Wild tigers in Africa??

Almost without fail when I tell people I’m from Africa they mention all the amazing animals in Africa including tigers. I blame this misconception of tigers in Africa on children’s story books like the jungle book. A controversial conservation project has led to wild tigers now living in Africa. Wildlife movie maker and conservationist John Varty (JV) took two captive/tame tigers and taught them how to hunt and be ‘wild tigers’ in Africa. JV’s mission is to build a model for tiger conservation that can be emulated in the rest of the world.

Obviously this project has met with mixed response from the public and the wildlife community. Many people feel that there is no place for tigers in Africa and that making Tiger Canyon a tourist attraction sends the wrong message to the public. Others feel that JV is doing a valuable job conserving and breeding tigers in the wild. A recent incident at Tiger Canyon puts the spotlight back on the tigers and fuels the debate about human interference with wild animals.

Shadow, a tigress in the preserve has taken to biting the tires of the off road vehicles that are used in the preserve. Obviously this is a large expense as tires need to be replaced each time. JV has tried everything from electrifying the around the wheels to constructing iron grids around the wheels, all attempts have failed leading to more than 10 expensive tires being destroyed over the last 18 months.

Recently JV was trying to photograph the tigress with her cubs when she came up and destroyed another tires. JV called for backup and while they were changing the tire the tigress charged again heading straight for a tire. This time JV took out his handgun and fired a round into the ground. Sadly the shot bounced off the dirt and hit the tiger in the leg. As a result of the shot the tigress suffered a broken bone in her paw and this may hamper her ability to hunt.

What are your thoughts on this initiative? Obviously this incident is tragic, but we can’t weigh the merits of the project on this one unfortunate accident. It is common practice to fire a shot into the air or the dirt when being approached by a dangerous animal in Africa when on foot. Having said that, JV does acknowledge that the shot was fired in anger and in hindsight he should have fired it into the air.

For more info about this incident click here. Here's a link to the early years of the project including the documentary Living with tigers.


noflickster said...

Wow. I'm glad you brought this to a wider audience, I hadn't heard anything about this effort nor the incident. Personally, I sway like a wind sock when it comes to interfering with endangered or threatened species in this way - I suppose they got this way because of us, so it would technically be "re-interference." To what extent should we go to right the wrong? Good question, I suppose I'll need to do more research about this situation before I form an opinion!

BTW, I believe Kipling's "The Jungle Book" took place in India, within the tiger's native range. I'd blame those Tarzan movies for the distribution misconception.

Owlman said...

Hmm, I need to look into the Tarzan with tigers thing - thanks for the headsup on the jungle book ;-) I actually missed most of the story book stuff when I was a kid and my kids aren't at the jungle book stage yet...

I'm actually kinda on the fence as far as this effort goes, although I sway towards the negative perspective. Primarily because there are African animals that need conservation in their native habitat and I'm also not sure how easily a 'model' can be transferred from one location to another. Aren't the tigers in India in trouble because of local issues? Shouldn't we try to solve the issues in India? Don’t get me wrong I think tigers are amazing, but I don’t think seeing a tiger in Africa would do it for me.

As far as this single incident it is pretty much par for the course when dealing with life threatening animals. JV should have fired in the air, but I've heard of incidents where the ranger fires into the dirt to scare the animal.

My 10c worth…

Thanks for popping in Mike.

Jochen said...

Owlman, I am 100% with you that conservation issues need to be resolved within the endangered species' range.

However, many times this is impossible (too much human pressure on the habitat, no political ambitions locally etc.) and species runs a risk of becoming extinct before conservation measures - once they are undertaken - come into effect.

In this case, e.g. California Condor, captive breeding programs are the only way of ensuring the species' survival over this period and allow a reintroduction at a later time when the circumstances are more favourable.

Take the Ivory-billed Woodpecker as another example: had there been a substantial captive population in the 1930 of several 100 birds, the species could now be reasonably common again as the forests have regrown quite nicely in the SE USA und could conceivably harbour a large population again, unlike the decimated and degraded forests in the 1940ies. The captive population could have helped the species over the "forest gap" of a few decades.

The biggest problem for the reinbtroduction of captive animals to the wild however is that they grew up in zoos and face a lot of difficulties being on their own again. Therefore, it does make sense to have a captive breeding program in an enclosure so large as to resemble "wild" circumstances.
Of course, in the case of the tiger, this enclosure should be situated in India, but apparently this is much more difficult there than in Africa due to the high population density.
Furthermore, a program like this should be conducted with tigers caught in the wild and transferred to the enclosure, not with captive and tame animals that are bound to cause trouble.
So in very much the same way as Mike and you, I am on the fence as far as this specific project goes. I like a few things and the concept in general, but then there are aspects I am not so fond of.

I've heard though that similar projects with African mammals (e.g. Rhinos) are conducted in Australia. Is this true, do you know anything about this?

Jochen said...

Oh, and I also think it was the movies, Tarzan and others, that messed up a lot. I vividly remember seeing a Hollywood movie that played in ancient Greece and the priests had Aras perched on their shoulders...

Owlman said...

Jochen, you definitely present some excellent points. I agree that in cases where conservation efforts are totally stalled or going backwards then you can move the endangered species efforts outside of the country. In the case of JV many think that he should focus on species in Southern Africa, rather than worrying about tigers. To be fair to him, his passion is with wild cats and the native species are doing well in SA - so he's looked elsewhere.

I haven't heard anything about the rhinos in Oz. I know that the Rhinos are facing a lot of pressure in countries surrounding SA. Most of the black rhinos that are now in other parts of Southern Africa actually came from the Natal midlands. The Rhino and elephant trust did a magnificent job in the 1980's and 1990's bringing the black rhino back from the brink of extinction. Sadly rhino poaching is still a major issue in most of Africa.

I was lucky enough to see Black Rhino with a calf on foot. They are VERY aggressive, although their eye sight stinks. We were lucky that we weren't charged and we were VERY close to the mom and the calf - awesome experience.

Thanks for stopping in and for your thoughtful comments Jochen.