‘Tiger Island’ is a BBC documentary that follows the investigation by tiger expert, Dr.Alan Rabinowitz, into a project run by a business millionaire who is releasing tigers into his privately owned nature reserve in Sumatra. The tigers are man eaters and a village lies at the edge of the nature reserve.
The tigers are ‘rehabilitated’ before they are released and are kept in cages and fed small live pigs. The tiger expert and the millionaire tour the cages. What struck me was how wild and aggressive the tigers are. When a person is the other side of the wire mesh, they growl, snarl and lash out, their bodies seem to be constantly moving, their tales are moving, they show their teeth and lay down their ears. They are lissom, athletic and like a coiled spring.
This is what the tiger expert had to say. “This is the natural energy of the tiger in the wild. When you go to a zoo and you see tigers which are calm, and they are sleeping, and they don’t growl at the people, those are pretty much broken spirited tigers.”
>>Here is a link to a clip on BBC Natural World.
Seeing these tigers made me think of Chinese paintings. I can see now that these art works are not so stylized as I thought. They include the snarls, wide eyes, aggression and moving stripes and muscles of the wild tiger. The brushmarks and treatment express the movement of the animals, they are alive and writhing with energy. Their fur and stripes and underling muscles are painted to show that they are quivering, like the Sumatran tigers in the film. This in comparison to the tigers I have seen in zoos who are dozing and pay no attention to onlookers. And sometimes, images of the handsome tiger, photographed or painted for a poster, mug or t-shirt, seem to be portraits of those with a ‘broken spirit’.
Paintings from the Edo Period, in the collections of The British Museum and Etsuko and Price Collection.