As the human populations in Asia continue
to rise, so the islands in which the last remaining tigers
try to survive, come under more and more pressure.
A young male tiger, at the age of
dispersal, searches for a territory in which to establish
himself. Sooner or later he encounters domestic stock at the
edge or even in the park.
Slow moving goats, cattle or sheep are
much easier prey than the fleetfooted indigenous prey.
Herdsmen retaliate with guns, traps or
poison. When it comes to conflict between humans and
tigers, tigers will always be the loser.
Under this scenario a young male may
choose not to disperse. If he mates with his sisters or his
mother, an inbred population develops.
At Tiger Canyons, a unique experiment has
been going on for some time.
The experiment involves the introduction
of tiger cubs born in captivity into a litter of tiger cubs
born from a wild tigress.
Unknowingly, the wild tigress is raising the
introduced cub, so the genetic diversity of the tigers in the
besieged park is strengthened.
On the 27th of November 2006, Julie gave
birth to three male cubs at Tiger Canyons. I immediately set
about searching for a tiger cub of a similar age but was
unable to find anything. I did however find a lion cub of
similar age at Ingrid Swart's Boskoppies Game Reserve.
If I could introduce a lion cub into a
tiger litter I would surely be able to introduce tiger cubs.
I agonized over the decision. If Julie
could tell the difference she may kill the cub immediately.
If I introduced a fourth cub there would be added
complementation for milk which could endanger all the cubs.
Would she know the difference between 3
and 4 cubs? My experience with leopard is that they can't
The scent of the lion cub would
undoubtedly be different. How important would this be? Would
it cost the lion cub her life!
I was not that worried about colour. Lion
and tiger cubs are similar in colour except that tiger cubs
have stripes whereas the lion cub has spots on the top of
the head. Tigers have been known to raise white and normal
cubs in the same litter.
I decided finally to remove one tiger cub
and substitute the lion cub. This would keep the number of
cubs the same - at three.
The introduction went smoothly. The lion
cub, a female, was actually slightly larger than the tiger
cubs. This was good because it meant she could compete for
milk with the tigers.
I hoped that I could go straight from the
lioness to Julie with the cub. I didn't want to bottle-feed
the lion cub as this would create more foreign scent for the
Although temperature reached 42°C and we
had a five- hour journey, the lion cub traveled beautifully
without any bottle feeding.
The moment of truth had arrived. I
introduced the lion cub into the litter while Julie was away
feeding, and I removed one tiger cub. I rubbed the lion and
tiger cubs together and used any urine, dung that I could
find in the den to rub onto the lion cub.
My relationship with Julie is such that I
can sit in the den with cubs with no fear of aggression from
Julie. This is a rare and unique privilege.
With me I had a Canon digital still camera
and Sony DV high definition movie camera.
After half an hour Julie returned to the den.
Her reaction was dramatic.
She singled out the lion cub immediately
and began to hiss aggressively at the lion cub with open
At this point I was of the opinion I had
made a terrible mistake and the lion cub would soon be dead.
I considered trying to remove the lion cub
but thought Julie may redirect her aggression onto me. I
waited and recorded the drama on film.
Although Julie's jaws were wide open, the
lion cub did not back down. In fact the lion cub pushed her
face up against the snarling tiger.
I greatly admired the lion cub's courage.
Then Julie cuffed it with her paw. My heart sank. How do I
get this courageous lion cub out of danger?
At this point the lion cub moved away from
the den. Julie went after it. This is the moment she kills
the cub, I thought.
Gently Julie guided the lion cub to the
den. Then she lay down and began licking the lion cub.
The lion cub began to search for the
teat as Julie encouraged her to suckle, but the cub was unable
to find it.
By now it was almost dark in then den,
I felt drained but elated at what had transpired. I had
watched events unfold from just 6 feet away from Julie and
her cubs and she had not shown any hint of aggression towards
At first light the next morning I was back
in the den. All three cubs were suckling and I filmed Julie
licking and grooming the cub like her own. She had fully
accepted the lion cub.
During the next 3 days I spent several hours
in Julie's den observing her and the cubs.
One morning she decided to leave the den
and transfer the cubs to a new den site. As she left the den
with one tiger cub in her mouth, the remaining tiger cub got
caught in a thorn bush and began to give a distress call.
Calmly she deposited the cub in her mouth
into my lap as if to say "hold this while I fetch the second
It was a incredible act of faith and
trust. Certainly one of the most magical moments I have ever
experienced with a big cat.
One of the things I believe Asian
conservationists can do, is to set up captive breeding programmes
alongside their parks.
From these breeding programmes, they can do
cub translocations into wild litters.
They will have to immobilize the tiger
mother during the operation but it is entirely possible to
strengthen diversity and numbers of cubs in wild litters.
Love, Light and Peace