On the 10th of July 2009, I went out early to see if I could find the
Tigress Shadow and her cubs.
Her three cubs were now 6 months old, but remained exceedingly shy.
To date, I had only captured 2 shots of the cubs disappearing into
the thick bush.
One of the reasons the cubs remained shy, was that Tigress Shadow had
become increasingly difficult to film. She had got into the
habit of biting the tyres of my adapted Mahindra vehicles.
Although I had tried everything from electrifying, to iron grids
around the wheels, all had failed, as this sly Tigress continued to
cause havoc, ripping more than 10 expensive tyres over the last 18
Today I had four brand new heavy duty tyres on the vehicle, valued at
I found her feeding on a blesbuck she had killed and thinking that
she would not attack my wheels because she was distracted by her
kill, I stopped the vehicle near her and began to film.
There was no sign of the cubs but I suspected they were hiding in
the tall elephant grass nearby.
For 10 minutes she fed off the kill and then got up and moved away
from the vehicle. Suddenly, she turned and charged the
vehicle. Before I could start the engine, she had bitten through
the front right tyre.
I could hear the air rushing from the punctured wheel, so I
immediately started the engine and tried to drive myself out of the
After 300 metres, it becomes obvious that the tyre and wheel rim would
soon be a write off. The dilemma I faced, was how do I change the tyre in an area with
tigers roaming around.
I called on the radio for back up and Andries, my assistant, came out
to help me change the tyre. We had just begun to change the tyre,
when out of the tall grass came Tigress Shadow, heading fast towards
my vehicle, intent on biting the second tyre.
I was exceedingly angry, I had already lost one tyre and a chance to
film the cubs.
I reacted instinctively and pulled out the 44 Smith and Wesson
revolver, which I carry and fired into the ground in front of the
The tigress spun around and ran back into the tall grass. As she ran
I noticed that she carried her rear right leg in the air.
Surely it was not possible that the bullet had hit the tigress?
After changing the tyre I set off to find Tigress Shadow. My worst
fear was realized when I found her lying on her back with her paws
in the air. Through the binoculars I could see an ugly gash on the
bottom of her pad on the rear right leg. The bullet must have
deflected off the ground upwards just catching her across the pad.
I felt gutted to say the least! The question was, were any bones
broken? The only way to find out would be immobilize the tigress.
I called Dr Charlotte Moueix, a vet from Bloemfontein, who came
We estimated her weight at 180 kilograms and used a dose
of 50mg zoletil and 4mg medetomidine to dart Tigress
Within 4 minutes she was down and now we could examine carefully the
damage to the pad and paw.
The deep gash through the pad would heal, but right at the tip of the
second digit on her paw, the bone was broken. It can be likened to a
fracture on a small toe on the foot of a human being.
Would she walk with a limp, would her speed be affected, would she
be able to hunt for her cubs, had I crippled this magnificent
tigress for life? These were the questions racing through my mind.
On reflection, I deeply regret that I didn't fire the shot into the
air, instead of firing in front of her.
I have tried to understand the "wheel biting behavior" of the
Tigress. Is she trying to keep the vehicles away from her and the
cubs? This is not likely, because she bit tyres before she had cubs.
In addition, she regularly sprays the vehicles with marking fluid
like all the dominant tigers do.
I believe the moving tyre going round and round simulates moving
prey. Rubber is a relatively soft substance similar to the skin of a
prey animal. In short, she can get her teeth through the side of the
tyre where the rubber is softer.
I challenge all the tyre manufacturers to come up with a tyre that
is tiger proof.
It would be interesting to see what pound pressure Tigress Shadow is
exerting on the tyre when she bites it.
Tigers are known to be able to exert 1000 lbs/ per square inch
biting power. The male tigers regularly kill large tortoise at
Tiger Canyons. To do this, they must exert huge pressure.
The heavy duty tyre is wide and thick, its not the easiest shape to
bite, yet she bites through with ease.
In the case of Tigress Shadow, what started as a mischievous game,
has now become an obsession.
Our response will be to reinforce the wheel grids and electrify
them to counter act her wheel attacks.
Will she recover completely, will she be just as fast, will she
continue to be a good hunter? Time will tell. I will keep you
informed every step of the way.
Tread Lightly on the Earth
Response to newsletter:
Well I would have to say I did not enjoy this latest update. . as I
am sure you did not enjoy the experience. Funny how we humans are
quick to decide that the tiger is now the problem. Surely the
vehicle is the problem!? I am not surprised to hear that a wild
animal of such magnitute would
prefer to be left alone at times - especially in motherhood? I hope
you come up with a better way of doing things, for both your and the
tiger and the vehicles' sake!! I hope you are otherwise well.
Although it requires some effort, something even better (and
cheaper) than pepper spray to keep critters of all kinds from
biting/chewing on stuff, is to put crap of some sort on it! My
method is to use dog poop (most readily available to me), mix it
with some water in a bucket (that you don't wish to use for anything
else!) till it is a nice, sludgey texture, then using an old brush,
simply paint it on your tires! You must reapply frequently,
though. Cheap, 100% biodegradable, all natural repellent! It might
be disgusting, but that's why it works!
I have just read your article on the Tiger that eats tyres. I
do not believe this is a unique phenomenon, many years ago (1966) in
Kenya we parked a Piper Cub overnight on a runway at Maasai Mara.
The next morning when we arrived at the plane there was a pride of
lions sitting in the shade under the wings and the tyres were
completely destroyed. Fortunately Keekorok Lodge had some
wheelbarrows and we borrowed their wheels to enable takeoff.
Similarly a colleague of mine while visiting the Lion Park had a
chunk bitten out of the plastic bumper on his Toyota Tazz.
Maybe a suggestion would be to get some heavy ply steel
reinforced radial tyres and then get them retreaded with a
heavy gauge retread. We did this in Kenya with a Land Rover to stop
the bush stumps and thorns from ripping up the tyres. Unfortunately
the tyres still got wrecked but it took much longer.
A couple of alternative suggestions.
1 Use a tracked vehicle eg; a modified small bulldozer.
2 Use an elephant. Buy a well trained Indian Elephant. I hear
Boswells may be forced into closure they may have a few to sell.
(and maybe a tiger or two)
3 Load a few blanks in your gun or carry some big firecrackers.
The article was interesting and may I congratulate you on your
efforts to conserve Tigers.
Could I suggest that you try pepper spray on your tyres to keep her
Is it possible that the tyres are picking up the scent of the other
tigers when you drive through the other areas? It is possible that you
are collecting scent from urine or feaces and she is responding to this.
I donít know it might be the case. But I would try possibly cleaning
them with some strong detergent after visiting one of the camps and
before visiting her and possibly using pepper spray as a deterrent.
I might be shooting in the dark, but it mighteven be a deficiency-her biting tyres?!
I'm sure she will be fine, humans are alfa not animals. Maybe the hurt paw
will be a bad association to tyres and she'll quit.
Thanks for the little update!
How about some chainmail on the tyres. The stuff they use when
swimming with sharks. Have no idea which has the most bite pressure
but its worth a try. Or make a housing round the tyre. Some speed
boats have this round their propellers. Solid rubber tyres maybe.