Investigating tiger crime: reality vs fiction

Posted on Mar 21, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

Debbie Martyr of FFI musing on the tangled web of detection  in Kerinci….

It’s an odd fact, that, within about five minutes of guests walking into my house, they will invariably migrate to the book shelves to cast a critical eye over my  ‘library.’  

There are, of course, the core reading matter, a (still) unsigned copy of Ecology of Sumatra by T.Whitten et al, a copy of Riding the Tiger (signed by some of the authors)  which is a bit dog-eared after being attacked by a leopard cat, Mammals of Thailand (Lekagul & McNeely), which has a broken spine after it fell off the book shelf during a spot of tectonic wotsits and Osteology of the Bengal Tiger  (a much more interesting read than you might think.) These latter items are annotated a little. 

Birds of Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan (Mackinnon and Phillips)  on the other hand has been annotated, heavily and on occasion, I regret to say,  obscenely,  by visitors;   the rudest annotations seeming to relate to birds allegedly easy to see, probably because they aren’t. Well, not anymore. 

And then, there are the ‘detective’  thrillers, lots and lots of detective thrillers. Some of these have been annotated, by the librarian. Some show evidence of having been  attacked with sharp implements or thrown at walls with great force. 

These books generally tend to follow a formula, a (shocking) crime occurs and it is reported or discovered (often by a little old lady walking her dog).  Somebody goes off and investigates the crime, there are a few false leads, bits of violence and, depending upon the author and the hero/heroine, some close encounters involving horizontal athletics. Often the hero or heroine has access to a laboratory and sometimes even a doctoral degree in something difficult to spell. They have lots of problems but their cars never break down and they never run out of credit on their cell phone at a critical moment.  Kerinci Seblat law enforcement dealer arrested

Finally, sometime around the second chapter from last, a key discovery is made (often by the heroine with a doctoral degree and/or well equipped lab)  and the baddie is arrested/shot dead/knighted or becomes next President of Libya and the book comes to an end.  

I buy these books because I Iike to imagine that one day investigations and responses to tiger crime or conflict in Sumatra will be like this (not the crime  or stuff between Detective Inspector Sarky and Dr Highiqueue) but the way everything falls into place so terribly neatly in approximately 425 paperback (small) pages. I then throw the book at the nearest large wall because it all sounds so frightfully easy but isn’t. Not here, anyway. 

And I wonder how these super detective types might cope with a report sent to the team by an informant regarding a blue Panther car allegedly seen, yesterday, transporting a tiger skin . 

My own suspicion is that they too would also end up smoking two packs a day like some of my colleagues if they had to cope with local dialects where kemarin might mean ‘yesterday’  but could also mean a couple of months back while biru can mean blue…but could also mean green (hijau)….while hijau could equally well mean blue. Maybe. Then you get to look up  Harimau. Or Macan…….a Harimau is a Tiger….the dictionary then tells you (swallowing audibly if it is on line) that Macan also means Tiger.   

Then you remember that there are definitely six and possibly seven wild felids native to Sumatra,  Sumatran tigers and Sumatran clouded leopards, Golden cats and Marbled cats,  Flat-headed cats and Leopard cats and, yes, you guessed it…these are all called Harimau or Macan. 

This can mean that at the point in the book where hero and sidekick are speeding to house where they reckon the bad guy is holed up for final show-down  our team are still trying to ascertain when all this happened (Yesterday? Last month? Last year) and  what kind of tiger it might have been (Big Tiger? Medium Tiger? Little Tiger? Striped Tiger? Spotted Tiger?  Plain tiger (golden cat tiger) Ummmm baby (Tapir) tiger?). Not to mention what was the real colour and make of the damned car that allegedly picked up the Macan (whatever species it was) because we all know there are no green Panthers (or Pink ones for that matter. Not in Sumatra). 

Then an informant whispers the name of the person who might just be the person who drove the car that can’t have been blue even though the informant insists it was green which should mean it was blue but obviously doesn’t and which was allegedly carrying the harimau.…And of course  he says the driver was a Kerincinese. 

This means that the driver’s name could have been his real name – the one he was given by his parents…or it could have been his wife’s name if he was newly married – or it could be the name of his first child. That assumes he has not married twice in two different villages….in which case it could be his second wife’s first name or his first child’s name or even his second child’s name from the second marriage. If he was indeed from Kerinci in Jambi.  Could have been from Kerinci in Riau I suppose. Or assuming  the Panther was actually a Panther and not the new Kijang which can be blue or green. But not pink so that’s something innit. 

And, yet, in the end, the team can and does respond and they do find out the real colour of the car (usually not quite as reported) and the model (again not usually quite as expected) and who the driver was and where he was from and what was in the car and where it came from and where it was going and, sooner or later, not in 415 pages but sooner or later another tiger poacher or wildlife dealer goes ‘Oooops. Rats.  Free bed and breakfast in Hotel Indonesia for two years.’

Hmmm, sounds almost like the plot for a good detective thriller.

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