On 10th January of 2009, Tigress Shadow gave
birth to 4 cubs. Inside the den site I placed a surveillance
camera and ran a cable back into my camp. From the monitor I
could watch proceedings in the den.
On the 106th day of her pregnancy at 10:30am
in the morning, the birth of the cubs began (The 4 cubs were
born over a period of 2 hours)
I immediately took up a position outside the
den and began filming through some strategic holes I had made.
(The den was a dense thicket of bush with one entrance)
The first birth occurred, but I failed to
capture it on film as Shadow was facing away from me. Shadow
gave birth to the second cub while lying down and facing towards
me. This I captured on film. (5.5 Million people have seen the
birth on YouTube)
The cub broke through the embryonic sac (I
later discovered that tiger cubs do not have retractable claws.
It is these sharp claws that cut the embryonic sac).
The cub immediately waddled out of the den
into the heat. (The temperature was 38 degrees outside the den)
I expected Shadow to go and fetch the cub but
she lay exhausted inside the den.
The cub was giving a loud distress call, but
Shadow paid no attention.
After 10 minites, I picked up the cub and
crawled back into the den and placed the cub next to Shadow.
Shadow thanked me profusely with staccato chuffing. (I had not
interacted with Shadow for two years, but she showed no sign of
any aggression towards me).
The cub immediately crawled out of the den
for a second time. (Tiger cubs are born blind. However this
cub's eyes were open although it couldn’t focus. It was moving
towards the light at the entrance to the den)
This time I crawled next to the cub and
chuffed it continually (chuffing is a sound tigers make by
blowing air through their nostrils. The sound is easily
imitated) To my amazement the cub answered me and immediately
followed me back into the den. This time it found the teat &
began to suckle from Shadow (later by matching the spot pattern
on the cub, with the male tiger Corbett, I was able to determine
that the cub that had had a conversation with me was indeed
Corbett) The conversation which I had with cub Corbett, remains
one of the magical moments of my life
Little did I know that this tiny tiger would
grow into the most fearsome & aggressive tiger at Tiger Canyons
and would one day nearly end the project and my life.
After two weeks, Shadow moved the cubs to a
new den site. One by one she carried them in her mouth. (I was
able to walk with her & film her moving the cubs.)
In the den she unfortunately sat on one of
the cubs. (This is a common occurrence with inexperienced
mothers). I have seen Lion & Leopard cubs squashed by their
While Shadow was away hunting, I entered the
den & discovered the dead cub. (My intention was to weigh the 3
weeks old cubs.)
On entering the den, two of the cubs froze
invisible in the dense foliage. However Corbett, just 3 weeks
old, attacked the camera, striking the lens.
In this litter were two shy placid cubs. One
was a female called Panna & the male cub was called Sariska. The
third cub was Corbett who proved to be exceeding aggressive.
At 12 Months old, Corbett attacked a fencing
crew & charged the men as they jumped into the jeep.
At 18 Months Corbett’s nose was ripped by a
blesbuck horn as he tried to throttle it. A 3 hour operation
followed during which time Dr Charlotte Mouiex sewed his nose
back into his face.
At 20 Months old, Corbett killed the white
tigress Shine. (Hunters had shot Shine with a dart in an attempt
to steal her for a canned Tiger hunt. As Shine was recovering
from the drug, Corbett killed her.) This is told in the book “In
the Jaws of the Tiger”.
Corbett set up an ambush at Shine’s body. As
I moved out of my jeep to film Shine, Corbett charged me. (I was
able to regain the safety of the jeep in the nick of time, but
left my bean bag behind. In frustration Corbett attacked the
bean bag scattering the beans.)
In the floods of 2011, Corbett swam out of
Tiger Canyons into the farm land.
As told in the book “In the Jaws of the
Tiger”, Corbett charged Rikie Pieterse as he was wading through
the water. In an incredible piece of interspecies communication,
Rikie Pieterse was able to persuade Corbett not to attack him.
Many people have asked me why Corbett did not
attack Rikie that day. I believe the answer lies in the fact
that that Corbett was outside his territory & in unfamiliar
terrain. Had Corbett been in his territory he would have been
more confident & hence more aggressive. On an island surrounded
by water, Corbett was not as confident & this in fact saved
Rikie Pieterse’s life.
Rikie’s ability to chuff Corbett & talk to
him & calm him down, remains an extraordinary piece of
At 24 months, Corbett charged me from 50
meters as I was removing a dart from his brother Sariska. Only
by firing shots in front of Corbett, was I able to stop the
charge & regain the safety of the Jeep.
A year later, Corbett was nearly killed in a
fight by the male tiger Seatao. To protect Corbett, I put him in
In March 2012 Corbett pushed his paw through
the electric gate & attacked me. After grabbing me by the neck
he proceeded to pull me through the gate & into the boma. Only
incredible bravery & quick thinking by Julie Brown, Julienne
Reid and Phumlani Mchunu saved my life.
In a joyous ceremony, Corbett was released
back into the wild on 1st September 2014. (Corbett was given
area of 1 500 hectares stocked with game.) On his release
Corbett mated with Zaria who produced 3 cubs. One of the cubs
was half white & half normal. (I suspected that Corbett may have
been a carrier of the recessive white gene)
A male tiger called Tiger Boy attacked Zaria
& the cubs. Corbett immediately attacked Tiger Boy, but Tiger
Boy got Corbett in a death grip. Zaria jumped on top of Tiger
Boy, forcing him to release Corbett. Zaria effectively saved
Corbett‘s life. (I have seen the same behavior with the Leopards
at Londolozi when a female called Vomba female jumped onto a
male called Tyson when he was throttling a male called Camp Pan
Male who was the father of Vomba’s cubs).
Tiger Boy killed all 3 of Zaria’s cubs. (I
filmed Zaria eating the dead cubs. I filmed similar behavior
with Mother Leopard & Tigress Julie when they had lost cubs.) A
month after Tiger Boy killed Zaria's cubs, Corbett killed Tiger
Boy. (Corbett immobilized Tiger Boy with a spine bite & then
Two Months later, Corbett killed Tiger Boy’s
brother Shy Boy with similar tactics (It is not always the
biggest Tiger that wins the fight but the most experienced.
Because of his aggression, Corbett was involved in many fights&
became a very skilled fighter).
Corbett caught two adult wildebeest cows.
(Each cow weighed 250 kilograms). Corbett consumed both
wildebeest over a period of 96 hours (Corbett weighed 200
kilograms and had the ability to take in 20kg of meat in one
To protect young dispersing tigresses,
Corbett was put back in the boma. Corbett broke out of the boma
attacking Tibo, Ussuri & Indira. He pursued a young tigress
called Oksana. Twice he nearly killed her & twice she escaped.
The third time he trapped her in the canyon & Oksana dug out
under the electrical fence.
As told in the last newsletter, a 34 day
search for Oksana ensued. The search ended in a tragic result
Corbett had now effectively killed Shine,
Tiger Boy, Shy Boy & Oksana.
Corbett broke out for the second time & again
attacked various tigers. (Corbett has no regard for the
electrical fence. He has learned to short the fence).
Corbett was put back in the boma, but broke
out for the third time. (The third time he jumped over the
gate, effectively avoiding the electric wires)
After a long deliberation, I euthanized
Some people say it was a good riddance to a
bad tiger. I never felt that way. I still feel a deep sense of
loss. I am still a great admirer of Tiger Corbett. He had all
the ingredients to be a territorial made tiger. Overloaded with
testosterone he was extremely aggressive. He killed male &
female tigers. He had become in the end a serial killer.
Corbett nearly ended my life & nearly ended
the Tiger Canyons Project. However I remain in awe of this
magnificent Tiger. He was extremely well bred & I suspect he
carried the rare recessive white gene.
Today I embrace the attack by the Tiger
Corbett as something I survived & which enriched my life. The
passing of Corbett is the end of an era & hopefully new males
will take Corbett's place.
Rest in peace, Tiger Corbett.
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