Select newsletter in right column
The male and founding tiger of Tiger Canyons,
Ron, has died at Tiger Canyons aged 11 1/2 years old.
As Ron sought to extend his territory, he became
involved in a fight with his son, Tiger Boy, who is 4 years old and
in his prime. During the fight, Ron was bitten on his left foreleg,
right shoulder and high on the spine.
Ron, Julie & JV
I was most concerned that the spine bite might
have immobilised him, but after taking six litres of water from me
and after treating his wounds, he stood up and moved himself into
the shade. After spending 4 hours with him, I was confident that he
would survive, so it was a huge shock on my return to find him
A closer examination of the body, revealed a bite
into the stomach, which would have penetrated a vital organ.
Unfortunately, because of position he was lying in when I treated
his wounds, I failed to see the bite.
A 4 years old male tiger with a canine length of
5 inches, with over 1000 lbs/sq inch pressure, could easily reach a
kidney, liver or spleen, setting up the potential for infection.
On discovering the dead tiger, the rival male
tiger Seatao, immediately attacked the body, going for the
suffocating throat grip. For a full 20 minutes, Seatao aggressively
continued the attack on throat, hamstring and forelegs. The raw
attack, is certainly one of the most ferocious scenes I have ever
filmed and gave me a rare glimpse into the intensity of the
territorial behavior of the tiger.
On reflection, I make the following points. If I
had not met Ron in January 2000, he would have spent his life in a
cage in zoo in North America.
As it turned out, Ron became a super hunter and I
personally did over 300 hunts with him, many successful.
On a famous hunt, Ron swam across the Gariep
River (300 metre wide) and killed a cow on the other side. The story
of this hunt is in my book "Nine Lives" and in the film "Living with
On another hunt, I was running with Ron after
Blesbuck when I fell on the loose stones. After catching the
Blesbuck, Ron immediately came across to see if I was okay.
During another hunt, I was sitting high on a
cliff filming Julie swimming below, when Ron came up behind me and
greeted me with a powerful head rub. The force of his greeting
dislodged the stone on which I was sitting and I fell 50 feet into
the river below with the Arriflex camera still in my hand.
Ron, showing great concern, immediately raced down the cliff and
dived into the water, swam to me and began licking my face.
Ron an JV
On another occasion, Ron was sleeping on top of
my vehicle while I wrote a film script. It was a hot day and I too
fell asleep. When I awoke, I completely forgot that Ron was on the
roof, so I drove out of the hunting area into a herd of 200
sheep. Ron woke up and reminded me that he was on the roof. I
accelerated through the herd of sheep to prevent him from jumping
off the speeding jeep and got back into the hunting area. Ron just
strolled off the top of the jeep, chuffed me and walked into the
shade and went back to sleep as if to say, no need to worry, I
wouldn't have attacked the sheep anyway.
Ron on JV's car
Ron was a good communicator and always greeted
me with the distinctive chuffing sound that tigers make.
On one hunt, Ron continued chuffing for such a
long time that I had to stop the hunt, otherwise the game would hear
us coming. Ron was simply expressing his joy at doing something male
tigers do best, stalking, ambushing and hunting prey.
Ron was the first to alert me to the fact that
"chuffing" is not just a greeting, but a conversation as well. On
one occasion, he gave Julie a series of commands. Julie acted on
each command and included me in the conversation, which lasted a
good 6 to 8 minutes.
I never felt fear in the company of Ron, but on
one occasion, Julie was in estrus, so I had separated Ron and Julie
into different bomas to prevent them from mating. Ron was not amused
and he strutted up and down the fence, his neck swollen, the hair
Against my better judgment, a film crew arrived
and persuaded me to take Ron out to hunt. Literally a few minutes
into the hunt, Ron charged towards me, leaping off the bank of the
dry river bed and smashing me and the camera down onto the rocks. As
I looked up at the male tiger standing over me, he was a fearsome
sight. His pupils were wide, his nostril flared his body coiled like
a spring. Ron could have killed me easily. From my position under
him, I chuffed Ron continually, dropping the tone of my voice "Good
boy! Good boy!" Gradually he relaxed and then he stepped over me and
walked back into his boma. The message was clear, there would be no
The great hunter naturalist James Corbett,
described a male tiger as a whole hearted gentleman. If this is so,
then Ron was the ultimate gentleman. Gentle, kind, fierce,
aggressive, all the qualities which make male tigers the magnificent
creatures they are.
One of my fondest memories of Ron was on a misty
morning at Tiger Canyons when Ron met his cubs for the first time.
He greeted the cubs and then circled the den, marking strenuously
and roaring into the mist, telling all that cubs had arrived.
Tiger Canyons and the world is poorer for Ron's
passing. He gave us love, affection and much knowledge. Films,
songs, poems and thousands of pictures have been taken of this
I was with Ron for 11 years and his passing is
deeply felt. I take solace in the fact that he lived, in human
terms, close to 80 years. He mated, hunted, fought for territory and
fathered cubs and lived the life of a wild tiger. It is a fact that
Tigers live violently and die violently and so it was with Ron.
The year 2010 has been tough for Tiger Canyons.
We lost Runti the cub, Shine to poachers and Ron in a fight.
On the positive side, we bred new generations and
we captured, fenced and stocked more land for wild tigers.
The boycotting of the upcoming Tiger Summit in St
Petersburg by many of the leading tiger conservationists, tells me
that if they are in disarray, what chance does the wild tiger have.
Until someone can show me a better method, I will
continue to create wild populations of tigers in South Africa.
Tread Lightly on the Earth
Tributes to Ron
I feel so sad for you at this
time knowing you have lost a friend, a brother, a son, a
companion and a spiritual healer in Ron. I saw and
filmed hours of you guys together in Ron's first few
years. And saw how your bond grew as a culmination of
all your work with Mother leopard, Shingi, Little Boy
and Little Girl, the cheetahs. I saw how your love for
Ron and Julie created your mission to make their home
range bigger and more natural and save their whole tiger
species. And with all the tough times you have faced on
this admirable mission, how Ron and Julie have kept you
going. What a sore heart you must have at this time.
I feel sadness for all of us who
knew and loved Ron. He was one of those beings you just
Being with Ron taught me so much,
especially about trust. Being on a hunt with him filming
with an old Arri where I would have to crouch over low
down and press my one eye to the eyepiece and close the
other, while a full grown tiger was in full of hunting
adrenalin a few metres away. Blind and in the silence
of a hunt when all my senses would be on high alert and
not sure if my camera was facing in the right direction
or where Ron or Julie were. Two grown tigers hunting and
I couldn't see them, I should just stay crouched down so
as not to mess up their hunt. There was no way I could
let fear enter me as I knew this would be a magnet for
any predator. I remember the few times Ron did jump on
me. Ooi, pretty gentlemanly for a tiger, but mmm
impressive. Thank you John for giving me and so many
humans access to Ron's life.
To you Ron, You are a great
Mahatma. Thanks for blessing this planet with your
presence. Thanks for all the lessons you taught us
humans. For me personally, thank you for teaching me
about trust. For literally showing me that I have to
close both eyes, be fearless, allow myself to be
vulnerable and, for godsake, don't run away. Thanks for
not eating me when you could of on many an occasion. And
thanks for not eating John. We need him.
Rest in peace and help us humans
from the other side now.
I am so sad to read about Ron, I feel his passing too and
wanted to extend my heartfelt sympathy to you. I believe in
what you are doing.
Please accept my heart-felt condolences. Ron’s passing
leaves the world a poorer place. And yet, the world was a
richer place for those 11 years when he lived, learned and
thrived. And you should take enormous pride in that. I
can’t imagine Ron living his entire life behind bars in some
North American zoo. You gave him love. You gave him
freedom. And you gave him respect. (And self-respect!)
Perhaps the three most important things for any creature.
Ron was the first tiger I ever met. My favorite picture
of myself is of me and Ron, taken my first day in Africa, my
first morning at Tigermoon. It hangs over my desk to this
day. And is my picture on facebook.
We can be sad and mourn his death.
But more importantly, we should celebrate his life.
He was a helluva cat . . .
All my best,
Dear John and team...
Such a big loss, we could not possible image how it must feel to
lose such a "key member" of your time. Even tough nature can be
cruel, we know it should take its course, but it saddens us to
know he is gone. We can only say thanks to a higher power for
enriching your lives with Ron!!! May you cherish every memory of
your time together... Thinking of you.
Nico and Chrisone Smit (got engaged at the ranch in July 2OO9)
Dear John, We who were privledged to meet Ron share your
sadness & offer the following words by Irving Townsend from "The
Once Again Prince":
We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more
temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and
often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would
live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain
immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan.....
Our sincere condolences, Dr Jack & Tobe' Wilson
Just to jog your memory as to who I am, I am a friend of
Kate and Mo's and Lulani and was out in Phili for a second time
this past summer with my friend Francine for the world cup. We
took one of your Tiger tours and very much enjoyed it.
Since then, in your updates I learned of first Shine's
passing and now Ron's. Tragic but, at least for Ron, a natural
occurence for a wild tiger and a life cycle that would not have
proceeded so naturally had he not left the Bowmanville Zoo (not
far from my home in Toronto). The first time I was in South
Africa back in 2006 was when I met Ron and Julie and I think
Shine was there as a cub too - in fact I remember playing with
Shine (or it might have been Shadow and Seatao).
Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for sending along these
stories - you are a captivating writer.
Take care and keep doing what your doing!
I would love to come visit again and will let you know when
I am next in Phili (probably not for a year or two).
So incredibly sad, but as you said, he had a hell of a life. Saw
him last year during our visit there, also have wonderful
pictures, but most of all, memories of him in our hearts.
Many thanks for your inspirational input in these impressive
My daughter still can not forget what she experienced there and
wants to come and volunteer for you at some stage, if you would!
Keep doing what you are doing....
Well done for the amazing work you are doing.
It is always sad to hear news like this and thank you for
sharing this story of Ron.
I always read your insights with much interest, please keep them
I am sure that as with me they bring people closer to your
endeavours and expand the much needed consciousness.
so much for this - Ron's story touched my heart - may his soul be
You’ve been having a tough year with
these losses. I feel for you and the Tigers.
I still have photos of Ron and of
the cubs from when we came to Philipollis. I really enjoyed it.
This loss must be particularly
tough, with Ron being the start of it all.
You’ve gone a long, long way. Keep
walking, as they say.
Hi Jon and Dave,
It’s been ages since we last
chatted. I wanted to drop you an email just to say that I
have heard that Ron has died. I felt very sad and can only
imagine how you must feel.
Hi JV and Sunette
I wanted to order a few copies of your book, how can
I go about this?
I hope all is well. I've tried calling but I cant
get through. All the best to both of you.
We are so sorry for your loss... It
must have been a sad moment and we feel for you. It seems like
you and Ron had an amazing time together and we congratulate you
on the amazing work you have done with him and all your other
projects. Thanks for sharing the great memories of his life with
Hope to see you soon again...
Love from the whole Eksteen family
Oh wow, JV
– thanks for letting us know. Must be so hard for you.
how Ron “recognised” me when I came to his boma with you for
the first time? Knowing I’d never seen an adult tiger in the
flesh in my life, I told him he must be mistaken. Only to
have him remind me of us playing when he was a cub at Ron
and Julie Whitfield’s place in California where we used to
go tot lure train out cheetahs…
soul he is, and always will be.
Deeply sad to hear about Ron. My family and I met him
in April of this year, one of the great highlights of an
otherwise awful year. We hope to get to see you and your
tigers again in 2011.
Keep up the great work
Kind regards and best wishes
Jane, Seffi, Daniel, and Kelly Margalit
Mooi storie – van Ron – nogal sad –
You're doing what other people would like to do but
don't because of losing face. So stuff the people.
YOU are the people. On the other hand and as gross as it
sounds why don't you harvest the Tigers that die and
sell them. The money would be useful. I have thought
about this for ages and to curb poaching I would do
anything. Think of the Tiger as being an organ donor in
order to save many other lives.
JV and Sunette
So very sad hear of Ron's death. He was a
magnificent wild tiger.
We are in Jaipor India. Local news: 5 tigers
recently relocated to Sariska; one already poisoned
already dead; another gone missing. Keep strong your
Bob & Mary Beth Wheeler
Dear JV and all,
I am sitting here after reading about Ron with tears
streaming down my face. I have showed the movie
'Living with Tigers' to my incarcerated students so many
times I cannot count them. Everytime I show it, the
kids LOVE it and are so interested in tigers. Even
though they are locked up, they feel for these
magnificent cats. Ron and Julie were true pioneers in
your effort to keep wild tigers on this planet. My
heart breaks as yours does only I'm sure it is a
fraction of your pain.
Thank you for all that you are doing and someday, I hope
to visit Tiger Canyons.
Just look through the screen of my computer gave me
shivers of pleasure, evrei want to see you in person to
admire your rare beauty pioneer for your race you have
lighted a hope for a species that deserves to live more
'in many people
You were special from the start because Ron 'Dave and
John great, great experts in their field, have chosen
you and Julie to give you the freedom' in exchange for a
big responsibility 'and you have never disappointed.
Big and 'the
gift that you gave us, you could live free from
predators and to love more' so many people giving
inspiration and joy.
To be honest I would have liked to have been there with
Jon and Dave during your first catch. . . . . God
what a thrill it was, (confirm John?)
I always had a deep love for cats in particular for the
tiger, and Ron and Julie have made him even more 'big.
so thank Ron for all
that you gave us and to have existed
In February I will go 'to the temple of the tigers in
Thailand, I want to stay inside a week to play with
puppies and wanted to see you and Julie in Africa, and I
do not' even happened to be in contact with an adult
male, but I think Ron was unique for me.
Thanks john for what you are creating and all the
passion you have, I would soon come to know you and
thank you in person if possible
from ROMA 18/11/2010
for English not very fair
So very sad – our thoughts are with you over this
time. He was truly magnificent and we can’t believe he
is no longer alive. We fondly remember Ron and Julie
arriving at Phinda – and so have always had a special
interest in them.
Lots of love
Stoff and Debs x
Hi John / Team
Very sad to hear about Rons passing,though as
you have said he had a great life,so much better
than any concrete jungle,that could have been his
life in a zoo.
The summit in St Peters burg,lets hope they hope
they come up with something that will help at ground
level,not just more hot air.
We have lost two Tigers in India in the last
week to poisoning,though the authorities cover this
up as in fighting between males,though no marks on
Keep up the great work.
We are so sorry to hear of another loss at Tiger
Canyons! Ron surely was beautiful! Thanks for the work
you do! Hope to see you in Grahamstown again
Thank you for the most incredible insight into
your life with your tiger 'family'.
It's so brilliant and illuminating for a city
slicker like me with a passion for conservation.
Tony Balshaw | Managing Partner
JV, I am heartbroken for you.
Dear Tiger Canyons and John:
You have my support and I have a tear in the eye
for the description of Ron.
Kindly continue the work against the odds for
trying to give tigers a new beginning in South
Africa-even though God did not place tigers in
Africa, it is humankind that is decimating their
population and thus humankind should intervene in
saving the Last of the Tigers.
L This is so very sad. I’m so sorry to hear
So sorry to hear JV. You've chosen a tough job,
full of loss and heartbreak, but hopefully the
reward of protecting such a threatened species in
the unlikeliest of places makes it worth it.
Mr. Varty, this is deeply saddening indeed. I
first met Ron when I watched you and David Salmoni
introduce Ron and Julie to the wild and taught them
how to hunt. Truly amazing. Of course it was
through my television. I have followed Ron's
journey through out all of these years and tend to
check in on him and Julie to see how they are. I
was apprehensive about opening this e-mail for what
was in it. I will continue to check in on Julie and
the others. You are in my thoughts!
Dear John ,
I saw Dave and Shan last month and they told me
about your book – I am thoroughly enjoying it and
Hi JV & Sunette,
Sad to hear of Ron's sudden passing, and grateful to
happy memries, like him riding on the jeep roof...
John and Sunette,
Please accept my deepest sympathies for Ron's
passing. My heart cry's for his loss. Watching his
growth from age 2 until now has been thrilling and
educational. Tiger Canyon has lost so many special
tigers this year, Runti who I felt a special
connection with, Shine the beautiful daughter of
Julie and Seatao and Ron, the king of Tiger Canyon.
I didn't realize Shine was killed by poachers, I
thought it was a fight with one of Shadows older
male cubs. How are Julie's cubs doing? One year old
already, what did you name them? I hope Julie and
Shadow have stayed away from each other and no
fighting. Well take care John, you have given all
your tigers a life they would never have had without
you. Love to the big cats of Tiger Canyon,
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
Just read the news letter and very very sad
to see Ron is no more. An icon is gone.
The best is he spent his life as a tiger in
Tiger Canyons. Though he was photographed,
filmed lot of times, think he made a huge
contribution by educating humans (visitors to
Tiger canyons, people who follow your books,
films, website etc) about what a true tiger is
and why they must exist and this education to
1000s of people will go a long way in restoring
his fellow wild tigers’ their place on this
May God Bless you in whatever you do to
protect this beautiful beast.
Attaching a photo of a wild tiger that I saw
in Ranathambore a month back. A beautiful
gorgeous lady named T39, 3 years old, moved away
from her mom few months back and have an