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Newsletter 89

Where are the Champions?

Hello Friends,

Over the last 12 years of trying to save the wild tiger, I often wonder whether I am not losing the battle. Is it not an exercise in futility? 

Consider the following:

1) The worlds human population has moved through 7 billion.

2) China and India, two tiger countries, have a combined population of 3.1 billion people.

3) In India, tigers compete with 320 people per square kilometer.

4) The wild tiger has declined to about 1000. A wild tiger a day is destroyed.

5) Recently the tiger has gone extinct in the several game parks in India

6) 60,000 tigers languish in cages and zoos, circuses and private collections around the world. (China has 2 safari parks with over 1000 tigers in captivity)

7) In the last 5 years, massive trades in tiger body parts have been uncovered in India, China and non tiger countries like South Africa.

8) A poacher or disgruntled government official can get $15 000 for the body parts of a dead tiger.

9) Asian governments remain hopelessly apathetic to saving the wild tiger and it remains a very low priority. 

There have been some high points but they are few and far between:

  • President Putin, at the tiger conference in St Petersburg, pledged $1 billion for tiger conservation. Since this time he was granted the soccer world cup, so it will be interesting to see whether his $1 billion does not disappear into soccer stadiums.

  • The actor Leodardo Di Caprio gave $3 million to the World Wide Fund for Nature for Tiger Conservation.

Finding a champion 

Of the high profile, rich individuals in the world, none have seen fit to champion the cause of saving the Tiger .

  • Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have put money into fighting malaria.

  • Laxmi Mittel (4th richest man in the world and Indian) has never taken to the Tiger cause.

  • Tedd Turner has put money into land and American buffalo.

  • Richard Branson has a game lodge in the Sabi Sands of South Africa and appears to be more invested in African wildlife than Asian. 

  • Patrice Motsepe, a regular visitor to Londolozi, has made a great deal of money from mining ventures and owns a soccer club.

  • Johan Rupert recently purchased a buffalo bull for R40million. This bull will cover buffalo cows which will produce bulls with large horns which overseas hunters will pay a great deal of money to shoot. 

In short, the tiger desperately needs a champion with vision, tenacity, resolve and money. Sadly there are none forthcoming.

Tiger Canyons has the only expanding wild population of tigers (20 tigers). The Tiger Canyons experiment still has to prove that it is sustainable over a long period of time. (more than twenty years)

I have urged African governments and South African National Parks to create National Parks in South Africa for tigers. I argue that if we play cricket against India and trade with India, can't we help them save an endangered species?  After all we live on one planet, a self regulating system.

I argue that if the two of the great leaders, Mahatma Gandhi from India and Nelson Mandela from South Africa were alive today, surely they would agree to work together to save the Tiger.

There are scientists at Wits University who claim that the tiger was once on the African continent and went extinct.

"If we save the Tiger,
we save the forests, the rivers, the birds, the fish, the fowl
and indeed the entire Pyramid of Life".

My opinion is that we are all Gaian children (Gaia is the Greek Goddess of the Earth). But Gaia's human children now number in excess of 7 billion. The resources of this planet are finite. The wild tiger represents those rapidly diminishing resources. The demise of the tiger is a red light, blinking for all of mankind.

"If we cannot save a magnificent creature like the tiger,
we cannot save ourselves".

On one dark morning, when I felt that trying to save the wild tiger was too daunting, I opened my email and there was an inspiring letter from retired warden, Dr Pablo. After reading his letter, I dusted off, repaired my dented ego and went back to work.

Dear Mr. Varty,

I hope you know that I retired from Indian Forest Service in February 2012 and am now a consultant to the Government of Bangladesh under a World Bank funded project.
When I switched my TV on today, Living with Tigers was on show. While watching it I thought of writing to you that this film is actually responsible for the idea and success of Panna reintroduction. I watched this movie way back, I think in 2005, and started thinking of inviting someone like you to reintroduce captive bred tigers in some of our national parks which have good prey base but no tigers. But before we could do anything concrete, although a project proposal was prepared, we lost our Panna tiger population, and we started thinking of rebuilding that population. As we had wild tigers available, we did not think of captive tigers for this purpose but my confidence that tigers can be reintroduced basically stemmed from seeing you guys in the film. But after the success in establishing the first 3 tigers, in an unfenced 700 sq km park, we found it difficult to identify more wild candidates for translocation to Panna and I started thinking of  using the two orphans growing up in captivity in Kanha. We started giving them wild animals (driven into their boma rather ingeniously) to feed and learn hunting in their 6 Ha boma. They had killed about 300 deer, and had no direct human contact for nearly 3-4 years, when we released them in Panna. But as these tigers had not gone through the kind of routine I saw in the film, I was worried that their limited experience of hunting in an enclosed space may not be enough in the wild. However, these tigresses surprised us with their success as they did not seem to miss any skill which their mothers could have taught them. One of them has already had two litters and raised them successfully. Unfortunately, the second one has not littered despite mating regularly. In fact, before we started this project, I had a thought that we should introduce only breeding tigresses so that their is no risk of any stray gynecological problems interfering with the project. Perhaps my hunch has come true as one of the 4 tigresses taken to Panna seems to have a gynecological problem. As we did not have the time, money and the expertise that you had to train the tigers for introduction in the wild, I had to take the risk of releasing them in the wild without the preparation that you would have approved. I took this risk, despite huge opposition, on the premise that we had nothing to lose, even if the tigresses did not establish in the wild. In the worst case scenario, we  would have had to shoot them or capture them. That would have been, in some ways, no loss to conservation as they had not come from the wild. But, thanks to your pioneering work, the tigresses have done well and the Panna population is already over 20 (I have not had information of any recent births or deaths). Perhaps, the wild tigers will never go extinct now and if they do, we can bring them back to the wild from zoos. I think a lot of the credit will go to you for showing the way, if we ever have to reconstruct tiger populations again. Just thought you should know that we are grateful.

With Best Wishes,
Dr. HS Pabla IFS (Retd.)
Bhopal, India.

I am reminded of the words of Nelson Mandela.


Cheetah Release

The release of Shashe and Mara 15 months old brought back memories of my years filming cheetah in the Masai Mara. 

Tiger Canyons has areas of long grass connected with short grass. This allows the classic East African stalk through the tall grass and then the dash across the short grass to catch the springbuck. 

Photographers and filmmakers will need long lenses to capture the action as there two magnificent cats hit their straps. 

Hares, steenbuck, springbuck and young blesbuck will be the favoured prey. 

Tiger Canyons is now the only place in the world where one can photograph wild tiger and wild cheetah.

Tiger Swimming Safari - with Kumba & Aurora

I have pleasure in announcing a unique safari on offer for a limited time.  The itinerary is as follows: 

Day 1:

Arrive in Philippolis late afternoon
Dinner at Oom Japie se Huis
Accommodation at Starry Nights Karoo Cottages.

Day 2:

Early morning game drive searching for Ussuri and the cubs
Breakfast on the platform
After breakfast, transfer to 'Tigress Julie Riverboat' on the Van der Kloof Lake. (The luxury riverboat sleeps four guests)
Afternoon - exploring across the lake hunting and swimming with tigers
Dinner on the boat
After dinner - 'In the Jaws of the Tiger' concert

Day 3:

Early morning hunting with tigers and swimming
Breakfast on the boat
In the afternoon - game drive looking for cheetah and tigers. 
(Optional helicopter flight over the lake)
Dinner at Tiger Canyons
Accommodation - Starry Nights - Philippolis

Day 4:

Leave from Philippolis 

Tread lightly on the Earth


We agree completely and cannot wait to be with you in November to enjoy the tigers and cheetahs and hopefully get photos we can use to help increase the level of awareness and help to save these awesome animals. 

Bob and Lucie Fjeldsta


Just an off-the-wall suggestion in response to  your question.  I'm not your person; my pockets are deep but not nearly that deep.  ;)  But there are two singers where you might have a "hook" if you can contact them or their publicist: Katy Perry (recent hit "Roar" talking about "eye of the tiger" and perhaps Frankie Sullivan from the group Survivor (one of the biggest hits of all time, "Eye of the Tiger" of the movie Rocky III fame).  I have no clue whether either would be interested but it might be worth a chance.  I should note that I spent a couple of weeks last year with John Kay, lead singer of Steppenwolf (most famous song, "Born to be Wild" in the movie Easy Rider).  John has been active with OFI and helping to preserve orangutan habitat.  He's also not deep-pocketed enough to be your champion, but remembering him made me think that a "whale" rocker like Katy Perry would be and also might bring along a lot of publicity, depending on her interest.  Good luck.

Also, you mention a unique safari for a limited time.  Any idea what time frame and what price?  I look forward to coming back with Marsel and Daniella in June but might have the ability to squeeze in another trip over and would likely combine that with a longer stop in Madagascar.  Thanks for any information.

Rich Sheehan

Hi John,

I read this with interest and have worked on projects with animals that are not regarded as sexy and charismatic by the NGO's, activists etc and the reality I believe is that true conservationists are more endangered than any species. Sadly and for the most the level of interest and the regard to the vulnerability and marketing support of a species is directly proportionate to the funding that can be raised...... just over 14 million euros now destined for rhino poaching, ......including procedures proven to not work....... But the marketing is great! Sadly too I find that for the most the loudest voices have never worked in conservation.....and so it's all about the buck.....no horns and hooves, but a bankable and corruptible buck all the same.

After some 23 years in conservation and conservation broadcasting, it appears that we are not saving anything or creating a holistic environment for species to save themselves.....in the a sense of man they all do dam well......but we are in broadcasting and conservation, documenting the decline so the natural world, one day at a time.......

Put a rhino horn on your tigers, on the cheetah that we personally have an interest in and the Warburgia Salutaris tree.........and they too will have their profiles raised but all in sundry.

Best of luck sir, I do hope I am wrong. 

Tim Neary

The Nature Journal

Hi John, don't ever give up please we need people like you . I am a volunteer on Glen Garriff Lion Reserve in Harrismith and I know how hard it can be to struggle on and keep fighting the many factions thatare split down the middle. Our lions are happy , well fed and the genetic line is pure.

These are the happiest days of my life, talking to lions, feeding them , taking care of them . I know how you feel about your babies , the same as me.

Good luck in everything you try and keep going so many people appreciate all your efforts . One day where will the future generations see lions and tigers , what do we say to them, we never tried to save them, you can't say that.

Warmest regards


Dear John, 

You are doing a wonderful job never ever give up! 


Gaie Fergusson

Hi Jon,

I love your website and your work. I wish there were some impressive videos about tigers (like a tiger bringing down a bull eland or tigers on a bull eland kill etc.).

I liked your post on which cats have the best eye-sight. I have some more information that could be helpful to you.

There was a British wildlife photographer called F.W.Champion about a 100 years back in India. As far as I know he was the first person to photograph living wild tigers in the wilds of India. He was also the first person to camera trap wild animals in the Indian forests. In fact, until he camera-trapped honey badgers in Himalayan forests, a lot of people had no clue, that honey badgers existed there.

His work was mainly in Himalayan forests, foothills and valleys of the Himalayas (almost exactly the same areas where Jim Corbett hunted - the Himalayan Terai). 

In any case, he published 2 books "With a camera in Tiger land" and "Jungle in Sunlight and Shadow". Both are excellent books, especially the second book.

In that book he writes about the difference in eye-sight of tigers and leopards. What he tells is that, camera-trapping tigers was relatively easy when compared to camera-trapping leopards.

While tigers would blunder into the camera trip-wires, the leopards would invariably see the trip-wires and step over them (he would deduce this when looking at the pug-marks of the animal and the untripped picture the next morning when he used to collect the traps). 

He mentions strongly that he could manage to camera-trap leopards only when he used thinnest and "blackest" of the trip wires on the darkest nights (when there was no star-light).

He concluded that either leopards had superior vision or they were instinctively more cautious than tigers.

Through his camera trap pictures, he mentions and shows how much the pupils of the big cats dilated at night. 

He also mentions unless one spends a night in a jungle when it is so dark that one can't even see one's arm, only then can one appreciate the vision and perception of a big cat which can stalk and bring down a large prey in that darkness.

I thought it was a very interesting observation from him.

Another thing is about the much debated lion-tiger fight.

I don't know from where the myth has generated that male lions have evolved to fight while male tigers have evolved to hunt. The only people who can say this are people who have never spent time studying wild tigers  in places like Nagarhole or Kanha or Kaziranga in India where the population density of tigers is quite high.

It is sad to see people like Dave Salmoni or other "Scientists" who have never studied a wild tigers or wild lions in their habitat and in their prime spreading this myth. Please ask scientists like Ullas Karanth or Raghu Chundawat or AJT Johnsingh (all of whom have studied male tigers in wilds of India) before coming such conclusions.

I also think these people should read first lion books of George Schaller, Brian Bertram and Craig Packer (great Scientists who spent a lot of time in the wild studying wild lions). All of whom stress on how far male lions go to avoid fighting. In fact, in the combined 6 years of study of Schaller and Bertram, they saw only 1 serious male lion fight to the death.

In most fights, the smaller coalition quickly withdraws, runs away or submits. 

Another interesting thing is, African wildlife has been heavily filmed. We have seen professional films of wild lionesses adopting oryx calves, gnu calves. We have seen wild leopards showing maternal instinct to an abandoned lion cub. 

But despite all this, I have not seen a single professional film showing male lions fighting to the death. 

The recent amateur videos of serious fights between the ousted Mopogo, Majingilane and Selati coalitions in Kruger/Londolozi area are the only existing videos of male lions fighting to the death. Even in those cases, the coalition with larger number of prime-males overwhelmed the out-numbered coalition.

If male lions fought so frequently as claimed by Salmoni and other "scientists", shouldn't there be many more professional videos showing them in serious fights? For sure, it would be far more frequent than lionesses adopting oryx calves, right? 

Now, lions are more gregarious than tigers. They are used to being in the spotlight (so to speak). They are used to being in the open or being in a "crowd". Tigers aren't. Like leopards, tigers avoid open spaces.

Despite the rarity of tigers, especially male tigers, there are so many documented (and photographed) male tiger fights to the death, even very recently. 

Around 3 years back, a huge male tiger called Konda in Kanha National Park, India was killed by the now dominant male Munna. Konda's face was ripped apart by Munna. 

Late Chip Houseman in his magnificent 1998 film "Tigers of Kanha" filmed the gruesome end to another male tiger fight to the death again in Kanha (with the defeated male tiger's face being torn apart). Belinda Wright captured another such fight in Kanha in her book on Tigers in the mid-80s. 

The male tiger "Arjun" was badly mauled in a fight with a male tiger "Snarl". Belinda actually rushed to the spot hearing the sounds of the vicious fight.

Considering tigers are so rare, it is astonishing how frequently male tigers fight to the death were documented.

Circus fights would be advantageous to the lion since they are at home in a crowded place. But a one-on-one fight in the wild would be more advantageous to the tiger (really depends on the individual lion or tiger).



Dear Mr John

I read your newsletter today..i can understand feelings that are u able to help tigers or not..Ofcourse john you are helping tigers thats why people are taking inpiration from you..yor efforts are respective..but this is not the time to give up or to keeping your moral down..conserving tigers is neccessary not bcoz we love them..bt bcoz tigers need our help..and tigers are showing extreme fight to survive we only need to give them some help..as tigress machli is found after 26 days after long efforts by officials..wat a fighter this tigress is..she is 17 years of age she is weak she is facing many difficulties in hunting..her territory is taken by her doughter but still she is not ready to give up and fighting for her life..heads off to machli..she proved that she is queen of tigers..and she reminds me of tigress julie wat a amazing tigress she was..at last good luck to u Mr John..i m waiting for ur next newsletter..goodbye


Tread lightly on the Earth

Copyright 2007 @jvbigcats  All rights reserved


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Tigress Calendar

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A Letter to the President

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The Body Parts Scam

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Your future and the Tiger

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Ron's Journey

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