​Catch a Tiger by Its Toe

I don’t want to catch a tiger.

Not by a toe or any other body part that I can imagine. There are matters associated with violent rage and required hasty departure that need to be established prior to making such a commitment. I have roller coasters I can ride and a teenage son with a driver’s license. I don’t need any more adrenalin in my life.

But what if you were a game warden and got a call to do just that; a huge male mountain lion caught in a small trap by nothing more than his toe?

Maybe there is ancient hidden knowledge in such a seemingly fickle children’s verse.

I have had the opportunity to hold a few lion/tiger toes. As an outfitter, occasionally I have been called upon to move a lion from the ground to the top of a horse. Once or twice I’ve carried one over my shoulders, but never when the engines were still running. They are among the most perfect of God’s creations when it comes to sculpted bone and muscle and there is so much more muscle than bone.

Any child with an amiable house cat has probably had the opportunity to grab a paw and manipulate the pads to watch those retractable hooks forced out of their hideaway. The bundle of tendons, bones, muscles and claw are so interdependent and essential to a cat’s survival that the toe might actually be one of the best ways to control a big lion’s behavior.

To have a “tiger by the tail,” has been handed down through time as one of the least advantageous of life’s hand holds. A lion’s tail is as thick as your wrist, but covered in silky fine hairs that would make it a true challenge to hold on to. You could imagine trying to tie a knot in one, but I doubt you would have the time. It would most likely slowly be slipping from your grip leaving you only a moment to imagine what was going to happen to you as soon as the claws and teeth got turned around.

City living has driven a wedge deeply between subconsciously inherited knowledge of our forefathers on how to deal with large prey animals and the predators that pursue them. Great Grandparents knew that even the largest of horses and bulls could be managed if you had a firm grip on their head or nose. They devised clever rings, halters, and hackamores to aid in their control. Dogs were assigned collars, but cats, for the most part, have gone through the ages without such devices. Even with a collar, cats are seemingly able to turn themselves inside out and ruin your day.

When a local landowner found such a creature in his backyard, caught in a small trap placed to capture a marauding fox, he called the wardens. They could have avoided all risk to themselves by euthanizing it and disposing of the remains. Few would have blamed them for avoiding the risk. But officers Josh Thompson and Bill Eastman didn’t get into the business to put down creatures they so admire. The pair of officers devised a plan.

The huge cat was already stretched in one direction by two toes that it was firmly committed to keeping. Since Billy has seniority and children at home, he got to use a catch pole to grab a hind foot and pull in the opposite direction. This left Josh the rare opportunity to slide into the business end and open the trap, kind of like reaching in to remove a bit of tree bark from a running chain saw.

I have rarely heard of a worse idea. No college fraternity ever devised a more devious initiation. Since Josh has been stationed in the hills, this was only his second lion call, with the first requiring him to use a firearm to euthanize a wounded victim of a car collision.

This was his initial meet and greet with a fully functional member of the species; one that he could actually rescue. Too often the job requires an officer to end the life of something beautiful, here was a chance to set one free.

Because of their efforts, the big cat got to walk away intact. The Hills are a little wilder and more beautiful with that knowledge. This small picture offers only a glimpse into their daily business, but it is one I so admire.

Thank you gentlemen for the work you and all wardens do. It is so inspirational and greatly appreciated. Your bravery and ingenuity leave me feeling diminished in comparison. It gives us all the opportunity to imagine ourselves in the same circumstance and realize that most of us are better suited to our offices than yours.

Call me when you catch a bear. 

Columnist: Bob Speirs

Bob Speirs – owner and operator of Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service in Spearfish, South Dakota has been writing award winning articles, stories and poems that entertain and educate hunters for over 15 years. Known for his outstanding whitetail management and hundreds of satisfied customers, Bob’s unique perspectives and insights help to educate and entertain hunters everywhere!

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