In his bestiary’s entry regarding tigers, Leonardo da Vinci describes a bizarre interaction between humans and these mighty beasts:
"This is a native of Hyrcania; it bears some resemblance to the panther from the various spots on its skin; and it is an animal of terrifying speed. When the hunter finds its cubs he carries them off instantly, after placing mirrors at the spot from which he has taken them, and immediately takes to flight upon a swift horse.
The [tiger] when it returns finds the mirrors fixed to the ground and in looking at these it thinks that it sees its own children, until by searching with its paw it discovers the fraud and then following the scent of its cubs pursues the hunter. And as soon as the hunter sees the tigress he abandons one of the cubs, and this she takes and carries back to her lair and instantly sets off again after the hunter, and this is repeated until he gains his boat."
The Hyrcanian subspecies described within has allegedly been hunted to extinction, but one curious aspect of Leonardo’s depiction is that the tiger is not actually killed during the course of the ritual that he outlines. The hunter simply sets up an elaborate system of ruses which allows him to encounter the tiger face to face, then outrun it multiple times. If his intent in this were merely to kill the beast, it would seem possible to do so in a much less ceremonious manner.
This is because the purpose of this endeavor is instead to separate the tiger from its own reflection. While the mother runs off to fetch her young, its image behind the mirror stays behind to watch over those which have already been recovered. This is because, as its stripes unconsciously indicate, the Hyrcanian tiger is actually two beasts in one. It is not enough to split the cat’s monstrous heart with a rifle; even if the immediately visible animal is killed, the jaws of its still-living reflection may yet find their way around the image of its killer’s throat. As a result, it is shrewd for the hunter not to fire until the maximum possible distance has been achieved between the tiger’s halves, lest he never see himself again.
Given this, it is altogether possible that the Hyrcanian tiger is not actually extinct, only half-so. Though only pelts remain of those that once lived on this side of the silvered glass, the reflections they left behind may have continued to breed in a second Hyrcania beyond sight. While such a dichotomy may at first seem to be little more than Renaissance fantasy, it is important to remember that modern science is still actively considering the possibility of cats that are simultaneously dead and alive.