India Meets the Tiger Man of Africa
South African wildlife documentary filmmaker and maverick conservationist John Varty has become famous, not only for his film-making career and work with African Big Cats and Asian tigers, but also for his highly adventurous life. He has survived a helicopter crash and a tiger mauling, and has written a page-turning memoir appropriately titled “Nine Lives”. In 2003, the Discovery Channel made a documentary about him, called “Living with Tigers”, and in 2011, National Geographic produced another, called “Tiger Man of Africa”.
I’ve travelled more than twenty-four hours to reach Johannesburg. Tomorrow I will continue my journey to the Free State and “Tiger Canyons”, where I’ll spend three days photographing tigers with John Varty. This will be my second visit and I’m thrilled to be returning.
John Varty doesn’t just talk the talk. He has been walking the walk of tiger conservation since the year 2000, when he first transported a pair of young Bengal tigers from a Canadian zoo to South Africa, where they were released to freedom at Tiger Canyons, a large and rugged area of land where tigers now roam freely and hunt African prey for their food (the borders of the land are fenced). Tigers are not native to Africa, but John Varty has tenaciously persevered with his controversial project whereby he hopes to raise a self-sustaining wild tiger population outside its native Asia. The ultimate goal is that these tigers may someday be reintroduced into the wild if Asian governments commit themselves to providing safe habitat for this highly endangered animal. In the meantime, John Varty encourages photographers to visit, publish their photos, and hopefully, make the public care about the plight of the tiger.
Since I first read about Tiger Canyons in 2010, I’ve been fascinated by the place and the concept behind it. Tigers in Africa! Tigers are highly adaptable to their environment and have been doing well at Tiger Canyons, successfully hunting and breeding — so, with the right security, raising tigers in Africa seems like a great idea. It’s also potentially a very dangerous idea — the tiger is an apex predator. Should they ever be deliberately or accidentally released into Africa, the outcome would likely be disastrous.
Here are two of my photos from last year’s visit. I’ll be sharing new ones with you at the end of my safari and will hopefully have a tiger story or two to share as well…