John Varty Interview with Sizie Modise
SM: How long have you been doing Tiger Conservation?
JV: 14 years
SM: What is your overall objective?
JV: To get a population of over 50 wild Tigers and create
a park where Lions, Leopards, Cheetah and Tigers all coexist.
SM: Your recent expansion invested 1000 Hectares for
JV: Like Tigers, Cheetah suffer from loss of home range
to humans and they are more vulnerable to being out competed by Lions,
Leopard and Spotted Hyena. Cheetah lose kills and cubs to these rival
predators. Cheetah are listed as a threatened species. Before we
introduced Cheetah, there were no wild Cheetah in the Free State.
SM: Do you ever see Cheetah and Tiger co-existing?
JV: I would need a lot more land, more than 60 000
SM: What does it cost you to run Tiger Canyons per day?
JV: I have no idea, a lot of money.
SM: What does it cost to support and adult Tiger per
JV: R100 000
SM: Can I sponsor a Tiger?
JV: Yes you can, through the Tigress Julie Foundation.
SM: Have you had any big corporations sponsor a Tiger?
JV: No, only individuals.
SM: Does the South African Government give you any
JV: None. I have called for the government to create a
full national park for Tigers, but I doubt it will ever happen.
SM: Has Tigress Ussuri replaced Julie as your favourite
JV: They are different relationships. Julie was hand
raised, while Ussuri is wild born and wild raised. Both are incredible ambassador Tigers. All the Tigers are my favourite, even Corbett.
SM: Do you bear any grudge against Corbett?
JV: None whatsoever, I am counting the days to when he
walks free - it should be in 8 weeks time.
SM: How many pictures have already been taken of Ussuri?
JV: Hundreds of thousands. Ussuri is a very accessible
Tigress and she chooses very picturesque den sites. Ussuri interacts
with her cubs all the time so the photographic potential is huge. The
afternoon light at Tiger Canyons is the best I have ever filmed in,
Ussuri and her cubs literally glow in the afternoon light.
SM: What would it cost me to rename Ussuri?
JV: $100 000
SM: What will it cost to name one of her cubs?
JV: $10 000
SM: Why did you vasectomise Seatao?
JV: Seatao fathered Julies second and third litters. He
is also the father of Shadow's two cubs. His son Mahindra is a very fine
male, is well bred and carries his genes.
SM: Why has Shundarban never impregnated a Tigress?
JV: Shundarban suffers from a condition called
Kryptorchen. This means his testicles are inside his body. The result is
that the temperature of his sperm, is too high.
SM: How do you control who Tibo mates with?
JV: I have no control who she mates with, especially when
all the internal fences are removed and all the Tigers are co-existing.
Our policy is not to produce white Tigers but rather preserve the rarity
of the white Tiger. I am DNA profiling every Tiger at the moment, but
once the big area is operational, I have no control.
SM: Why do you use Mahindra vehicles
JV: They are cheaper than Landrovers
SM: Your motto is "Tread lightly on the Earth" – why?
JV: The truth is, the human population is now at more
than 7 billion. Everyday we are burning fossil fuels. We are heating the
planet and our footprint is heavy. Tread lightly is an objective I would
love to achieve in the future….for now it remains marketing.
SM: What is your major environmental contribution?
JV: We are creating a wild population of Tigers outside
Asia, this is valuable, extremely valuable. We are creating huge
awareness through our films, newsletters and the website. Apart from
this, perhaps our biggest contribution is that we have changed the land
use system from destructive domestic stock to indigenous wildlife on a
large piece of land. We are creating jobs as well.
SM: How many jobs have you created in Philippolis?
JV: I have created as many as 109 jobs. Presently 50 guys
are fencing the last 14km of fence.
SM: How strong is your tourism?
JV: Very strong. The Big Cat Safari puts Lion, Leopard,
Cheetah and Tiger together in one safari. There is nowhere else in the
world you can achieve this. 52 Nationalities have visited Tiger Canyons.
SM: What kind of guest is visiting Tiger Canyons?
JV: Professional photographers, international film crews,
knowledgeable, concerned people….. a pleasure to be with.
SM: When will you build a Lodge?
JV: When the bank lends me the money.
SM: Will your children go into conservation?
JV: I hope so, it's their journey.
SM: What succession planning do you have in place?
JV: Rodney and Lorna Drew have invested heavily in wild
Tigers and Cheetahs. This helps me shoulder the responsibility. If
Corbett had killed me, it would have been all over.
SM: What kind of return can an investor get from an
investment in wild Tigers?
JV: A small financial return - a bigger environmental
return and an even greater spiritual return.
SM: What is the spiritual return?
JV: I get to swim with tiger cubs, go hunting with
Cheetah, film and photograph wild tigers in an area with no noise, no
pollution and no crime. That’s a pretty spiritual lifestyle.
SM: One of your recent newsletters called for a champion
for Tigers. Have you had any luck?
JV: There are many wealthy individuals interested in
investing in the project. There are a few likeminded.
SM: You are working on your first musical, tell us
JV: It’s a DVD with some of the songs which I have
written 20 years ago. Now I have professional musicians recording for
me. What’s exciting is that it’s a live show, I put microphones and
drums in the audience and the lyrics are written on a big screen so the
audience can sing along. It’s story telling at its best and a giant
SM: Who influences you musically?
JV: I have been influenced by musicians who have used
their music to protest a situation. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez protested the Vietnam war.
Barry McGuire’s "Eve of Destruction" had a big impact on me. Rodriguez's
anti-establishment "Cold Fact" was a favourite of mine, Rodriguez,
because he was half Native American, never got the recognition he
deserved in America. Johnny Clegg’s anti-apartheid cross-over music was
perfect in the liberation struggle. Bob Marley brought the opposing
politicians together in one of his concerts in Jamaica.
SM: Do you have any protest songs in the musical?
JV: The song "In Cages Around the World", is a protest
song against the use of tigers and indeed all wild animals in circus
"in cages around the world you pace
60 000 in a never-ending futile race
In circuses you perform
But your teeth are pulled
And your claws are all gone…"
SM: Who helped you with this production?
JV: I would like to thank the many artists who performed
in the show. Bobby Johnson of Rebirth Music did a fantastic job of
professionalizing the music and Tidi Modise edited the production. The show will go out on DVD and on YouTube.
All proceeds of the show will go to Tiger conservation. The concert is dedicated to Nelson Mandela and
Tigress Julie. If you would like to order the DVD and a signed
booklet with lyrics it costs R750 plus postage. The limited edition leather bound DVD and signed
booklet with lyrics is R1500 plus postage. You can order through
email@example.com . Delivery will be in 90 days. All proceeds go to
SM: Where do you want to take your music?
JV: I would like to produce an album which highlights the
plight of Tigers. The album would have artists like Ziggy Marley,
Rodrigues, Johnny Clegg, Peter Sarstedt, Chris de Burgh, Tina Turner,
Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Ronan Keating, Bryan Adams, Yusuf (ex Cat
Stevens) all creating and performing.
SM: You better get going…some of those artists are
JV: …And so am I (smile)
SM: You are writing 4 books this year, tell me about
JV: I am doing a book with Marsel van Oosten and Daniella
Sibbing on Tiger Conservation and saving the Tiger. I am doing a book on
the Big Cats: Lion, Leopard, Cheetah and Tiger with Daryl and Sharna
Balfour. I am doing a book with my two boys Sean and Tao Varty. It’s a
fun book. My last book is called "All the Girls", its about all the
ladies I have known, 2 legged, 4 legged, furry.. and not so furry. It
spans from Tina Turner to Tigress Julie, from Brooke Shields to Mother
Leopard. It should be fun…..
SM: Do books make any money?
JV: None, but they carry powerful messages and they are
fun to make.
SM: Do you ever get lonely?
SM: Have you ever been married?
SM: Would you like to be?
JV: Are you making me an offer I do not understand…?
Cub Naming Competition
Thank you to all who entered the Ussuri Cub naming
competition. Many beautiful Russian & Indian Names were submitted. Some
of my favourites include:
Tamil, Remus, Anat, Iskra, Borya, Kuzma, Bandha,
Charger, Antares, Kalu, Thuka, Damansky, Mohanpur, Argo, Orion, Riley,
The competition closes on the 30th of May, when the
two judges Lorna Drew and Angeline Carruthers will decide the winner.
Names for only the male cubs should now be submitted.
I would like to thank Margaret Pang who made an
extremely generous donation & named Ussuri’s female cub "Marguerite".
Remember that a Tiger at Tiger Canyons can be
sponsored on an annual basis & a tiger can be given a name or a name can
be changed for a donation (see newsletter)
Expansion: The fence enclosing the new tiger area is
progressing rapidly. Within 8 weeks, the area will be ready for stocking
with prey animals.
Tiger Corbett and Tigress Zaria will be released into
the new area immediately. All tigers at Tiger Canyons will be wild and
For me this is a giant step forward in tiger
conservation & one I have looked forward to for a long time. I would
like to thank Jos and Yvette van Bommel, who helped finance the fence.
Their generosity is endless.
In addition James Le Vea who has sponsored large
sectors of the fence.
Kevin Drew & Neil McLaughlin have produced a fence of
the highest quality. The fence is certainly the highest predator proof
fence in Africa and is powered completely by solar energy.
Tread Lightly on the Earth