The swing gates which open under the force of the water and have stood us in such good stead in the past, were swept away in seconds as the water cascaded over the gates. Large trees uprooted by the flood changed the face of the canyon forever.
Our new crossing across the Tiger Canyons, which had taken 6 weeks to build, was under water by 30 metres. Steel poles laboriously pinned into the rock, were snapped like match sticks and disappeared, never to be seen again.
The tigers, now escaping the floods became mixed together. Vicious fights broke out between males and females. Chaos ruled.
The staff of Tiger Canyons responded magnificently, some wading through flood waters to dart tigers on foot in fading light.
According to Richard Pieterson, my tiger assistant, the most dangerous tiger at Tiger Canyons, Corbett charged him while he was on foot. In Richard's words "I used my hat and shouted at Corbett talking hard, but he pushed me around so I decided to talk nicely to him". Corbett responded, leaving Richard alone and disappeared back into the reeds.
Dr. Charlotte Moueix darted 12 tigers under incredibly difficult circumstances. Several of the holding bomas were washed away, so Francois Louw and the Philippolis fencing team began building bomas to accommodate tigers. Two tigers Sunderban and Zaria, spent the night in cages on the back of a truck.
Tragically, the lioness Savannah, as she was recovering from the drug, was attacked by the male tiger Seatao. Previously, Seatao had greeted the lioness with no aggression, then as she began to walk around the boma, he sensed that she was weak from the darting and he attacked her, knocking her down. With 1000 lbs per square inch jaw power, he pushed the 5 inch canines deep into her throat. Although she survived the night, she succumbed to massive internal bleeding.
I had been with Savannah since she was 6 days old. Born in captivity, raised by Tigress Julie, she grew into the biggest lioness I have ever seen and became an outstanding hunter. During a 24 month period, Savannah, hunting as a cooperative hunter and Tigress Julie, hunting as a stalker pouncer, caught between them 80 blue wildebeest and many blesbuck. Later she became auntie to Julie's third litter of cubs and was on several occasions filmed carrying the tiger cubs in her mouth to new den sites. The "Savannah Experiment" was in my opinion one of the most relevant and successful that we have conducted at Tiger Canyons.
Big, strong, fast, wild, intelligent and beautiful, Savannah had a profound effect upon me. I was with her when she died. It will take me a long time to get over her passing, her loss is deeply mourned.
As I gaze across Tiger Canyons, there are lakes where there were once roads. Large sections of the fences are gone. Flocks of white storks have descended to pick up distressed fish and frogs. Thirty blue cranes have landed in the shallow water. Spur wing geese and many different types of ducks have arrived. Flowers I have never seen in my life are blooming. It is a magnificent watery paradise. Two hundred years ago, several million springbuck would arrive to feed off the new grass.
What has taken me 10 years of hard work, Goddess Gaia has taken away in a matter of hours. The electrical fence designed by Neil McLaughlin, was the best predator proof fence in Africa, maybe in the world. Large sections are gone.
I had fenced through wetlands and gorges because that is where the best tiger habitat is. I of all people should know the laws of nature. If you disobey those laws, nature will make you pay. I believe the Tiger Canyons floods are a microcosm of things to come. Goddess Gaia is not concerned with saving tigers, she is concerned with saving a planet where tigers can live wild.
In the final chapter of my book Nine Lives, I wrote "Goddess Gaia" will adapt to her new set of circumstances. She will ensure her own survival at the expense of her most voracious and notorious predator - human beings. She has more than enough tools at her disposal, fire, flood, heat, cold, drought, disease, volcano, earthquake, tsunami, hurricane and tornado to mention a few.
To the next generations I say," begin now to get an understanding of the laws of nature and find ways to partnership with her for your own survival".
At Tiger Canyons we will go back to the drawing board. I will drop all the internal fences and allow the tigers to space themselves and find there own territories. I will allow the prey to roam over larger areas. I will re-partnership with Gaia.
From every negative comes positives. I watched human beings use all their creativity to capture 12 tigers under incredibly difficult circumstances. I watched people risk their lives to save tigers. I also saw the tigers respond magnificently. Some tigers we have never been able to dart before, presented themselves and were darted. Instinctively they new that their lives were in the hands of human beings. There was incredible trust and instinctive communication between human beings and tigers.
As more wars spread across the world and billions of dollars are wasted, as the war on the rhino continues (11 this year already) and as crime, corruption and terrorism spread across the world, I will repeat the warning on my T-shirt.
"The world is waiting
Tread Lightly on the Earth
I would like to thank the following people for their incredible commitment to saving the tigers at Tiger Canyons during the floods. Dr Charlotte Moueix, Francois and Hannelie Louw, Burke Lautenbach, Jann Morrison, Sunette Fourie, Richard Pieterson, Stefan Mokhihlinyana, Zeldah Kobola, Dinah and the Philippolis fencing crew.
Tread lightly on the Earth