I am searching for
Julie's fifth den site and discover it in some thick
reeds below a huge outcrop of rocks.
Julie is away hunting and 5 pairs of misty blue eyes
peer out at me from the dark recess of the den. The
white cub is conspicuous in the dark.
Several of the cub open their tiny jaws in a threat
display and one spits at the camera, otherwise they
remain silent. I give a soft chuffing sound which calms
the cubs and after a while two fall asleep. One cubs
responds to my chuff and waddles towards the camera.
After half an hour in the den, I leave and on the way
out, I encounter Julie returning from her hunt. Julie
gives me a beautiful greeting and I decide to follow her
back to the den. As she arrives at the den, she gives a
series of staccato chuffs to which the cubs respond
JV films in Julie's Den
All five cubs come tumbling out of the den. The cubs are
making soft chuffs and chirps. They are overjoyed to see
Julie. Their fear of me disappears, as several try to
suckle from me. At one point one cub gazes up into my
eyes, bobbing its head as it tries to focus. I chuff the
cub and it gives a perfect chuff back. I have just had
my first conversation with a 3 weeks old tiger cub and
it with me. It is a magical moment.
Julie massages every cub in turn with her rough tongue.
She takes great care to lick them thoroughly. It is
believed that apart from cleaning them, the massage
helps their digestive system and blood circulation.
Julie lies down outside the den on a large flat rock.
Each cub knows instinctively it is feeding time and
there are only four teats amongst five of them.
Competition is intense. It is now when stronger cubs
will dominate the weaker cubs and runts in the litter
will perish. As I watch the jostling cubs, all seem
about the same size and strength. There is no obvious
Two cubs are competing for one teat and the one cub
pushes the other cub away from the teat. It rolls down
Julies body and the momentum takes it off the rock and
it falls into the stream below. Fortunately the water is
shallow but the cub immediately gives a loud distress
Now an incredible thing happens. Julie turns her head
and gives me a series of chuffs. They are unlike the
chuff she uses as a greeting. They are more requesting,
even commanding. It is clear she wants me to rescue the
cub from the water.
My policy up to now has been to observe, record on film
but not to touch. However Julie's request is clear, she
is unwilling to dislodge the suckling cubs, I
must "rescue the cub in distress". I move down into the
stream and pick up the drenched cub and return it to
Julie. She thanks me profusely with a series of chuffs.
Tigress and human being are not only communicating, they
are understanding each other, helping and working
together. For one brief moment at Tiger Canyons, I was
able to talk to a tiny cub and then on request from its
mother, rescue another from the water.
A week after this incredible experience, another miracle
unfolds before my eyes.
I go out early and find July half a kilometer away from
her den. She is strenuously marking territory.
At Julie's den site, Savannah, the lioness begins a
communication roar. Julie responds immediately and heads
off towards the den.
As I am unable to go on foot with Savannah, I move down
to the den in a vehicle.
I arrive at the den site to find Savannah and one tiger
cub in a small clearing about 200m from the den.
It appears that Savannah has arrived at the den while
Julie was away and the cub has mistaken her for Julie.
It has followed Savannah hoping to suckle.
Realizing that the cub is now in the open and
vulnerable, Savannah has communicated her concerns to
Julie. Apparently Julie can understand the lion roar,
for she responds immediately.
After a terrific greeting from Savannah, Julie picks up
the wayward cub in her mouth and returns it to the den.
As she moves towards the den, a second cub gives a
distress call. This cub apparently also followed
Savannah and is in some dense reeds 100m from the den.
Lioness carries Julie's cub in her mouth
Using a "staccato like chuff", Julie communicates to
Savannah to fetch the second cub. It is the same chuff
used when asking me to rescue the cub in the water.
Savannah apparently understands perfectly well, for she
rather clumsily picks up the cub in her mouth and
returns it to the den.
Lions have an auntie system when raising cubs. Often
they will come into estrus together, mate and produce
cubs at the same time. Now one lioness can remain with
cubs while the other hunts for food.
Tigresses raise cubs on their own. They have no help
from male or other female tigers.
Julie, adaptable as she is, seems quite happy to use me
and Savannah to help her raise the cubs.
Three years ago I captured a shot on film of Tigress
Julie moving Savannah in her mouth to a new den. Now, 3
years later, Savannah is repaying the compliment by
carrying Julie's cub back to the den.
Two of the biggest cats in the world and a human being,
caring, communicating and co-operating to raise a litter
of 5 cubs!