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Newsletter 83

Tell Me What Happened


Recently, animal communicators from around the world visited Tiger Canyons to talk to the tigers. The animal communicators claim they can have conversations with tigers.

Often when I already know the answer, I will ask the animal communicators to ask the tiger a question. Occasionally the answer is correct but mostly wrong, not even close. Clearly we have some way to go before we can have a conversation with a tiger.

However, when one spends a lot of time with one’s dog or cat, the ability to communicate increases considerably.

Two tigresses I have been with for many years are Tigress Shadow (9 years old) and Tigress Julie (14 years old). Both I have hand raised.

Julie and Shadow are very different characters. Julie will greet me with a "chuff" and Shadow will have a long conversation with "staccato chuffing".

For many years these two rival tigresses lived side by side, separated by an electrical wire fence. Fights through the wire were frequent.

Working on the assumption that Julie at 14 years old and Shadow suckling young cubs in a den, would not be interested in fighting, I put the two tigresses in the same area. In retrospect, it was a bad, very bad mistake.

The area is large and rugged with the Tiger River flowing through it. There is plenty of space for the two tigresses to avoid each other.

Soon it became obvious that Julie was staking out Shadow's den. It is well documented that male tigers will kill the cubs of a tigress if he is not the father.

As far as I know, it has never been recorded that a tigress would kill the cubs of another tigress.

For a week after the birth, Shadow remained in the den. Julie was seen nearby the den site on numerous occasions.

After a week, Shadow moved the cubs to a new den 500m to the west of the old den.

When Julie disappeared for 4 days, I instituted a search with my trackers. Working on the assumption that there had been a fight, I instructed them to search the most rugged part of the canyon.

Sure enough, there the trackers found Julie badly beaten up and unable to walk. Fortunately there was water nearby and I brought Julie meat, which she ate.

The sun was setting over the canyon and the next morning early I was due to fly to Londolozi for an important board meeting.

Instinct warned me to return to protect Julie the following morning.

I was elated to see Julie back on her feet, but limping badly. Julie hobbled to a nearby pool and drank for a full 5 minutes.

Now she turned towards the cliff and tried to scramble up onto heavy rocks. "Why on earth would Julie, in her condition, try to get up onto jagged rocks", I wondered?

Julie's body language was obvious: "Help me onto the rocks". Pushing and shoving (I had two broken ribs from the Corbett attack), Julie and I made it up onto the rocks. Julie thanked me profusely with a "chuff".

Exhausted, Julie and I fell into a doze. Suddenly Julie was up trying to scramble higher towards the cliff. Then the 150kg tigress Shadow jumped clean over me and attacked Julie.

The tigresses rear up, boxing by throwing the claws forward to protect the throat and the spine

Julie fell between two boulders with Shadow on top of her. Claws ripping, teeth slashing, tigers snarling, the attack was ferocious!

I shouted at Shadow but it had no effect. On firing shots over her head, Shadow left Julie and took up a position on a rock below me.

Shadow’s eyes drilled into mine and I did the same. I communicated to her that I would most certainly kill her. Like two boxers before a boxing match, we stared each other down. Tilting her head, Shadow moved her body into a submissive position.

I kept my eyes pinned into hers. "No blinking, hold the stare!" I commanded myself. My message was clear. "Submission is not enough, move out of the area!"

Slowly Shadow dropped her head in submission and then, tail between her legs, she slunk away.

For a brief minute I was in the world of the tiger, communicating with body, voice and eyes.

A few days before this, I had followed Shadow as she returned to her den. Suddenly she stopped and turned and stared back at me. Shadow’s message was clear: "Don't come any further, I don’t want you in the den". This time I turned my eyes away from the stare and submitted.

After the fight, Julie moves towards the cave at the base of the cliff

On Shadow's retreat, Julie communicated to me that she wanted to go higher up the rocks, closer to the cliff face. Once again I pushed and pulled Julie, until her destination revealed itself, a cave in thick bush at the base of the cliff.

Once Julie was in the cave, Shadow was forced to attack from the front

No sooner was Julie in the cave, when Shadow made her second attack. However, this time Shadow couldn't come from behind because of the cliff and she couldn't come from above because of the cave. Shadow had to attack from the front. This proved too risky for Shadow and she abandoned the attack.

Julie's ability to convince me to help her reach the cave, saved her life.

For a few minutes, I had communicated with both tigresses in different ways and at different levels, a giant step forward in my ability to communicate with tigers.

There was no doubt in my mind, if I had left Julie on her own, Shadow would have returned and killed her.

I decided to dart Julie and take her out of the canyon. Doctor Ryan Niemand answered my call for help.

Julie darted in the cave

Unfortunately, Shadow would still attack Julie as we carried her out of the canyon. This was too great a risk to take. I asked Ryan to dart Shadow as well. On examining Shadow's teats there was no milk forthcoming. Shadow had lost her cubs.

Shadow falls in water after being darted.

Seven grown men took an hour and a half to carry Julie out of the canyon.

As Julie was the only tiger in the area and as she was in close proximity to Shadow's den, Julie was the obvious culprit.

If I could communicate with Julie or Shadow, I would ask them what happened?

During the time that Shadow was suckling the cubs, I was in the habit of giving Shadow a springbuck to boost her milk production. I was feeding the springbuck a km away from Shadow’s den, because I was trying to introduce unrelated tiger cubs into Shadow’s litter.

If this cub introduction was successful, I could increase the diversity of genes at Tiger Canyons (I have already done this experiment with a lion cub and a tigress.
See newsletter 2 www.jvbigcats.co.za/newsletters2.htm).

Could it be, that as I lured Shadow away from the den with the springbuck, Julie had gone into the den and killed Shadow's cubs. This would explain the relentless attacks from Shadow. I was totally gutted!

If anyone has a case of a lioness killing the cubs of another lioness or a female leopard killing cubs of another leopard or a tigress killing cubs of another tigress, please let me know.

Thank you for the many responses to various newsletters.

Dear JV,

I agree with your sentiments entirely, however showing yourself playing with Cheetah cubs is tacitly saying that it is okay to play with young animals. ( it is not ) For the reasons that you so succinctly write about in the newsletter.

I am not a mother grundy and understand and have cared for more young wild animals than most, but if we as conservationists are trying to stop the petting zoo and canned lion industry then we must also not be seen playing with cubs, no matter their history. ( If people see JV a well-known conservationist playing with Cheetah then why can’t I, because if he does it, it must be okay ) syndrome.

Your work is greatly appreciated and I look forward to meeting with you again someday.

My best to you and the team at Londolozi and Tiger Canyons

Andrew Schofield

JV Response:

I agree with Andrew Schofield. I should not be allowed to purchase a cub which has been pulled from its mother before six weeks.

The dealer should not be allowed to sell me a cub that has been pulled from its mother before 6 weeks.

Thank you to all who have pre-purchased the book "In the Jaws of the Tiger". The book will be out shortly. To those who ordered a leather bound, it will take a little longer, each book is sewn by hand. Please be patient.

It has been 30 days since I wrote to the Minister of Defence requesting help from the Defence Force in the rhino poaching crisis. To date I have had no reply.

Judging for the photo competition will begin and the winner will be announced shortly.

Tread lightly on the earth



Dudley Steenkamp
A tragedy - but nevertheless nature at work I guess. I do enjoy reading your newsletters John.
  • Fiona Parkinson
    Please keep us posted as to her recovery ? Good for you for using their language - I wish more people would know and understand...
    Yvonne van der Mey
    JV We enjoyed a stay at Tiger Canyon when most of the tigers were still alive. I have no clue what you are up to JV: what have come in your mind to let these two tigresses in one area? Please stop with experiments, because so much pain and suffering is done to these animals. Let them live in peace, please? You can find other ways to get enough attention, I am sure.
    Madelaine Lombard Owens
    That's terrible!!! As for talking to animals...nonsense!
    Heather Achey
    Another thing that does concern me is the "Animal Communicator" thing. There are Animal Behaviorists, people who specifically study a species of animal and it's certain behaviors, body language, and ecology. This is what people like Ceasar Millan (The Dog Whisperer) and Jackson Galaxy http://bit.ly/10zEljs (My Cat from Hell) really are. They do not in any way posses any "magical" ability to speak to animals. They are just specialists in animal behavior and ecology of the certain animal that they chose to study. Their way of being able to read the body language and tie into the keen behavior of that species of animal seems extra-ordinary and "Magical" at times. But really, they are just better able to que into certain signals of the animal better than a casual tourist or observer.

    Still - there really is no such thing as being able to "Talk to Animals." And when someone tries to cross that line thinking they can "talk to an animal" like a person speaks to a person, then bad things happen both for the human and the animal. People are people, animals are animals, even if we want to treat animals like people sometimes. You still must make that distinction between a human and a beast. Animals do not sing songs and work out their differences diplomatically like in a animated Disney film. Creatures like tigers and lions solve their conflicts with each other with violence by fighting, clawing and sometimes killing each other. They try to avoid conflicts with each other by selecting patches of land relatively far from one another and then scent marking and roaring to deter intruders.

    So, don't think of yourself as a "Animal Communicator" because I really don't think there is such a thing. I think that will get you seriously hurt (again) or even killed, and/or your tigers are put in serious jeopardy. You can be a Tiger Behaviorist, and be able to observe their body language and characteristics, but don't try so hard to "talk to tigers". Or this noble experiment itself will be in trouble and might fail. Take a few steps back, remember their ecology, and their habits and lifestyles and then tailor this project in accordance to that and it will have a better chance of succeeding.
    Kristen Marcucci
    Really upsetting and confusing that you decided to put them together when you knew they were fighting when separated by a fence and then to do it when one just had cubs. Not sure what you were thinking and it is so sad to hear that this all could have been avoided.
    Jacek Krolik
    Seems to me you don't know nothing about the tiger conservation, Mr John Varty. How could u allow this to happen?
    James Ruben McCallum
    Harsh realities, perhaps she has passed estrus a menopausal feline anxiety, not attached to territory, but rather the rejection of the idea of mothering. Thanks for the tireless work...
    Brigit Amberly
    very sad... goes to show sometimes people should just leave wild animals alone, and if separated due to hostility, likely never to be friendly. the electric fence was probably an irritant that made the felines think the other caused them pain and thus developed more animosity. why an electrified fence? how about a stronger higher one without need to electrify and give pain?
    Heather Achey
    I hope your tigers recover. Tigers are normally solitary cats. Despite us seeing them together in groups in captivity, in the wild they usually tend to stay well far away from each other. And they defend their individual territories very viciously. I was thinking when I was reading that Shadow was attacking your truck all the time, she might be seeing it as an intruding tiger. It also might have the smells and spray markings of other tigers on it - hence why she attacks the truck all the time.

    I'm not too sure about "Animal Communicators" ... Do you mean someone like Ceasar Millan (the Dog Whisperer) or Jackson Galaxy (My Cat from Hell) It sounds like the killing of the cubs could be related to a territorial thing. Maybe like Male lions killing the remaining cubs of the previous male they just ousted. Since tigers are solitary and very territorial this might have been a territorial dominance act.

    If at all possible, maybe it would be best to try and relocate one of the cats so they aren't next to each other? Maybe some buffer space between the fenceline or something, so their territories don't crossover or run side by side each other so much. I know that would take a lot, but some reconfiguring of the area might lessen the confrontations.

    A TIGER ROAR is a stark reminder that these animals are still very much wild despite living in captivity. Our keepers always have to remember that all of the...See More
    Aldrin Diengdoh
    So very SAD. Female Tigers are so very territorial...what were they fighting for JV?
    Jaime Angel NFire Oh No not shadows cubs :(
    Natasha Jefferies
    This is really sad, hope she makes a full recovery :(
    This has brought tears to my eyes. You have my heartfelt sympathy.I do hope both the tigress’s are still healthy.

    Oh my goodness John – what a tale.  I am glad Julie is going to recover.  That is unfortunate about the cubs.  The only tales of one killing another I can share are those of humans here in Fort Worth TX killing other humans – usually not very much of a loss quite frankly depending on the side of town it all goes down in.  Thanks for keeping us in the loop on your feline family.  Hope the boys are doing well.

    Shelby Dougherty

    Dear Mr Varty, 
    Your work is amazing i watch and love your tiger movie of Ron and Julie. I have a passion for tigers the are by far my favorite animals they are just so strong and powerful.
    I would like to thank you for keeping a regular news letter of whats  happening with Ron and Julie.
    Sydney Boettcher
    Hello John

    As a new communicator, I felt the comments in your newsletter only was perhaps based on a misunderstanding. Of the group that visited, only 3 of us had training to communicate at the time. So we weren't a group of animal communicators but a group of spiritual people interested in encountering the tigers.
    Funnily enough I voiced a few comments about the tigers-most of which, your assistants confirmed for me. I had said Mahindra saw himself as a peace keeper and said he didn't like to fight like other tigers..apparently pretty correct because minutes later, in front of our eyes-he ran away to avoid conflict with another male tiger.
    I had felt Usuri did not want us there out of the vehicle . Clearly she didn't as we know how that experience went.
    She also said to me she missed lion energy (which made no sense to me at the time until Lorna confirmed that she was in fact, partly raised by a lioness!!!).
    I didn't pick up she was pregnant. .but when communicating-even if just in the English language-one conversation will not cover every topic and all info..so this is common.
    Some of the others with us were not communicators at all..just spiritual people trying to learn how to communicate...so perhaps important to clarify that before an assessment is made.
    Perception can never always be 100 percent too-as we know in normal human interaction. .and so its very important to understand that all communication can be pretty accurate.
    I do agree though-we understand beings we spend more time with. .
    That is perhaps the challenge.

    However, I do feel that one has to remain open to create the right environment for it to have space to happen too.
    Now, hopefully you know that out of our group of 8-only 3 of us had done any course on animal communication. Just so you don't accidentally assess the whole group here as professional communicators!!!!..as it wouldn't be accurate...

    Im sorry to here about Julie-I know from my conversation with her last that she loved you dearly and was, in fact, a soul mate of yours. This I have doubt about.

    All the best,
    Lara Thomas

    One of the dominant lionesses at Duba Plains in Botswana regularly killed the cubs belonging to the other lionesses in her pride - so much so that no cubs reached maturity for many years. I forget the lioness's name but she was well known & the story was documented by the Joubert's in their doccie about Duba's lions & buffaloes.


    Thanks so much for your fascinating updates on the tigers.

    I did witness this once at Londolozi. Two of The Sparta lionesses were denning in the Sand River East of Camp. The Tsalala females had been west on Othawa for a while but that day came into the river from Marthly at the causeway and found The Sparta cubs and females in the river. A fight broke out and the Tsalala females killed three of the Sparta females cubs. I was shocked as I had never witnessed this before.

    Maxine Gaines

    Sorry John, but I have to disagree with you here.
    Most people still have a blockage between interspecies communication, or limiting belief system -that even goes for the -so called experts on animal behaviour. Perhaps you might want to check out a man by the name of J. Allen Boone. I will say no more. 
    Duncan Ward

    Hi John,
    I've had experience with animal communicators too and did a workshop where I successfully identified an animal in a photograph I did not know and all I saw was the back of the image. We were a large group and the owner of the animal was able to say that the animal I described, physically and behavior wise was hers. 
    When I was in India one of the female tigers killed another female who had two big cubs, they were about 20 months old. The marauding tiger apparently was pregnant and wanted more territory.  Also with my own pets, I had two females, neutered, who fought constantly for supremacy. .. no kittens there. 
    It saddens me to hear about the lost cubs and the wounded tigers. 
    All the best, 








  • Tread lightly on the Earth

    Copyright 2007 @jvbigcats  All rights reserved


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