I regret to inform you that
on the 15th of August 2010, the white Tigress Shine was killed by a
young male tiger called Corbett.
The question one asks
immediately is why would a male tiger kill a female who is not related
to him and was a potential mate?
The answer I believe, lies in
background and temperaments of the tigers concerned.
Corbett, just 18 months old,
is known to be extremely aggressive. He has inherited the aggressive
gene from his mother Shadow.
Corbett was born and raised
wild. He has grown up in the tough, competitive world of wild tigers. He
has had to fight for food and new territory. Corbett has had the
discipline from his mother Shadow and his father Ron.
Now at dispersal age, Corbett
competes fiercely for a territory of his own.
Tigress Shine was abandoned
at birth and raised by human beings. She spent her short life walking
and swimming in the Canyon in the company of human beings and her
siblings, Zaria and Sunderban. Her life was idyllic, never short of food
and no conflict between siblings.
Of the three abandoned cubs,
Sunderban, Zaria and Shine, Shine was the most dominant. She was the
first to swim in the lake at 6 weeks old, first to catch small prey,
first to jump on top of the jeep.
Zoologists believe that white
tigers have the aggressive gene, perhaps a compensation for their colour.
Recently, when I filmed small cubs in a den site, the normal coloured
cubs remained silent, while the white cub hissed and spat.
At Londolozi, we have a
coalition of 5 male lions. One of the smallest, a male called Satan, has
killed more than 7 other lions, mainly adult females and cubs.
I recently filmed Satan
trying to mate with a lioness who wouldn't oblige and that night he
At Tiger Canyons, all seemed
fine as the hand-raised cubs co-existed together with the wild cubs for
several weeks. However, the subtleties of dispersal behavior have to be
The wild cubs are a male
Sariska, who is shy and not dominant, a female Panna, who is also placid
and shy and Corbett, who is extremely bold, dominant and aggressive.
Of the three hand raised
cubs, the male Sunderban is the biggest, so he rules by size, although
his temperament is extremely docile. Zaria, a female, is small and
immediately submits to the males.
Shine was an extremely large
female and very, very dominant. Pound for pound, she would have matched
Corbett, but in terms of fighting experience, she would have been
hopelessly outclassed by the wild male tiger.
I believe that in the limited
space available, these two dominant characters Shine and Corbett,
clashed head on in their desire for territory. Both are not sexually
mature, so there is no regard for the opposite sex and no anticipation
for a potential mate. It is simply a contest for territory.
Tigers fight by standing on
their back legs and swiping viciously with front paws and claws
extended. In this way, they protect the vulnerable throat and by turning
towards the attacker the spine.
I'm sure there were a series
of fights in which Corbett was able to cripple Shine. Once he had
immobilized her, he came back and suffocated her.
At 18 months old, a male
tiger has considerable length in the canines and I found severe puncture
wounds in Shine's throat and neck.
Growing up wild, Corbett
would have seen his mother throttling blesbuck and he too has probably
made several kills, so his knowledge of anatomy is good. He would have
known that bites to the throat would deliver the killer blow.
Contrary to popular believe,
how to kill prey is not instinctive, it is learnt and Corbett would have
learnt this in the tough world of wild tigers.
No matter how hard we humans
try, we can never provide a hand raised tiger with the complete
education that a wild tiger receives.
If Shine had backed down and
submitted to the male tiger like her sister Zaria, she would be alive
today. Unfortunately with her dominant temperament, she opted for
conflict and paid the ultimate price.
For two days Corbett
aggressively defended Shine's body, feeding at intervals from it.
On the second day, Sunderban,
Shine's brother, forced Corbett off the body and then he defended it.
Corbett then returned with his brother Sariska and his mother Shadow and
the three tigers forced Sunderban off the body. Corbett then dragged the
body into a thick reed swamp.
Ironically, at the time of
Shine's death, I was fencing a magnificent area where I was going to let
Shine disperse, but it came too late.
During her short life,
thousands of pictures have been taken of Shine. She had a habit of
jumping off a cliff onto her playmates swimming below and ducking
photographers and cameramen.
To her human friends, she was
kind, affectionate and playful. Shine's pale blue eyes made her one of
the most captivating creatures I have ever seen in my life.
For me personally, it is a
tragic loss. I was very, very close to her. The mistake of releasing her
with wild tigers, will haunt me forever.
Tread lightly on the earth