The early morning sun lifts over the rugged canyon.
Steam rises from the pools on the canyon floor and the white, frost
covered grass, contrasts with the golden light. The scene is magnificent.
A New York banker, a cameraman, a vet, a tracker and
myself talk in whispers, our breath condensing in the cold winter air.
The tracker examines the fresh paw print of a large male tiger. He informs me that the track is fresh, it is worth
following. I convey the information to the banker standing next to me.
He is quivering with excitement. The banker motions to the photographer standing next to
him, to prepare the cameras. A high definition Sony movie camera and a
state of the art Nikon Digital still camera are quickly prepared.
I motion to the party to move behind me
in single file and to talk in whispers.
We are doing what no other person can do, or is allowed
to do. We are hunting a wild male tiger on foot, an extremely dangerous
The tracker is highly skilled, he has spent a lifetime
tracking jackals and caracals and although the terrain is rocky, he
follows the track with great skill. To watch a master tracker, is like watching a
surgeon perform an operation. Like we read a book, the tracker reads the
signs. He shows us where the tiger lay down next to the pool after
quenching his thirst, his elbows pushing into the mud, his tail grooving
As the tiger leaves, his wet paw prints are clearly visible on
the rocks. The tracker kneels to examine the drops of water that have
dripped from the tigers mouth. He signals to me, they are still wet, we are close.
The tiger has moved through the tall grass, no paw prints
here, just a curving trail through the frosted grass indicates the
direction the tiger has taken.
Suddenly a mountain reedbuck whistles an alarm call, it
has seen the tiger. We squint into the rising sun, nothing! The
tracker and I follow the eye line of the reedbuck, it is staring into
tall grass, interspersed with boulders.
The tiger's camouflage is perfect. It's golden coat
blends with the sunlight shining on the brown grass. The tiger is
motionless, it is hunting the reedbuck, unaware that we are hunting him.
The banker is huffing and puffing. Overweight and out of
shape, the excitement is getting to him. I motion him to rest and remain
quiet. How is he ever going to aim his gun, I wonder?
The mountain reedbuck move closer to the tiger,
intensifying their alarm calls, they have him in sight.
Suddenly, with his cover blown, the tiger rises and
begins to stroll down into the canyon. He is magnificent, 230kg of lean
power and beauty.
The banker can't see the tiger as he is right into the
rising sun. The cameraman can't film him, the sun is flooding into his
lens. The banker wants to give chase, I command him to wait, the tiger
slips out of sight.
I know that patience will be vital if this hunt is to be
successful. Quickly I assess the situation. Can the banker
physically handle the climb down into the canyon? Which way will the tiger
move, where is the best cover from which to hide and shoot? I decide to
take a longer but easier route down into the rugged canyon floor.
The tiger has a low centre of gravity, its weight is
distributed on all fours, it glides through the rugged canyon. The humans are tall with a
high centre of gravity. Their
weight is distributed on two legs, they stumble, they fall.
Eventually we reach the floor of the canyon. The
tracker quickly picks up the tracks in the sand and we follow as quietly
Suddenly I see him, he is marking territory on a
prominent rock, he is facing away from us in the dappled light. The banker, peering through his glasses, can't see the
tiger and the cameraman can't find him in the black and white
viewfinder. In short, the stripes of the tiger are merging with the
shadows, breaking up the outline of the tiger.
The vet hands me the loaded gun which I give to the
banker. I'm carrying a 30.06 Springfield rifle for safety.
The male tiger draws back his lips as he pulls a flehmen
face as he processes the scent of another tiger, the banker sees the
movement and makes out the tiger.
"Wait for him to turn broadside" I command. The bankers
gun is rotating wildly, he has a bad attack of "buck fever", there is no
ways he will hit the target. "Rest the gun over my shoulder" I command.
The tiger turns, gazing back at us. It is unsure whether
to stay or to run. "Now!", I command. The banker fires! The tiger rears up
on impact, the cameraman rolls his camera and the vet glances at his
watch. The tiger disappears behind some boulders. "Can we go
after him"? the banker urges in a high state of excitement. "Not
yet, we must wait 7 minutes", I reply.
We move in, the male tiger is stretched out on the sand,
he is alive. The vet bends down and removes the dart from the sleeping
tiger. The banker keeps the dart as a memento. I radio a nearby
helicopter to bring the banker's wife and daughter to join in the
celebrations. Champagne flies and cameras roll.
The tiger is weighed and measured and blood taken. The
hunt is recounted a dozen times for the benefit of those who weren't
there. The tiger is photographed from every angle.
The bankers daughter with the help of the vet, antidotes
the tiger. As the tiger awakens, the banker gets into the helicopter and
the cameraman films the tiger from the air as it moves away.
Before he leaves, the banker gives me $40 000. I
instruct the fencing crew to fence another 2 kilometers of the new tiger
Let me know (email, facebook and twitter) whether you
think this is an ethical way of earning income from tigers?
Tread lightly on the Earth