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Newsletter 31

Runti's Journey

The behavior of Runti the tiger cub continues to amaze me.
The smallest of a litter of five born to Tigress Julie on the 2nd of November 2009 at Tiger Canyons, Runti although half the size of her siblings, has managed to survive 10 weeks.
Emotions have run high across the world with many people requesting that I pull her out and hand raise her.
Runti's problem was further exacerbated, when her mother Julie was in a brutal fight with Tigress Shadow.
Crippled and on three legs, there was no ways that Julie could hunt. If I was not there to help Julie, Runti and the other four cubs, would have starved to death.
However I have treated Julie wounds and am helping her with food until she is back to full strength.
My decision was to leave Runti in the litter but to help her whenever possible.
On the 19th of January an extraordinary event occurred. On visiting the den site I found Julie in the river bed with Runti. The other cubs were hiding in caves and crevices nearby.
I went down into the river bed to greet Julie and to inspect her wounds. After a nice greeting Julie limped off to go and mark my jeep as she is accustomed to do.
This left me in the river bed with Runti. I crawled towards her chuffing softly. It was raining hard and Runti looked like a drowned rat, not at all like a tiger cub. I noticed that her ribs and pelvic bone stuck through her wet skin.

Under my jacket I had concealed a dead hare. I removed the hare, opened the belly and placed it on a rock. I chuffed a few times and then withdrew to see what Runti would do. Runti immediately approached the hare and began to feed off the hare.

I motioned to cameraman James Boon and wild life photographer Daryl Balfour to join me. What was to follow, was truly extraordinary.

Julie returned and picked up the hare and came right towards me and began to feed on the hare. Runti followed close by and tried to pull the hare out of Julie's mouth. Soon the head of the hare separated and Runti had her own little kill. This was all three feet from where I was sitting.
Runti oblivious of the camera next to her, was intent on getting as much meat as quickly as possible.

The rain continued to pour down and at one point Runti began to shiver. I took my bandana and tried as best I could to dry the shivering cub. Runti enjoyed her massage and then Julie look over, her rough tongue infinitely more efficient than my bandana.

All the while James Boon was filming under a raincoat with a  Sony High Definition camera, while Daryl Balfour with a plastic bag over his Nikon was shooting stills. I rolled a Sony EX1 and talked softly into the camera giving a commentary.
During this time Julie showed not a hint of aggression and  Runti fed as fast and furiously as she could.
At this point it occurred to me that perhaps Runti would take some fortified milk from a bottle. Daryl returned to camp to fetch the milk.


Incredibly Runti look the bottle immediately and Julie let off a series of staccato chuffs. I've heard it before, its a tiger "thank you".
While Runti drank the milk, Julie groomed her, James filmed, Daryl photographed, the rain poured down, and time stood still at Tiger Canyons.
We left Julie and the drenched cub and returned to camp. During the night several violent storms dropped tons of water on Tiger Canyons. At first light we returned to the den. Julie was lying in the river bed. As I approached, I noticed that Julie didn't give me the normal greeting. I presumed it was due to the fight and that she was stiff and sore.
I syringed her wounds with antiseptic. After a while Julie got up and hobbled over to Runti lying in the reeds, she chuffed the cub but there was no response. Runti had died during the night. 
Julie gently picked up the cub and brought it to me. I took the cub and first thing that struck me  was how light she was. There was no body fat on her, she was literally skin and bones.

It became obvious to me that during the rain storm Runti should have been in the caves, safe and dry with the other cubs, instead she chose to stay in the rain feeding off the hare.

During the wet cold night her weakened body couldn't cope and she died of exposure or perhaps even pneumonia.



Later Julie carried the cub, talked to it, groomed and then disposed of the body by eating parts of it. Then she covered it with grass.


Years ago I witnessed a similar burial when the Mother Leopard at Londolozi ate her dead cub and buried the remains in the sand.

There was a grieving period and then disposal of the body, which is exactly what humans do.
I have no doubt that even if I had hand raised Runti, it would have been to no avail. Nature had given her a poor physical start from the beginning. Some years ago I had filmed a lion cub out of a litter of four. This cub displayed the same symptoms as Runti. She failed to put on weight like her siblings and walked in a similar hunched style to Runti. Like Runti the lion cub didn't survive.
Another possible scenario is when Savannah first greeted Julie and the cubs soon after their birth, that Savannah accidentally sat on Runti, causing internal damage.
For the scientifically minded these are some of the following things Runti did to try and survive. She would leave the den on her own and go to old kills and pick the bones. Runti once left the den and moved a hundred metres to a water hole to hydrate herself. Runti licked the rain off Julie's back in an effort to combat dehydration. She sought assistance from her father Seatao, from Savannah and from myself. None of us were able to help her.


Runti would wait for the stronger cubs to suckle and when they were full she would then suckle from Julie. She was never denied access to food, the fault lay in her physical body.

When Runti took the meat and milk it was one of the greatest days of my life. Then, the following day, it all came crashing down! Such is the ebb and flow of life at Tiger Canyons, success and failure closely related.
To keep things in perspective while Runti was fighting for her life 200,000 people have estimated killed and 2 million left homeless on the Island of Haiti. 
One can say that the loss of a tiger cub is nothing in the greater scheme of things. However the loss of even one wild tiger is a loss to a species fighting for survival in the wilds.
Julie has four healthy cubs to raise. The white cub is a female, it is very strong even dominant over the other cubs.
Julie herself is badly injured it will take 4 to 6 weeks or her to return to normal.
On the same day  that Runti died, I acquired another 2000 hectares for tigers.
The cycle of life continues.
Tread Lightly on the earth

Bev Wood
It's all fine and well to preach from your armchairs - I don't see any of you out there assisting JV in the cold, rain, hail or extreme heat! I have been privileged enough to participate in a 'tiger walk' with Julies' previous litter, Zaria, Shine and Sunda. It is probably the most unforgettable experience of my life - in fact, we will be back at ... See MoreTiger Canyons in 3 weeks time for a re-run, before the cubs are too big to interact with us mere humans. JV is probably more committed to his felines than to any other thing in his life. If you have never met him and witnessed his passion for these animals, then stop mouthing off about something you will never understand. I have seen a glimpse, and will always admire the awareness he has helped create around conservation in our country. Leave him alone so he can get on with doing what he does best. What a bunch of self-righteous cretins!
Tim Claire Claire Neary
Bev, well done for your comments. Constructive critism is always good. Conservation projects are never easy and nobody ever garrenteed a fairytale ourcome, but you all thought it was super to "savethe tiger" and here i speak from experiance. It irks me no end when people adopt the atitude of chirping from the sidelines and te question i pose is as follows.

Are you funders?
Are you biologists . naturalist conservationists?
Do you want a strong gene pool into the future.... See More
Are you raising funds for reserach and to buy land to be donated for habit that in the future contains a holistic biodiversity?
Are you actively involved in a wildlife project / have experiance in the field?

JV did not play god in the least, that is left to the highest spiritual power,but then i am sure you will also all howl about the captive lion industry, the issues with elephant overpopulation and i wonder how much thought you give to jackal and caracul poisoned and killed in Gin Traps and i am sure you vegeterians will be saying, "but we dont eat meat", well porcupines are under threat because of "threats" to crops and tortoises and reptiles under threat as you want to see wildlife and the associated electric game fences kill those too. If only we had a perfect world......and i do hope you have all put a quota on the number of children you bring into the world as pretty soon "standing room only" as the wildlife is eradicated to keep you in a lifestyle you wish to lead

Alexis Helms

"One can say that the loss of a tiger cub is nothing in the greater scheme of things. However the loss of even one wild tiger is a loss to a species fighting for survival in the wilds."
There were more options available than the one taken. A tiger conservationist allowed, filmed, discussed, and publicized the starvation of a tiger cub.

Tim Claire Claire Neary

Elbrus, regretfully it is the case or the strongest surviving in nature and by his very interferance in his own species man has screwed that up and look at the results to the planet, fauna and flora. Most likely the tigers should not be here in the first place and yet if you subscribe to continental drift and the look at the fossils then just maybe... See More they were here millions of years ago. But the reality is in China, India and other natural habitats the tigers have been either taken to extinction of the bring of extinction by the pressures of man and that includes hunting, conflict in agriculture and the pressure of man competing forthe habitat. One thing is for sure and that is i doubt that in other countries man we would have access to a project like this and also for my money JV is a braver man than me allowing the public to participate and gain any insite into the work. Not something i would be prepared to do
Daryl Balfour
How dare you say or imply that JV did nothing or did not care! You who sit on your arses and criticise. I am here at Tiger Canyon photographing and have been for a while. I have seen JV's efforts and anguish and the pure love he has for these tigers. Note that this is a tiger conservation project run and funded by one person, JV. No outside funding... See More. No big grants or donors. No money from Project Tiger, WWF or anywhere else. Get a life people - this man is trying single handedly to do what the Chinese, Indian and other Asian governments have failed in. And the 4 tigers he began with now number 16 - a 400 percent increase. Everywhere else in the wild they are in decline. Pui - phooey!


Tertia Smit
I agree with Daryl - it is easy for people to critisize from a distance and in the comfort of their armchairs.I have followed John's conservation efforts in SA for many years in numerous different projects and have been to Tiger Canyon and have seen what he is doing under very difficult circumstances and I fully support your efforts in doing the ... See Morebest you can . I still believe that Runti's short life and his death is going to touch many hearts and ultimately further the cause of the tigers in the wild


Melodie Kingma
I actually do not understand - why did the 'conservationists' wait so long to feed Runti???? They basically watched her deteriorate to such a degree that eventually a good meal killed her???? It was noticed weeks back that she was not feeding as well as the others.......... so what is the sense of what JV did?? INFURIATING!!!!!!!!!! To say the least.
Poor little soul tortured to death...... Flipping hell makes me soooo cross


Siva Baskaran
Process Director
Global Audit & Transformation - Bangalore, India
Itís unfortunate to see Runtiís death. I can understand how you would have felt seeing the whole thing happening in front of your eyes. (I have a Labrador at my home and I will spend sleepless night if he does not eat for a day).  As you have rightly mentioned, every tiger is very very very important. Letís hope the remaining cubs do well. Happy to note you got additional 2000 hectares more for these beautiful beasts I had the opportunity to be part of the tiger census in India (22nd Jan to 24th) as a volunteer. Things look promising, keeping my fingers crossed to see the final results which will be out towards the end of this year. There is so much attention, concern, willingness to help from the wild life enthusiasts from the whole world, I think, though the king of the Asian jungle are at the brink, they are capable of making a great come back given their ability to adapt and cope up with challenges posed by human, natural calamities, prey, forest cover etc.  I just saw today in the local news paper that a tiger has travelled around 250 KM to establish his own territory Ė unbelievable. Such is their ability.

Des Havenga
This is truely very bad news about Runti but if you people intervened from
the start this beautiful innocent creature would not have died I hope this
will give you something to think about maybe the next litter you will be
more co-operative what a shame.

Annelie Grundling
Thanks for sharing your extrodinary experience. It had me in tears! You definitely do what Ghandi meant when he said: "BE the change you want to see in the world!" 
Keep on doing you good work with these special animals, happy for the extra land you got! 

Shari Martens
I thought in a sanctuary, ALL LIFE WAS PRECIOUS, she should have been saved. ALL tigers are precious!!! I'm seriously pissed about this. Totally wrong that this cub died, not her fault that there were 4 nipples and 5 cubs... she should have been saved.
David Miles
RIP Runti - I hope that one day the "conservationists" understand how they betrayed you and your kind
Elana Kirshenbaum Dembo
Such sad news. I don't understand the decision making in this process. Why was this cub left for 'nature' to take its course when Tiger Canyon's very existence defies 'nature' anyway? And what's so great about nature anyway?
Cheryl Baggaley
You could have saved the tiger cub. Not happy with this, would u have stepped in if the cub was White...I am sure u would have!!!


Tim Claire Claire Neary
I am not involved in this project but take a step back and read your comments. It is sad that the moment the process does not go the way you want it to or believe it should then you withdraw support. Pesonally if this is a conservation experiment, and yes i say experiment as nobody knows the end result or answer, then you should take a view far ... See Morebeyong this occasion. I would also say that regardless of your comments and support the project will continue to establish the conservation viability of rewilding the cats and of establishing a viable breeding group of "wild" tigers that could support a catastrophic crash in a population. Any project such as this will attract scrutiny once it is in the public domain and as such there will be organisations and interested parties who will be watching and learning from the descisions taken.......most likely too wary to do this themselves but ready to accept the knowledge gained. As a naturalist conservationist an broadcaster it is great to read the negative comments and they are needed.......as are the comments that justify a descision taken, be it right or wrong for that moment. Walking away and withdrawing your "support" in reality will maybe make you and a few others maybe feel better and superior. The reality is that as a conservationist we need a holist support to ensure that just maybe there is still a future for the natural sciences and the biodiversity that surrounds them. By all means voice your dissaproval and as loudly as you can, but at the same time take a monent and wonder if today you just maybe used a bug spray "that kills all bugs dead"...... Conservation / environment and wildlife, fauna and flora is not an easy road to travel.....and retain your sanity

Kevin Conner

JV, you are absolutely reckless with no concept of how to conduct conservation efforts. I support the project, but it's time that you were replaced at project leader. You treated this project as if it were a nature episode - where all you are meant to do is keep your distance.
This project is designed for human interference in order to insure the survival of tigers, it is not meant as an experiment meant to watch tigers in the wild.




Tread lightly on the Earth

Copyright 2007 @jvbigcats  All rights reserved


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