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Newsletter 125
20/10/15

The Break Out

Hello Friends 

A chain of events occurred at Tiger Canyons which have resulted in the death of Ussuri's male cub Antoine and the female cub Marguerite.

It started when a dominant male called Mahindra killed the cubs father Sariska. The removal of their father left the cubs with no protection. The cubs had not yet dispersed, they were 22 months old. Tiger cubs disperse between 20 and 30 months. 

This is the mating season at Tiger Canyons. Mahindra should be mating, but the two females in his territory, Indira and Ussuri, are on birth control (The third female Tibo, has cubs). A male tiger burns up a huge amount of energy during mating. Testosterone levels drop. 

During mating the male tiger does not patrol territory, he stays with the tigress, mating continuously (Up to 150 copulations have been recorded over 5 days) 

Therefore Mahindra overloaded with testosterone, having killed Sariska, turned his attention to Ussuri's 3 cubs, Antoine, Marguerite and Jameez. 

To give the cubs more space to disperse, fencing crews worked overtime to remove a 4 kilometer fence. Having removed the fence, the cubs now had an rugged area into which to disperse.

From the evidence, I deduced the following. Mahindra trapped Antoine against the fence and during the fight Antoine escaped through the fence. As he broke out, he pulled a main pole down effectively lowering the fence to 2.2 meters. Marguerite jumped over the lowered part of the fence. 

Once out Antoine killed and adult Kudu bull on the floor of the canyon (I put out a post that Marguerite had killed the Kudu. I believe Antoine 190 kilograms killed the Kudu 250 kg.)  

Although I could see the cubs, I could not get to them. I was reluctant to ask a vet to descend with me on foot to dart the tigers, it was dangerous to say the least. 

Because they had a large kill, I presumed they would sit on the kill and not move for several days. 

I organized a vet and a helicopter for the following day. My plan was to dart the tigers from the air. 

The following day the tragic news that Tidi Modise had taken his own life, reached me. Stunned by the news, I cancelled the capture. It was to prove costly. 

The following day, to my disbelief, the tigers were gone. Only the horns were left. The two tigers had consumed over 100 kilograms of meat. 

Taking 3 trackers with me, I began tracking the tigers in the floor of canyon in the direction of the Van Der Kloof Dam. 

Because they had consumed so much meat, I expected to find them close by, or lying in one of the many pools in the canyon. 

The hike turned into a 6 hour ordeal. The floor of the canyon is littered with jagged rocks. Each step is a mission. The tigers with padded feet, weight distributed on 4 legs and a low center of gravity, glide across the rocks. Two legged human beings with a high centre of gravity, stumble and fall. The hike was treacherous and the temperature was 38 degrees. 

How I wish I could have had my good friend Elmon Mhlongo to help me track. Elmon would have greatly speeded up the process. 

During the hike we saw rock hyrax, kudu, warthog vervet monkey. The mountain reedbuck stared at us, perhaps they had never seen a human being. Baboons barked from the cliffs. A pair of black eagles hunted the rock hyrax.  

It occurred to me that I was in a pure wilderness area. One of the few areas where nature protects herself. The very ruggedness of the canyon kept people out. Without this protection, human beings would have invaded the canyon, manipulating, exploiting and destroying its wildness. (The area of Tiger Canyons once witnessed the greatest volume of wild animals the world has ever known. Some 100 million to 300 million springbuck once migrated through the area now called Tiger Canyons).

For 6 hours I walked through this magnificent wilderness tracking two young, innocent tigers who were simply exploring their new territory. 

As I struggled forward, I drew  inspiration from the words of captain Paul Watson (Paul Watson is the captain of the Sea Shepherd who harasses the Japanese whaling ships). Paul Watson words are: ĒThere is no point in stressing, this is not going to solve the problem. Understand the problem, deal with it and solve it. Donít stress!"

With this in mind, I embraced the journey. I found where the tigers had lain in the pools. I did the same. I found warthog, porcupine and antbear kills. Clearly the two tigers were reveling in their new situation, plenty of space, plenty of water and plenty of food. If only the tigers could be left there to live out there lives. If only! 

The following day I brought in a helicopter and a vet. I was confident I would find the tigers and we could dart them from the chopper. Again I was wrong! 

The canyon is simply too dangerous to go low level with a helicopter. It is steep and deep and the wind is treacherous. During the flight, I saw something which made my blood run cold. Where the canyon runs into the Van der Kloof Dam, it widens and flattens. Here a herd of cows grazed. The tigers were heading straight for the herd of cattle. Now the ball game had changed dramatically. 

Using a boat, I patrolled the lake shore. I searched for tracks of tigers. More kudu and warthog kills were discovered. 

I pulled baits and tied them to trees. I waited through the night over the baits. (As a kid I had read the books by Jim Corbett where he describes waiting for man eating tigers over baits). If I could get them onto a bait, I could get a vet to dart them. However the tigers had their own food, they were not interested in baits. 

I tried flying drones over the thickets to locate them with no success. 

After another frustrating day of failure, I returned to the messages on my cell phone. Nature conservation were anxious to know if I had caught the tigers. Farmers were getting impatient with the lack of success. 

Invoices came from vets who had not fired a single dart and for helicopter fees. Money was flowing like water.

A call came in from a neighboring game reserve, two tigers had been seen on the outside of the perimeter fence right where the herd of cattle were. My worst fear had been realized. (The day before, I had organized with the farmer to move the cattle to another farm). The report stated that the tigers were bloated. I was too late, they had already killed a cow. 

All laws in South Africa are written in favor of the farmer. The politicians who made these laws were mostly farmers. 

As long as the tigers killed kudu, warthog and natural prey, they would be okay. As soon as they kill domestic stock, they step across the line of the law, they become problem animals. 

I phoned 6 different vets to come and help me. None was available. All were spread across the country. I was desperate. (I could have darted the tigers myself. In the past, I have immobilized many lions. However a law prevents me from handling the drugs, because I am not a qualified vet.)

I was faced with the most difficult decision I have ever had to take in my life. I couldnít jeopardize the other tigers and the tiger project.

Antoine and Marguerite died in a hail of bullets. Emotions overwhelmed me. Time stood still at Tiger Canyons.

Tread lightly on the Earth
JV


Thank you:

I would like to thank Margaret Pang who sponsored Marguerite and Antoine. I am so sorry we have let you down.

I would like to thank the three brave trackers Jacob Pieterse, Sylvester and Jacob who stayed with me, tracking in often dangerous conditions. 

My thanks to Tinus Steyn for helping me. He showed great skill in carrying out the operation. 

The farmer Fanie Venter was most patient and considerate.

To Jan Kruizenga who brought his drone to assist me.

To Wiempie Geyer of Nature Conservation for his patience and understanding.


Marguerite:

Marguerite was the smallest but boldest of Ussuriís 3 cubs. Once as a cub, she came right up to me raking my boots as I filmed her. When a bean bag fell out of the Jeep, Marguerite was the first to grab it and run off.  

Named after Margaret Pang who sponsored her, Marguerite spent 21 months with us. She was a great character to say the least. Her passing is deeply felt. Her body is laid to rest in Sariska rocks where as a cub she spent many happy hours playing with her siblings.  

Rest in peace Marguerite.  

Antoine:

Antoine was the largest of Ussuriís litter of 3. Although his father Sariska was not the biggest male at Tiger Canyons, Antoine carried his grandfather's genes. Antoineís grandfather is Seatao who weighs 225 kilograms and is the biggest male at Tiger Canyons. I fully expected Antoine to become the biggest male at Tiger Canyons even surpassing Seatao.  

Antoine was an ambassador tiger and regularly posed for pictures. He had a beautiful and gentle temperament. Antoine is laid to rest in Sariska rocks. 

Rest in peace Antoine.


Tidi Modise:

I met Tidi when he was five years old. Tidi was living with his mother Regina and Brother Thatu in a tin shack in Alexandra Township in Johannesburg. 

Bullet holes littered the walls of the shack. As I approached Tidiís house, the smell of burning rubber drifted across the wind. People were being necklaced. This was the height of apartheid. 

I managed to get Regina a small cottage near a school in the suburb of Kew. Here Tidi went to school. Tidi featured in the series called Bush School which was distributed by Disney across the world.

Later he acted with Brooke Shields in the feature film Running Wild. Tidiís natural charm and beautiful smile made him a favorite with all who met him.  

Tidi went on to capture his Springbuck colours in karate, representing South Africa in Budapest.

Tidi joined me at Tiger Canyons in 2013. He became a very fine guide, film editor, photographer and tiger handler. 

One of my most vivid images of Tidi, was when the male tiger Khumba was dragging him on his stomach through the dust and thorns as it pursued the cheetah boys Sabi and Rhunde. Tidi refused to let go of the leash and allow the tiger to catch the cheetah.  

Tidi lived in a world of light and shade, high mountains a deep oceans. He was my friend and a great companion. I will miss him greatly.

Rest in peace Tidi Modise.

Tread lightly on the Earth

info@jvbigcats.co.za
Copyright 2007 @jvbigcats  All rights reserved


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