Conservation has long been pillared on social awareness. It’s hard to raise support for the preservation of the pangolin if you’ve never seen a pangolin – and many people might never have the opportunity to witness this beguiling creature firsthand.
The same goes for the endangered tiger, which though admittedly is more well-known than the humble pangolin, often remains at the back of people’s minds as they grapple with the seemingly more pressing matters of day-to-day life.
When John Varty (JV) first set out on his conservation journey, he was armed with little more than a video camera and a passion for big cats. His long career in film-making documented the value and the majesty of the wild, bringing the leopard to the living rooms of viewers around the world in such documentaries as Leopard Queen. When he later turned his lens to the tiger in his two thrilling series Tiger Man of Africa and Living with Tigers, the extraordinary effort he invested in rewilding the tiger in Africa highlighted the importance of saving these magnificent cats.
After the release of these documentaries, much of the following he gained on social media through the sharing of videos and photographs online gave momentum to the project, with many avidly following the progress of the tigers born and raised at Tiger Canyon.
When Tiger Canyon opened its doors to the public with the launch of our photographic safaris, the importance of wildlife photography was made even more pertinent. Visitors were not only able to experience the beauty of these great cats in the African wild, their photographs went on to bring broader attention to the plight of the tiger. For, at its heart, a photograph tells a story, and our story has been of the vital importance of saving the tiger. In time we were graced with such photographic greats as Steve Winter and Alex Kirichko (Alex’s book Celebrating Tigers was released in 2018 and is a splendid collection of all the tigers at Tiger Canyon, past and present).
But it is not only the celebrities in the world of photography that are raising awareness of the tiger’s plight, it is every guest, whether amateur or professional, that takes home the story of Tiger Canyon in a collection of breathtaking shots.
“Digital photography revolutionised conservation,” JV notes. “[An] amateur can snap [a] shot and get an award-winning picture.That is what comes together in eco-tourism: small groups [have] impact, because if they get a great shot or a great sequence on film, it can go to Youtube, it can go to a million people.”
Capturing the tigers in the raw beauty of our rugged terrain has allowed photographers to bring home images and videos unlike any other. When the golden hour of light settles on an orange tiger loping through the yellow grass, or the plush sunrise echoes with the chuffing of a mother calling her cubs, it is a moment that preserves the value of saving the tiger in eternal images. In this way, the act of photographing at Tiger Canyon is a symbiotic gift – one in which the tiger lends us its majesty for a moment so that we may celebrate its survival for a lifetime.