Why, in Life of Pi, did the crew of the ship rescue orangutans and tigers first rather than the traditional women and children first?

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The answer is almost certainly that in reality, the animals were never rescued. The story about sharing the lifeboat with an assortment of animals was a fantasy that Pi indulged in to preserve his sanity after going through a horrible experience. As he admitted to the Japanese investigators at the very end of the book, he had actually shared the lifeboat with other human beings, including his own mother, and had witnessed ghastly scenes of murder and cannibalism. This sordid reality is something that both he and the Japanese investigators prefer to avoid thinking about, and so the investigators place a seal of official approval on his desperate work of fiction.

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