Wildly Successful: Lessons from The Amur Tiger: Be Tenacious


Jim Knox

Introducing Jim Knox, our newest columnist

Measuring up to twelve feet from nose to tail, standing five feet tall on all fours, tipping the scales at up to seven hundred pounds and boasting three-inch long canines, Amur Tigers are as humbling as they are magnificent. I’m grateful to have a firsthand perspective on these apex predators. I have prepared their meals, fed them, cleaned their quarters, observed their behaviors, and assisted veterinary teams with their handling and surgical procedures, including root canals—yes, even tigers get cavities!

Possessing the advantage—the privilege—of providing care for tigers, has given me a fathomless reverence for these primal creatures. It has given voice, texture, and force to their extraordinary adaptations. Their two-inch arched claws shred oak and maple logs. Their dense outer fur shields them from prolonged sub-zero temperatures. Their crowned carnassial teeth easily shear through lamb shanks—bone and all!

The tiger is a creature of contradiction. It is designed to kill large prey almost instantly with unstoppable force. Amur tigers are masterful predators and superbly designed killers, capable of dealing a swift death to any creature within their domain. This is an apex predator with few equals, and yet… it is a failure.

With a kill rate hovering at a meager five percent, tigers survive not solely because of their incredible physical adaptations, but also their enviable behavioral adaptations. Through my work, I’ve come to realize that the tiger in, its entirety, is a creature greater than just its scientific self. It’s greatness extends far beyond its jaws and claws.

Their physical adaptations provide a platform for success in stalking and killing their prey such as Red Deer and Wild Boar, it is the behavioral “inner tiger” which wields the true power. In a word, it is the tiger’s tenacity that gets the job done. Stoked by hunger and fueled by failure, this tenacity pushes the tiger to its absolute physical limits to persevere, hunt after failed hunt, until it scores a life-saving kill.

The tiger requires large hoofed prey, up to one hundred pounds of meat, to refuel and repair a body ravaged by the rigors of the hunt at forty below zero. Between these large successes, the great cats subsist on hares, birds, rodents and carrion to keep them going as a bridge between their large meals.

In the human world, not every achievement is monumental, but the path to every monumental achievement is marked by more modest achievements, which enable us to reach our goals.

Expanding one’s own territory or establishing an entirely new home range is a bold move, yet tigers perch with seeming ease atop this knife edge of risk and reward.  Dismissing the human element of poaching, tigers must still contend with, among harsh and potentially fatal factors, other tigers. Like house cats and dogs, tigers scent mark territorial boundaries to maintain dominion over the food, water, space and shelter resources within their home range.

They will spray hormone-laced blasts of urine to mark any prominent vertical natural landmark such a boulder, tree or rock face. This is a tiger’s equivalent of an olfactory neon flashing sign which reads: “Keep Out! Enter at Your Own Risk!”

With each cat possessing the strength of 17 full-grown humans, they mean it.  Trespassing encroachment on guarded territory and resources can be met with lethal force. If the victor is hungry, the loser may be eaten.

The Amur tiger possesses certain undeniable strengths, and so do we. Specifically, the Amur tiger is equipped with phenomenal raw physical power—the kind of power which enables it to square off against full-grown Eurasian Brown bears. The tiger, capable of covering 50 feet per second, is an explosive ambush predator, which takes the majority of its prey within the first 150 feet of its attack. Its main prey, Red Deer and Wild Boar, are equally fast and can sustain their speed far longer than 150 feet. Such quarry are no pushovers. The Eurasian Wild Boar is a fearsome creature. With a low center of gravity mounted on a seven foot-long, five hundred and fifty-pound frame, it is nature’s bulldozer. Reaching 0-30 mile per hour acceleration in under 1.5 seconds, this bulldozer runs on nitrous oxide. Throw in exceptional hearing, paired five-inch, self-sharpening razor tusks and arguably the planet’s most refined sense of smell, and you’ve got one formidable adversary. 

The tiger has its work cut out for it. It must stealthily stalk or secret itself within striking distance to put its strength into play. It has to put itself into a position to unleash its strength or the hunt is over before it begins. We can do the same, giving ourselves the opportunity to wield the advantages we possess.

By concentrating its strengths well and employing them in concert, the tiger gains an incremental advantage, which is sorely needed if the cat is to survive and prevail against capable prey. A tiger gains knowledge from the harsh lessons failure instills. A missed leap or a goring at the business end of a Wild Boar provide powerful incentives to incorporate alternate tactics.              

Another core strength the tiger harnesses in its pursuit of success is focus. I’m not talking mere concentration here. I’m talking about intense, unwavering focus—the kind of focus which excludes all non-essential factors. The tiger is single-minded in pursuit of its quarry. While failure is no stranger to this predator, it endures. With every stealthy placement of its leathery foot pads, the Amur tiger is relentlessly hunting success every bit as much as it is hunting Red Deer and Wild Boar.

The great cat prepares for the moment it puts its skills to the test. Readying every sense, it targets its prey, locking its gaze and fixating on its objective. Time becomes suspended and then, it happens. In an instant, all of its energy—every sense, strength and skill coalesce in a potent, fluid burst of energy which launches the tiger to victory.

We all face challenges to achievement and the stakes get higher: passing the Bar exam, landing your first job, publishing your manuscript… the list goes on. By applying behavioral biomimicry—emulating animals as models of success, we can achieve  remarkable things. Each one of us has at least one Wild Boar in our sights. With the right game plan we can bring down this daunting quarry. We need look no further than our friend the Amur Tiger to coax it out. To the tiger, failure is not defining. Nurturing the tenacity to succeed five percent of the time after having failed ninety five percent of the time…now that’s defining!

As the Writer and Host for PBS television’s Wild Zoofari, Jim Knox has shared his knowledge of, and passion for wildlife with millions of viewers throughout the U.S., Russia, Thailand, the Middle East and Europe on Animal Planet. Jim has served as an on-camera wildlife expert for The Today Show, The CBS Early Show and Fox News and he has been featured in The New York Times. 

Jim currently serves as the Curator of Education at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo where he directs Education and Wildlife Conservation programs.  Jim is a graduate of Cornell University where he studied Animal Science.  He has studied rhinos, lions and Great White Sharks in South Africa, conducted field research for Alaskan Brown Bears, field conservation for Atlantic Salmon and written nationally for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A TED Speaker, as well as a corporate and keynote presenter, Jim enjoys helping audiences to understand and learn from wildlife and teaching them how to put those lessons into practice in their everyday life.

Jim is the Co-Creator of The Conservation Discovery Corps. He has presented to The Harvard College Conservation Society, lectures for the University of Connecticut, serves as a Science Advisor for The Bruce Museum of Greenwich, and now a columnist for the Greenwich Sentinel.

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