LITTLE, BROWN £17.99 (448pp) £16.99 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

Tigers in Red Weather, by Ruth Padel

The poet as super-naturalist

The fauna and flora she describes have an aura as if she is in love with them. This is the poet as super-naturalist, always giving more than her best, no-holds-barred, for that elusive flash of the sublime: a pure life force in gold and black stripes.

The tiger is lord, parent, the living shrine, the great animal solitary. Meet one of these gods and Padel feels she can do anything. And she does, admitting that she has had no fitness training as she scrambles up a sheer forest bank, her lungs hammering, and that she is a wimp about water as she paddles a kayak over fierce rapids. Through lush forests in Nepal, Bhutan, Indonesia, she risks leeches, mosquitoes, ticks, a scorpion bite, not to mention pit vipers, elephants, aggressive sloth bears, and the power animal itself.

This is no mere gutsy travelogue, but a poet's attempt to do what the scientist does: "saying precisely what and how you saw". What she saw was the tiger in the throes of extinction. How she saw was with her heart and soul. What is utterly compelling about this book is her dedication, her determination to transmit precisely how the last tigers in the wild feel and look like to a human being.

Here is her encounter with one in Sumatra: "A twig snapped. On the trail we could not see there was a presence. The jungle was differently still, as if holding its own breath. Something was listening to us breathe, watching us listen.

In soft earth, over the imprint of my Tunisian trainer, was laid, like a love-token, a very large, deep, fresh pugmark." Elsewhere, the equally endangered rainforest is under scrutiny. An epiphyte clings to a branch like a muezzin platform on a minaret. Rays pierce the canopy like eerie fireworks from stained-glass windows. Her prose is image-rich as her verse: a river surface swarms with apricot triangles, sunrise is an orange eye in blue- veined cloud, the sea is dark peacock, and trees are flying-buttressed, crocodile barked, the Naked Maid of the Forest a shining ginger-pink ghost. "Cutting this would be like blowing up Notre Dame," she concludes.

Padel also immerses herself in the heart-breaking world of the tigers' defenders, for whom conservation is the oncology of biology: dedicated guardians battling against corruption and the rampant illegal trade in tiger products.

A tigerskin fetches £5,500. Tiger bones are smuggled to China on a vast scale for use as analgesics in traditional medicine. Tiger penises turn up in whisky and soup. Even their whiskers make desirable toothpicks.

These are the bleak eco-facts - this book is packed with them - and then there are the myths. She discovers local tribesmen who claim to be were-tigers, and a shaman who calls up a spirit-tiger to help her save its earthly forms. There are tiger-riding goddesses, and Jaga, the most terrifying tiger of all, who flies like a bird and swims like a fish. Typically vulnerable, Padel adds her own dreams from forest camps.

Tigers in Red Weather is a brave, committed, poet's-eye view of one of our most popular and elusive animals in its shrinking habitat. "I felt I'd taken a major sacrament and would never be the same again," Padel exclaims, as she is released from a tiger's gaze.

Pascale Petit's new books of poetry are 'The Huntress' (Seren) and 'The Wounded Deer' (Smith/Doorstop)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam