The behavior of Runti the tiger cub continues
to amaze me.
The smallest of a litter of five born to Tigress
Julie on the 2nd of November 2009 at Tiger
Canyons, Runti although half the size of her
siblings, has managed to survive 10 weeks.
Emotions have run high across the world with
many people requesting that I pull her out and
hand raise her.
Runti's problem was further exacerbated, when her
mother Julie was in a brutal fight with Tigress
Crippled and on three legs, there was no ways
that Julie could hunt. If I was not there to
help Julie, Runti and the other four cubs, would
have starved to death.
However I have treated Julie wounds and am
helping her with food until she is back to full
My decision was to leave Runti in the litter but
to help her whenever possible.
On the 19th of January an extraordinary event
occurred. On visiting the den site I found Julie
in the river bed with Runti. The other cubs were
hiding in caves and crevices nearby.
I went down into the river bed to greet Julie
and to inspect her wounds. After a nice greeting
Julie limped off to go and mark my jeep as she
is accustomed to do.
This left me in the river bed with Runti. I
crawled towards her chuffing softly. It was
raining hard and Runti looked like a drowned
rat, not at all like a tiger cub. I noticed that
her ribs and pelvic bone stuck through her wet
Under my jacket I had concealed a dead hare. I
removed the hare, opened the belly and placed it
on a rock. I chuffed a few times and then
withdrew to see what Runti would do. Runti
immediately approached the hare and began to
feed off the hare.
I motioned to cameraman James Boon and wild life
photographer Daryl Balfour to join me. What was
to follow, was truly extraordinary.
Julie returned and picked up the hare and came
right towards me and began to feed on the hare.
Runti followed close by and tried to pull the
hare out of Julie's mouth. Soon the head of the
hare separated and Runti had her own little
kill. This was all three feet from where I was
Runti oblivious of the camera next to her, was
intent on getting as much meat as quickly as
The rain continued to pour down and at one point
Runti began to shiver. I took my bandana and
tried as best I could to dry the shivering cub.
Runti enjoyed her massage and then Julie look
over, her rough tongue infinitely more efficient
than my bandana.
All the while James Boon was filming under a
raincoat with a Sony High Definition camera,
while Daryl Balfour with a plastic bag over his
Nikon was shooting stills. I rolled a Sony EX1
and talked softly into the camera giving a
During this time Julie showed not a hint of
aggression and Runti fed as fast and furiously
as she could.
At this point it occurred to me that perhaps
Runti would take some fortified milk from a
bottle. Daryl returned to camp to fetch the
Incredibly Runti look the bottle immediately and
Julie let off a series of staccato chuffs. I've
heard it before, its a tiger "thank you".
While Runti drank the milk, Julie groomed her,
James filmed, Daryl photographed, the rain
poured down, and time stood still at Tiger
We left Julie and the drenched cub and returned to
camp. During the night several violent storms
dropped tons of water on Tiger Canyons. At first
light we returned to the den. Julie was lying in
the river bed. As I approached, I noticed that
Julie didn't give me the normal greeting. I
presumed it was due to the fight and that she
was stiff and sore.
I syringed her wounds with antiseptic. After a
while Julie got up and hobbled over to Runti
lying in the reeds, she chuffed the cub but
there was no response. Runti had died during the
Julie gently picked up the cub and brought it to
me. I took the cub and first thing that struck
me was how light she was. There was no body fat
on her, she was literally skin and bones.
It became obvious to me that during the rain
storm Runti should have been in the caves, safe
and dry with the other cubs, instead she chose
to stay in the rain feeding off the hare.
During the wet cold night her weakened body
couldn't cope and she died of exposure or
perhaps even pneumonia.
Later Julie carried the cub, talked to it,
groomed and then disposed of the body by eating
parts of it. Then she covered it with grass.
Years ago I witnessed a similar burial when the
Mother Leopard at Londolozi ate her dead cub and
buried the remains in the sand.
There was a grieving period and then disposal of
the body, which is exactly what humans do.
I have no doubt that even if I had hand raised
Runti, it would have been to no avail. Nature had
given her a poor physical start from the
beginning. Some years ago I had filmed a lion
cub out of a litter of four. This cub displayed
the same symptoms as Runti. She failed to put on
weight like her siblings and walked in a similar
hunched style to Runti. Like Runti the lion cub
Another possible scenario is when Savannah first
greeted Julie and the cubs soon after their
birth, that Savannah accidentally sat on Runti,
causing internal damage.
For the scientifically minded these are some of
the following things Runti did to try and
survive. She would leave the den on her own and
go to old kills and pick the bones. Runti once
left the den and moved a hundred metres to a
water hole to hydrate herself. Runti licked the
rain off Julie's back in an effort to combat
dehydration. She sought assistance from her
father Seatao, from Savannah and from myself.
None of us were able to help her.
wait for the stronger cubs to suckle and when
they were full she would then suckle from Julie.
She was never denied access to food, the fault
lay in her physical body.
When Runti took the meat and milk it was one of
the greatest days of my life. Then, the
following day, it all came
crashing down! Such is the ebb and flow of life
at Tiger Canyons, success and failure closely
To keep things in perspective while Runti was
fighting for her life 200,000 people have
estimated killed and 2 million left homeless on
the Island of Haiti.
One can say that the loss of a tiger cub is
nothing in the greater scheme of things. However
the loss of even one wild tiger is a loss to a
species fighting for survival in the wilds.
Julie has four healthy cubs to raise. The white
cub is a female, it is very strong even dominant
over the other cubs.
Julie herself is badly injured it will take 4 to
6 weeks or her to return to normal.
On the same day that Runti died, I acquired
another 2000 hectares for tigers.
The cycle of life continues.
Global Audit & Transformation - Bangalore, India
Itís unfortunate to see Runtiís death. I can
understand how you would have felt seeing the
whole thing happening in front of your eyes. (I
have a Labrador at my home and I will spend
sleepless night if he does not eat for a day).
As you have rightly mentioned, every tiger is
very very very important. Letís hope the
remaining cubs do well. Happy to note you got
additional 2000 hectares more for these
beautiful beasts I had the opportunity to be
part of the tiger census in India (22nd Jan to
24th) as a volunteer. Things look promising,
keeping my fingers crossed to see the final
results which will be out towards the end of
this year. There is so much attention, concern,
willingness to help from the wild life
enthusiasts from the whole world, I think,
though the king of the Asian jungle are at the
brink, they are capable of making a great come
back given their ability to adapt and cope up
with challenges posed by human, natural
calamities, prey, forest cover etc. I just saw
today in the local news paper that a tiger has
travelled around 250 KM to establish his own
territory Ė unbelievable. Such is their ability.
This is truely very bad news about Runti but if you
people intervened from
the start this beautiful innocent creature would not
have died I hope this
will give you something to think about maybe the
next litter you will be
more co-operative what a shame.
Thanks for sharing your extrodinary experience. It
had me in tears! You definitely do what Ghandi meant
when he said: "BE the change you want to see in the
Keep on doing you good work with these special
animals, happy for the extra land you got!