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
Because they had consumed so much meat, I
expected to find them close by, or lying in one of the many pools in
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
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
Using a boat, I patrolled the lake shore. I
searched for tracks of tigers. More kudu and warthog kills were
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
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
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
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
To Jan Kruizenga who brought his drone to assist
To Wiempie Geyer of Nature Conservation for his
patience and understanding.
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 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.
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
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.