We sat down recently with Tiger Canyon guide Connor Thompson to hear a bit more about his experience of the tiger project. This was his story…
Why did you first decide to get involved in Nature Management?
I’ve always been quite an avid outdoorsman, and conservation was something I’d been involved in throughout school, as well as scouting from an early age. I also enjoyed outdoor activities such as hiking and rowing because they were challenging; being placed outside of your comfort zone deepens your perspective, and so to be able to share something as special as the natural world with other people felt right. From there it was just a natural progression into Nature Management – and once I started studying my passion for it really began developing.
This passion also developed from my interest in veld rehabilitation and a desire to fix damaged areas and develop habitats in a holistic manner. I also like incorporating an aspect of design to this process in order to establish areas of natural beauty, areas that evoke the feeling of an ancient and undisturbed beauty, of no one else having been there, which is something very rare today.
South Africa is so diverse as a country in terms of landscape and is really an exciting place in which to grow and develop. Studying Nature Management and learning about how these diverse landscapes function taught me the practical knowledge needed to understand how it all fits together.
What first attracted you to Tiger Canyon?
I had seen Living with Tigers and quite a few of JV’s other documentaries growing up. When I heard about the tiger project it sounded like an interesting and difficult challenge. The project has had backlash from certain areas across the conservation spectrum but at the same time it’s something that has its place in Africa, because there is no other place left to go.
When I first came to Tiger Canyon and gained insight into how the project was growing and developing it was just too exciting to resist.
What has your guiding experience been like at Tiger Canyon?
As a guide at Tiger Canyon we enjoy enough time in the vehicle to build a greater relationship with the guests, and that’s what really makes the difference. We spend a lot more time at each sighting so that the tiger experience becomes a lot more grounded. While it’s understood that what you’re seeing is completely wild, there is still a personal dimension to our tigers here. Guests that come to Tiger Canyon tend to be quite experienced and have already seen the Big Five and have an idea of how Southern Africa works, so it’s very special to then be able to share something as unique as the tiger project with them. You also get to sit down with the guests and share your story and your passion for the project, and when you get to communicate your passion with people they in turn gain a deeper understanding of its importance.
What have you found particularly interesting or unique about working in tiger conservation?
Because the tiger project is an intensive system, we’re able to take a closer look at tiger behaviour.
The set research that we have on tigers is very minimal, and at Tiger Canyon we’re able to closely observe cub development and tiger interactions, giving us a far more intimate understanding of tiger behaviour. Every time we go out on a drive we monitor the cats and conduct field research, and to be able to contribute to tiger research in this way is something great.
Why is tiger conservation important to you?
If we lose tigers we lose an apex predator, which from a conservation perspective cannot be allowed. To me, the tiger project is of great importance because we are the only expanding population of wild tigers in the world, which hopefully one day we’ll be able to return to diminishing populations in Asia. The project also serves to raise awareness of the tiger’s endangerment, and in many ways this is the most important aspect of our work. In the broader sense, if you can’t make room for education you can’t learn, and if you can’t learn, you can’t develop.
Today as humans we live an unbalanced lifestyle and have destroyed most of our natural surrounds, we live in boxes and try not to think of anything apart from what appears on our Facebook feed. We tend to believe this is all we’re really capable of because we lack the deeper understanding of how the natural world works. If we lose the tiger, we’ll lose an animal that is set above the rest, the biggest cat in the world, a symbol of power in many different cultures, and if you get rid of that symbol you lose a lot of your human power as well – because the impact that we’ll then have had would be incredibly negative.
South Africa is the forerunner of conservation in the world. Why should we sit back and allow the tiger to diminish in other areas when we can assist with the knowledge that we have? We need to stop fighting each other and rather work together to pool resources in order to do what needs to be done to save our natural world.