Seeing a tiger in the same shared space, breathing the same air, wrapped in the same boundaries, is unforgettable. There is a slight rustle in the undergrowth, then a sudden heart-stopping epiphany of predatory splendor that may last only a moment—though it feels much longer—and after your eyes and those large hazel orbs have locked into a mutual gaze, nature’s battleship sails on through a sea of shrubbery and trees and is lost in the jungle stillness. You are left alive, unmarked yet forever changed.
That’s what a brief encounter does for you. Words are inadequate to describe a life shared with a tiger, but they can give you a slight hint, an inviting aroma such as you might get when passing by a coffee shop that invites you to linger and buy in to the experience.
When Nikki Tigress was only four years old, she had already lived more than most forty-year-old humans. She had been pampered and loved by her human parents in the wilderness of Montana, a wide-open land with mountains and brisk air reminiscent of her Siberian heritage.
Her young caretakers would drive her into the snow covered mountains, where a bevy of photographers would wait to photograph her as she raced down the slopes. Her image appeared in volumes of magazine covers and articles. She was aware on some level of her celebrity, and loved her work. She did not ask for early retirement—it was forced upon her suddenly by a tragic turn of events.
Luckily for me, the emotions running through me as I write are masked by the anonymity of word processing. You cannot see my face, hear the tides of my breath, or feel the tremor in my hands.
Her human family knew their relationship with Nikki was going to be shorter than they wanted, that a tiger’s life rushed past five times as swiftly, bringing the inevitable parting. Yet they did not even get their twenty years with her. It ended on a strip of asphalt with a screech of tires and the rude splash of bent tin and broken glass. The car—and their time with Nikki—was lost.
Human beings have surrounded themselves with technology that can maim or kill in an instant. When the car stopped, his back was broken and her neck was seriously injured. Their doctor told them they would live, but they would never be the same again. They could not be parents to a four hundred pound tigress.
After a heart-wrenching selection process, they chose Tiger Touch Sanctuary as Nikki’s new forever home. They knew we would give her love and attention. It would not be the same life, but it would be a good life. John and I knew we could not take their place, but we could take their space and earn spots in Nikki’s heart alongside the parents she could never forget.
We transported her in a carrier in the pickup bed of a Dodge Diesel truck from Montana back to our place in Nevada, an eighteen hour drive that could only be described as traumatic for everyone involved. It was necessary to drive all night and not expose our new tiger to the outside world.
Tiger Nikki was so bonded with her previous caretakers that only time could heal such deep wound. Nikki was living proof that animals form a bond with humans the same as humans bond with each other. Humans are among the animal species that can form tight bonds with all others living in Nature. Best to accept that we are animals and one with all of Nature!
Nikki settled comfortably into her new home at Tiger Touch and found her new work rather interesting. She studied all the members that came to visit and would decide who she could shock or scare them into wetting their pants. She was—as she had always been—a celebrity. Her new life was being a tiger queen or ambassador and inventing new and scary tricks. She formed new bonds with John and me. We all loved each other very much. She told us all her fears and revealed to us all her needs. We protected her from her fears and filled her needs. We also did something else—we took upon ourselves the unenviable task that once loomed over her parents. We presided over her passage into that spirit realm where brisk breezes and snowy mountainsides always beckon beneath a never-setting sun.