lion, the bear and the horse were the strongest animals. So the tiger challenged them all and won. This was an efficient strategy by the tiger (henceforth copied by all human generals) to win a war with just a few well-chosen fights. And so it was that all the other evil beasts became afraid and retreated, giving up any further thought of attacking humans.

When the tiger returned to heaven, the king placed three horizontal lines on his forehead, one for each victory over the lion, the bear and the horse.


The fourth reward

Later, the earth was attacked by an evil, magical turtle who caused massive flooding on earth. Again the tiger was despatched to earth to save the day, and in the process he killed the turtle.

As a reward, the king of heaven added a vertical line on the tiger's forehead, in the center of the earlier bestowed three horizontal lines, to create the Chinese character, “king”.

Thus it was that the king of heaven had a suitable alternative for the Zodiac, and so he replaced the lion with the tiger...the rest is history and the continued stuff of legends .


Tiger in real life

The tiger is the largest of all cats. Like all cats, it cuts a charismatic and enigmatic figure. Sadly, it is also one of the most threatened of species on Earth.


Tiger's role in ecology

As a top predator, the tiger hunts wild ungulates for food thereby maintaining the ecological equilibrium between prey herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed.

The dangers it face:

  • Being hunted to meet demands of a continuing illegal wildlife trade - which includes traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Destruction of its habitat due to large commercial plantations that have replaced a lot of tiger habitat in several tropical range countries.
  • Dwindling food supply due to hunters, traders, and poor local residents whose main means of subsistence comes from the forest.

The tiger lives in pockets of increasingly fragmented forest, stretching from India to south-eastern China and from the Russian Far East to Sumatra, Indonesia.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are currently only a few thousand tigers left in the wild (less than 3,200). To date, three tiger subspecies are already extinct, and a fourth is on its way to extinction.


Tiger trivia

  • A tiger has been reported to cover up to 10 meters in a horizontal leap.
  • It is reported that at 11 months, juveniles are already capable of killing prey.