In September of 2008, Tigress Shadow mated with Tiger
Ron. A hundred and four days later, Tigress Shadow gave birth to 4 cubs
in a specially constructed den site, rigged with surveillance cameras.
At 10.30am of the 104th day of Shadow's pregnancy, the first cub was
born. Filming from outside the den, JV was able to capture the birth.
As soon as the cub's feet touched the ground, it waddled
out of the den
into 38 degrees heat. The cub immediately gave a distress call, but
Shadow lay exhausted, unwilling to bring it back into the den.
After 15 minutes, JV picks up the cub and returns it to Shadow. Shadow
thanks him with a "staccato chuffing". The cub promptly leaves the den
for a second time. This time, by crawling next to the cub and "chuffing"
the cub, it follows JV back into the den. Effectively, JV has had a conversation
with a tiger cub less than 30 minutes old. The cub turns out to be a male
and is later called Corbett.
Twenty minutes later, while standing, Shadow gives
birth to a second cub.
The picture reveals that the cubs claws are extended during the birth
and it's the claws that cut the fetal sack and allows it to fall gently
to the ground. Later 2 more normal cubs are born.
Six days after birth, Shadow carries the cubs one by one to a new den
site. Each cub instinctively lies limp and silent in her jaws. Moving with her, JV films Shadow carrying the cubs. She
growls softly, audible to the human ear. Shadow moves all 4 cubs into a small den amongst very thick bush and
Thrity days after birth, JV is anxious to weigh the cubs. While Shadow
is away hunting, JV crawls into the den and discovers one of the male
cubs is dead. By the position of the dead cub's body, he deduces that
Shadow has sat on the cub. This is not unusual, it has been seen with
inexperienced leopard mothers.
Two of the cubs retreat into the undergrowth and freeze,
and stripes invisible in the dappled light. The third cub, Corbett,
hisses and spits and then attacks the camera. Just 30 days old, the
aggression in Corbett is palpable.
Research suggests that the aggression is carried by a gene. Corbett's
brother Sariska and his sister Panna, have turned out to be shy, retiring
tigers, while Corbett has become extremely aggressive.
To study Shadow's reaction to the dead cub, JV puts the cub at the
entrance to the den and waits in the safety of the jeep. On her return, Shadow grooms the dead cub for a few minutes and then
picks it up in her mouth and returns it to the den.
Anxious to see if she will eat the cub, JV crawls into the den.
Although he chuffs her, Shadow does not respond. Instead she stares at
him, growling in the infra zone, inaudible to JV's ears (see
Suddenly Shadow charges, knocking JV down. The camera, running wild,
records the conversation between human being and tigress. Desperately
chuffing the tigress from underneath her, JV is almost pleading with the
Tigress not to harm him.
Shadow stands over him, pupils dilated, nostrils flared, head tilted
in an aggressive posture. Gradually she relaxes and strolls back into
the den, it had been an amazing, if not narrowing piece of interspecies
For the next 3 months, Shadow keeps her cubs hidden from sight and
virtually no pictures are captured. It is Tiger Canyons's first wild
born, wild raised cubs.
At 9 months old, Corbett stalks a fencing crew. The man on lookout
duty sounds the alarm, but Corbett charges, attempting to catch the
fleeing workers. Fortunately all the workers gain the safety of the
At 19 months old, Corbett kills the white tigress Shine after
poachers had shot her with a dart. As Shine was recovering from the drug
and unable to protect herself, Corbett killed her by throttling her with
a classic throat grip.
When JV discovers Corbett the next morning, he is extremely
aggressive and has begun to feed off Shine. Later Corbett leaves Shine and circles around, waiting in ambush for
JV to come to the dead tigress. As JV leaves the jeep to film Shine,
Corbett charges from 60 metres. JV dives with camera into the jeep,
but leaves the bean bag behind. Corbett shakes the bean bag so hard that
some of the beans fly through the open window into the jeep.
At 21 months old, Corbett attempts to catch a blesbuck. As he slips
underneath the blesbuck, going for the throat, the blesbuck spears him
with its horn through his nostril, ripping his nose from his face.
After an incredible 3 hour operation, Dr Charlotte Moueix sews his
nose back onto his face. Corbett is left with a distinctive scar across
After darting Corbett's brother, Sariska, to insert a microchip, JV is
forced to go on foot to retrieve the dart from Sariska. From 80 metres,
Corbett charges JV. To stop the charge, JV is forced to fire several
shots in front of Corbett. Fortunately JV gains the safety of the
At 24 months old, Tiger Canyons is hit by 300mm of rain. Four
hundred metres of the eastern fence is washed away (see newsletter 41). Corbett is the first of the tigers to swim out of Tiger Canyons into
the farm land.
As Ricky Pieterse is wading from his house to Tiger
Canyons, Corbett charges from a reeded island
towards Ricky. Ricky is initially aggressive to Corbett. Corbett circles him
menacingly, trying to trip Ricky. Ricky changes his tactics and begins to
chuff Corbett and talk in low, soothing tones. After 10 minutes, Corbett
returns to the reeds without harming Ricky.
Undoubtedly, Ricky's ability to communicate with Corbett saves his
life. It's another incredible example of interspecies communication.
Corbett's area has been completely destroyed by the floods. To
prevent Corbett from being killed by the dominant male Seatao, JV is
forced to put Corbett into a 10 Ha enclosure. This is the first wild
tiger, at Tiger Canyons, taken into captivity.
At 39 months old, while JV is closing a gate, Corbett
attacks JV (see newsletter 52) Due to incredible bravery by Julie Brown,
Julie-Ann Reid and Phumlani Mchunu, JV miraculously survives the attack.
Dedicated and skilled doctors, in a 6 hour operation at Bloemfontein Medi Clinic, save JV's life. Six more operations are needed before JV is
released from hospital 5 weeks later.
While in hospital, JV decides to euthanize Corbett and run tests to
determine whether there is any truth in the Chinese claim,
that tiger body parts have medicinal properties.
Tiger supporters from
all over the world protest JV's decision. The decision is reversed and
plans are made to raise money for a larger area for Corbett.
At 46 months old, Corbett is darted and weighed. He tips the scales at
192 kg. He is in magnificent condition, in the prime of his life. He is
measured so that in the future, a life sized bronze can be made to
celebrate this magnificent tiger.
Corbett is 48 months old when Tiger Canyons is
expanded by 3000 Ha. Fencing and stocking commences and at 54 months old
Corbett will be released into the Greater Tiger Canyons. Here he will
have to compete with male tigers larger than himself, if he is to capture his
own territory. Fighting, mating, hunting and patrolling territory,
will all release the pent up energy which he presently has in captivity.
Corbett is extremely well bred and there is no doubt
that with his aggressive nature, he will in time become a very fine
territorial male tiger.
Tread Lightly on the Earth
In the Jaws of the Tiger
JV's new book "In the Jaws of the Tiger" will
shortly go to print. The book tells of 12 years of Tiger
Conservation in the Karoo of South Africa.
Floods, snow storms, births and deaths, take the
reader on an incredible roller coaster ride. Success and failure, bravery, accidents and near
death escapes, litter the pages of the book. The book has over 100
While humans fail in their attempts to save this
magnificent cat, the tiger shines through as highly intelligent, incredible hunters,
kind and caring mothers.
The tiger needs space, suitable habitat, abundant
prey and above all, protection from human beings.
"If we can't save the tiger, how can we save
Signed, limited leatherback copies are being
produced as well as regular copies.
The book is being self published and is only
available through Tiger Canyons or Londolozi Game Reserve. All other
purchases must be done via email.