In 2001, Nigel Marven, the courageous naturalist, traveled far and wide in his ‘Big Cat Adventure’ program to research the big cats. They are classified as big cats because they can roar. They can also frighten the life out of you!
The big cats are the leopard, snow leopard, jaguar, lion and tiger. They are five out of the 38 sub species of cats. Nigel tracked down the leopards and tigers and even walked unarmed towards a pride of hungry lions to prove the power of a self-confident human.
Nigel stated his mission clearly:
“In my most daring adventure so far I’ll confront the world biggest cats to see just how I measure up.”
The program started with Nigel playing with some three month old Siberian tigers. He likes to play and have fun with the animals that he studies. He really enjoys being with them. A key success skill is to try to have fun in everything you do.
Nigel is never content with a distant look at the animals he loves to study:
“I want to get close to lions to see just how magnificent they are. There are five giant cats in the world. A cheetah isn’t one of them since they can purr when they breathe in and when they breathe out. The big cats can only purr when they breathe out but they can roar.”
He first visited leopard country in Africa. Leopards are brilliant climbers and even go up trees to look for prey. They can also drag heavy prey into the trees to keep the meat away from other predators like hyenas.
The males are as heavy as Nigel – about 200 pounds – and can measure nine feet from head to tail. Nigel soon saw a ‘stunningly beautiful’ leopardess and later a male leopard which was much bigger and more powerful.
The leopard was followed by an amorous female which did the chasing. However, the male tried to control the act of mating by biting the fold of flesh and fur on her neck.
She let him know that she found this uncomfortable but over the next day or so he would probably mate with her about one hundred times to make sure they have children.
The elusive snow leopard which lives high in the mountains of central Asia was seen in a zoo in France by Nigel. As man of high standards, Nigel regarded this as cheating. Some scientists don’t accept the snow leopard as a big cat because it has never been known to roar.
The jaguar looks like a leopard with larger circles on its fur but it is the third largest cat and can be found in central and southern America. Jaguars love the water and will fish for anything including caymen and even big anancondas.
The second largest cat is the lion. Lions grow to four times the size of the spotted cats. Nigel went to a reserve near Kruger National park to see if he could scare off a pride of lions. Jerry, a game warden, needed to dart a big lioness to change her radio collar.
They went out at night. Jerry played a tape of buffalo calls to attract the lioness and a dead zebra was laid out to keep the pride occupied.
They soon turned up and Jerry quickly darted the lioness that he was after. A darted lion may be attacked by the rest of the pride so they need to be scared away.
Guess who had volunteered for the job although he had second thoughts when he noticed a male lion which reminded him of the lions which had terrorised railway workers in East Africa.
About 140 workers were killed in just nine months by two males just like the one in this pride. However, Nigel believed the following:
“If you approach wild lions confidently enough, they shouldn’t attack a standing person. This is the time to test the theory. My heart is in my mouth. This is a pride of adult lions.”
Nigel approached with nothing but a torch in his hand. His ‘heart and every internal organ’ was in his mouth. The pride ran off except for a male which kept watching from a distance.
The darted lioness weighed nearly 400 pounds – more than two of Nigel. He got close to her and compared his size with hers.
He next stood around in a group of young male lions who were looking at him with suspicion. He was so close to them that he was whacked by a lion’s tail but he was still not content with this heart thumping experience.
He wanted to get close to a conscious and fully grown lion. He did so with the assistance of a local, Kevin Richardson, who seemed on friendly terms with an adult male called Napoleon. Nigel reached out his right arm to stroke the lion’s head. The lion growled and Nigel commented with his usual understatement:
“I’m a bit frightened by this!”
He was more successful, for a time, when he patted the lion on its back.
Kevin told him to watch out for the lion’s paws. “Their paws are so quick”
“Their claws are like meat hooks”, said Nigel
At one point, the lion stuck his dew claw in Nigel’s leg and was biting him. Napoleon did not seem too fond of Nigel but Kevin rescued him and showed him how tall the lion was by holding up a pole with some meat attached for the lion to reach up to. They can be 7 feet long with a 3 foot tail and weigh a quarter of a ton.
But the second biggest cat of all is the Bengal tiger which can be found in India. Nigel looked forward to meeting one:
“For me it is like meeting royalty. The tiger must be the most majestic and charismatic of all the predators.”
Nigel traveled to the center of India, to the area that gave Rudyard Kipling the inspiration for The Jungle book. The Disney cartoon musical impressed Nigel as a boy:
“That cartoon with those memorable songs inspired me too. I really wanted to be Mowgli. All the animal characters are here. Singing vultures were Mowgli’s friends… the langar monkey is still king of the swingers… remember Kaa the python and those hypnotic eyes… Baloo was a sloth bear… and here’s Colonel Hathi the elephant … spotted deer are a favourite prey of the jungle’s top predator – that’s what I am after – Shere Khan, the Bengal Tiger.”
Nigel, unusually, opted for a safe approach to Shere Khan. He was ten feet off the ground on an elephant. However, tigers have been known to attack both humans and elephants.
At one point he was so excited to see a rat snake that he jumped off the elephant, even though tigers had recently been seen in the area, to examine it more closely. Excitement, like several powerful emotions, can cancel out fear.
Soon after that, he and Vishnu, the mahout or elephant driver, spotted a Bengal tiger cub which was about ten months old:
“The way they move; they just glide. He’s going to join his brother or sister. Tigers are superlative hunters. Even cubs of this age spend most of their time pouncing and stalking.
“Their mother won’t be far. She will stay with them for two years or so. They catch their own prey at about one and a half years old. There are only about six thousand tigers left in the world and half of those are found in India.”
They then spotted the tigress mother of the cubs. She had killed a deer.
“She looks big but Shere Khan will be one and a half times her size.”
She fed her two cubs and then moved off with them into the tall grass
They then fed the elephant with some dates and he and several other elephants had a bath. Nigel bathed with them, as you would expect, and even dived into the water off the back of one of them. Typically, he had fun.
On the last day of his visit to India, Nigel made an offering to the local gods to see a male Bengal tiger. His prayers were answered.
They set out early and soon heard roaring in the distance. Male tigers roar more than the females. The jungle was full of alarm calls as animals warned each other of the approach of Shere Khan.
Then they spotted a male Bengal but could not get a close look. However, the elephant followed him and eventually they had a good view:
“At last I am just a few feet away from a big male Bengal tiger. He probably weighs 500 pounds. That’s two and a half of me. He’s about ten years old. They can get to about fifteen years old in the wild.
“What a powerful animal. This is Shere Khan. This is what we’ve been trying to see. A male Bengal tiger looks huge but there is another rare and very elusive sub species that grows even bigger and that is what I want to see next and you will not believe the difference in their environments.”
Nigel then moved to Russia to see the biggest cat of all – the Siberian tiger. Unlike the Bengal Tiger, the Siberian Tiger rarely attacks humans but it has sometimes been known to kill and eat black bears and even brown bears.
Nigel came first to Moscow and then flew east to Vladivostok. It was so cold that when he threw boiling water into the air it froze in mid air
He headed north to a reserve by the sea of Japan. This reserve covers 1500 square miles. There were about thirty Siberian tigers somewhere in there. To find one Nigel would need experts with high tech radio tracking gear.
They picked up a signal from the tigress but did not get close enough to see it. They did, however, smell a tiger’s urine on a tree:
“As piddle goes it smells quite nice!” commented Nigel who sees the positives in every situation.
While they were tracking it a male tiger had killed a dog in a local town. It was now classified as a conflict tiger and would be shot unless it could be chased away into the heart of the reserve.
They soon spotted it from a helicopter:
“There he is! He’s just ahead of us. If we go in low, the helicopter should scare him away. He is so magnificent Even from up here he looks like a giant. This is the Siberian tiger in its natural habitat. That is a magnificent animal.”
Nigel still wanted to see a tiger from the ground. He was given permission to look for tigers on a smaller reserve and set out. His search was successful and he came across a male and a female eating a deer in the snow:
“I can hear them licking the carcase. They grab their prey by the throat and throttle them. It’s minus thirty degrees but I don’t feel cold at all when you see things like this. This is such a magnificent sight and it is a rare sight.
“There are about three or four hundred Siberian tigers but they are still poached. I cannot believe how any one could shoot creatures as magnificent as this.
“They have eaten quite a lot of that deer now and I am worried that they are going to start paying attention to me. So I am going to leave them to finish their meal. But this is something I am never going to forget.
“Mission accomplished. I’ve seen all five big cats, travelled thousands of miles and used up several of my nine lives to look straight into the eyes of the world’s most glorious predators.”
There are several survival and success lessons that can be learned from Nigel and the animals he studies.
You achieve more when you are having fun. Nigel always makes time to play with the animals he studies.
Nigel always wants more. He chased a female leopard for quite a way but was not content. He wanted to see a male leopard. Wanting more success leads to more success. Most of us are too easily satisfied with pennies when we could have pounds.
The leopard, himself, provided a great example of thoroughly sowing the seed and then allowing nature to work. Too many of us sow a few seeds or take just a few steps towards our goals and then get in our own way by looking for results before they are ready to arrive.
Nigel demonstrated the power of confidence to intimidate even a pride of lions who are in the middle of their meal. Confidence can achieve miracles. Who would have believed that one rather worried looking man could put a group of lions to flight? We all need to believe in our own power much more than we do.
Use excitement or any strong emotion to cancel out fear. If you are attacked, allow your anger to clear your mind of fear and help you to fight back.
We should let our childhood passions motivate us just as ‘The Jungle Book’ motivated Nigel to seek out Shere Khan.
Prayer worked in the search for Shere Khan. Prayer is often underestimated and it often fails to work perhaps because people pray half heartedly and with only a faint hope of receiving an answer. We need to pray with an attitude of excited anticipation. We need to expect results.
One success leads to another success and each success increases your powers. Nigel went from confronting big cats in 2001 to confronting big alligators in 2002. He actually stuck his head in an alligator’s mouth in 2002.
Success usually involves doing what you plan to do whatever else happens. Nigel seems to do this every time. His determination to follow his plans also attracts the assistance of others. He never stops half way and will travel miles to achieve his goals. With him, it is always: “Mission accomplished.”
Many people are unwilling to put in the hard work necessary to learn more. Nigel, on the other hand is willing to put in the sweat equity needed to learn all he can about the animals he studies. His huge enthusiasm for nature gives him the energy to study and become a top student of animal behaviour.
In the UK thousands of would be drivers are paying other people to take their driving tests for them. They then go out driving without having learned how. They are nine times more likely to kill themselves and others than those who have taken the time and trouble to learn how to drive. Learning anything worthwhile involves some kind of sweat.
A cat has just sauntered past my window. Fortunately, it is not one of the big cats!